I made a quick trip to Mississippi and back this weekend with my family to celebrate my grandfather's 90th birthday.
His wife of over 70 years passed away last fall, and since then, Granddaddy's life has changed in ways both predictable and unexpected.
Clearly, to see someone every day for over 70 years, and then to not see them at all is quite a change no one can easily grow accustomed to, especially when the last 5 years were spent waiting hand and foot on the love of your life while arthritis suddenly stripped here of her vitality, movement, and identity. While he was taking care of Nana, Granddaddy didn't do the things most of us take for granted: leaving town, seeing a movie, grabbing a cup of coffee with friends, working in the yard.
But now that he has much more time on his hands, Granddaddy takes full advantage of each opportunity to celebrate his 90 years. My parents and sister make trips to Columbus as often as possible. Recently, Granddaddy learned what an iPod was (although to him it will just be a glorified transistor radio, since he only puts the earphones in one ear). He is now the proud owner of a cell phone, and will call you just to tell you to call him. He is learning his way around a digital camera. And although I don't expect him to open up a Gmail account or start blogging, these advances in technology have helped catapult him into 2007. After all, he just used his first gift card a few weeks ago.
The celebration at the church yesterday was representative of Granddaddy. With seven children and more than 20 grandchildren and great-grandchildren in attendance, Granddaddy celebrated his first 90 years on earth as he wanted. His coffee buddies all came. As did neighbors, friends, and pastors. Glad in a green tie, John W. Davidson, Jr. posed for pictures and shook hands.
He even arrived at his own party early, and wouldn't have it any other way. In my mind, if it's your party, then everyone has to kind of wait for you, after all. But, just as he showed up early for work every day for 50 years, he couldn't stand to be late to somewhere he's expected to be.
Hopefully, after his cataract surgery, Granddaddy will find his way up here. He graduated from Hume-Fogg some 60 years before I did. He played baseball in Morgan Park, a mere homerun away from where I write this. He remembers the days of trolley cars, when Union Station wasn't a hotel, and when Peabody was a separate college.
As I looked around the party yesterday, I wondered how many people would have been present at his 80th, had there been as much of a celebration. While many of his friends and acquaintances have passed on, great-grandchildren have been born. And while some family members have moved away, new Thursday morning coffee buddies have been invited into the fold.
And that's how it happens. People who come to our birthdays today may not make it tomorrow. And neither one is better. Because what makes life valuable isn't how many people come and drink punch in a Methodist fellowship hall on your 90th. It's the fact that you get to be there with them.