As it turned out, the perfect gift did arrive by way of very special delivery three hours after my birthday expired.
And the birthday itself was great.
My mom called and told me with slight variation the story she always likes to tell about the day I was born.
It had been a Sunday, and when her labor pains came in our home at 30606 Hathaway St. in Livonia, Mich. She and my Dad got in the car and headed east on Telegraph Road toward New Grace Hospital in Detroit.
When they arrived, an intern greeted her and was taking all the pertinent information when my mother told him the baby was coming. Although she remembers saying it in English, in moments of stress, she has been known to switch to Finnish, the language most often spoken in her childhood home.
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Although I learned very little of the language, the tone my mother invoked at such moments was a mixture of a hard left jab followed by a whiff of smelling salts. (A generation earlier, during the Great Depression, my Grandma Salli couldn’t afford the smelling salts, so people had to come to on their own.)
The day I was born, a long-time nurse who may have been from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan recognized the language or the tenor of Mom’s voice, swept aside the intern and put my Mom on a gurney. Minutes later, I was tugged from her womb with a pair of forceps I always mention when my wife comments on the odd shape of my head.
My mother was asleep during the extraction and initially had to rely on the report from my deeply kind and sentimental late father, who told her, my noggin notwithstanding, “We have another beautiful boy.”
There’s always such joy in her voice when she tells the story, and I’m always surprised that at one time, my mere presence brought into someone else’s life the kind of joy my grandsons bring into mine. The only other time I remember a similar reaction from Mom was when she told me the story of the day they didn’t have enough money for lunchmeat and I told her I was happy with a mustard sandwich.
My brother also called Monday. He was visiting Utah with his two sons, their wives and his two grandchildren. They all got together because one of the sons is a particularly skilled math teacher who helps to teach summer seminars in Park City, Utah.
Although grandson Archie, named for our grandfather, is in a vastly advanced weight class, Bill reported that granddaughter Annilee had yet to be put on concussion protocol as a result of grandchild interactions.
The calls were sprinkled into a day in which my wife and I enjoyed the company of Atticus, our older grandson, who is as goofy as I am and as semi-aware of the world around him. Both of us, I think, find the imaginary world a more pleasant place to wander.
We took a bike ride together so he’d a have a chance to learn to ride on flat land, something not possible in his neighborhood. It reinforced lessons learned the night before with my wife, although this time, neither rider took a spill.
And that came at the end of a day highlighted by a tour of the Ohio Caverns, where a little boy who has been fascinated by zoos and aquariums took in another part of the natural world, making an impression on the tour when he correctly answered the tour guide’s first question by saying the word “stalactite.”
Of course, the excitement with which he was discovering the world lifted our spirits, and the spirit with which he selected treasures at the gift shop reminded me of one of the quantum leaps of childhood joy. It’s a joy I shared with my Grandpa Salli (the earlier mentioned Archie) when we both bought a wallet woven together with plastic string and bearing images of Yellowstone Park.
We had those wallets in our pockets when we nearly ran into a bear in the dark while trying to return to a cottage heated with a brand of pressed wood that was as natural as pasteurized processed cheese.
Sunday night, I had gone to sleep with Atticus between my wife and me and awakened shortly after 3 a.m. Tuesday when nature called.
Just as the kids at Ohio Caverns had panned for gems in a water sluice the day before, I once again pulled out the strainer I had been using since I came home from the emergency room on Memorial Day.
During the month that followed, I had come to accept in my meetings the friendly urologist I was referred to, that he would be violating me by sending a snake into my personal plumbing to retrieve that jagged little kidney stone.
I postponed the violation hoping nature would take its course. But when my birthday passed and the kidney stone hadn’t, I was resigned to my fate.
Then, just after 3 a.m., although I hadn’t blown out a candle, my birthday wish was granted.
It was slightly late, but it was the best birthday present this 64-year-old grandpa could have received.
Because in the words of the immortal Jimi Hendrix, I was stone free.