Birthdays and Last Days of Summer
I was six and chose my favourite yellow dress with white polka dots. I remember pulling it out of the closet and putting it on. I have a photo of myself with short cropped hair, wearing the yellow dress. I was sharing my birthday party with my brother. Both of us with summer birthdays. My mom baked us a cake with a colourful train on top–reds, blues, greens–with pink and blue swirl candles in each car, and tiny silver balls on the white or chocolate icing–depending what the cake was. For years I remember having that train on the cake and butterflies in my stomach of happy celebration. In between the layers of cake, we found magical silver coins wrapped in wax paper. It was summer and we had friends from school over and sat in the backyard, playing party games. We played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey with blindfolds. We opened presents. We made wishes. We blew out candles.
Birthday traditions… what were yours?
The end of August is a time of year I have always loved. It calls me deeper into the world and myself. It reminds me of the end of so many summers, following killdeers down country dirt paths and sitting by the pond watch the blue heron who made his home there, or biking up and down country roads with the wind in my face, and tall yellow corn waiting to be harvested. It reminds me of goodbyes and beginnings of new things.
In August, the humid heat starts to dissipate and the days are clear and warm and ready for adventure. Nights take on that unforgettable breeze where open windows and fresh air help me sleep well. I remember as a child the coziness of being in bed and listening to August rain and thunderstorm nights. My curtains blowing. The anticipation of back to school was in the air, mixed with a nostalgic holding-on of summer. We wanted summer to be over, and we also held on to summer with all our might like holding a rope to pull a boat to safety. Canada Geese flying. Jackets and sweaters coming out of closets. Back yard campfires. August weddings. Camping in tent trailers. Watching late night stars. Swimming during the day and blankets at night. First hint of autumn in the air. Travelling east and back again. Finding myself on long road trips. Staying. Leaving. Letting go. Pumpkins growing in the fields along country roads. Last days of summer.
This time of year is steeped in my mind from so many last-days-of-summer birthdays. End of August. One year I was coming home from three months in Ireland–sad to leave and happy to put my feet back on Canadian soil. So many birthday gatherings with friends in pubs or patios, and suppers with family. This year’s sparklers in the backyard dusk of London and children helping me blow out birthday candles, and more intimate visits with one or two friends at a time. Tea with myself. Feeling the weight of getting older, and convincing myself it doesn’t matter, because age is just a number, right?
From 13 years old, I knew with a lightning bolt that I didn’t want to get older–I was standing in our small church basement and I knew I wanted to live in the present moment forever. Every year since, I have felt the same way.
This year I find myself hanging on again with all my might to end of August and the stars that come with the clear nights, yet September and October are calling me, with their beautiful autumn spirits and desires to be home and travel at the same time. As well as the anticipation of seeing family and my nieces in Victoria in October. My sweet nieces that hug me like the fog hugs the trees. And the fresh smell of leaves and the burnt-orange excitement of travel bug in my heart. Every October I go away–this year I am still choosing the place. Maybe beaches in Ontario, maybe Newfoundland. Maybe closer, maybe farther. Who knows where love and adventure will call me.
W.S. Merwin writes in a poem about how every year we pass the day that we will eventually die.
“Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star”
I am not saying this to be morbid or depressing. But I know deep down that eventually, death is coming for all of us, and in the meantime, how do we celebrate life? I want to find the way to grasp every moment, to steal light from the sun even when I can’t see it, to love those around me even when I don’t want to, to love life even when it doesn’t feel like it loves me, to love myself even when myself doesn’t love me back, to light sparklers in my heart, to run with the wind in a yellow dress. I want to lay on the cool grass in stillness while the earth spins and watch the bright stars holding the sky together.
This is the end of August, last summer days, and yet life is abounding with moving forward, and who knows what will happen tomorrow? The best part of my life could be just around the corner. The best part of yours could too.