Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What Hath God Wrought?


Less than an hour left to my 49th birthday and I'm feeling pretty good.

It was a quiet affair--just me, my dad, and my sister.

Mary, my dad's aide, made a delicious pasta dinner, my sister got the cake and sang "Happy Birthday"--my dad didn't seem able to join in--and then we watched "Derailed" on DVD.

And my brother from San Francisco called just as the movie ended and I got to talk with him, my sister-in-law and Victoria, my crazy, beautiful niece.

Yes it was a real wild night on the town. Well, perhaps not, but it was just what I needed.

I couldn't help but think of my mom when I looked at the cake's candles flickering in front of me, I could almost hear her singing to me.

And my dad used to wave his arms like a conductor as everyone joined in. God, such a long time ago and yet it's still so fresh in my mind.

Let me pause here to thank God for letting me get this far. A lot of people haven't, so I consider myself very lucky.

I want to say thanks to all of you who wished me a happy today. We like to pretend we don't care about such things, that birthdays are for children, but I know that's not true and I was very touched by all the good wishes.

And I've had so many people tell I don't look 49, I'm starting to believe it myself. Maybe that is a typo on my birth certificate.

I worked from home today, and while I would have preferred the day off, this was the next best thing.

No dragging back and forth on the subway, no dealing with office cooler gossip, forcing myself to make conversation with the other cube rats, no fighting the crowds at lunch time. Damn, I've got do this more often.

I was just about to finish my last story of the day when my father came into my room with his hat and jacket on.

"I have to go up to Sam's," he said, referring to the store up the block.

I was stunned. The story was giving me headaches, I was pushing up against deadline, and my father, who has Alzheimer's and a propensity to get lost if he ventures too far, wants to go out of the house by himself.

"Why?"

"I have to buy something."

I figured that much out already, but since Mary and I do all the shopping, I didn't see any reason for him to go, unless it was to buy junk food.

"What? What do you have to buy?"

I started getting antsy, as I usually do when I'm getting hit from all directions. I had to finish the damn story, my sister's coming over for dinner, I'm another year older, and now this? Oh, come on...

"I can't let you go by yourself," I said. "Please, just tell me what you have to buy."

My father made a face, clearly reluctant to confess. Finally, he gave in.

"I have to get a birthday card," he said."

I almost laughed. At 84, with all his problems, he was still trying to be a father to me. I assured him it wasn't necessary, that I didn't need a card at my age, and that the dinner would be enough for me.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

He turned to leave, then looked back at me.

"Why don't you want me to go out by myself?"

I was about to tell him the truth, that he gets lost easily, that the last time he went to get a haircut on his own, he wound up 20 blocks from our house and would have been halfway to Wyoming if someone hadn't have stopped him and then called me at home. But there was no need to bring that up.

"I'm worried about the drivers around here," I said, which is also true. "They're all nuts."

That Was Then

I dug up this photo of myself at my fifth birthday party. My grandmother, Clorinda Ferrari, is behind me. May 24 was her birthday, too. I didn't realize until now, but I was a pretty cute kid.

"You were," Mary said when I showed her the photo, "with hair."

I happen I like pretty cute without the hair, but that's just my opinion.

My grandmother came here from Italy after her husband, who set up a shoe repair business in Brooklyn, had gotten enough money to bring her and my Aunt Mary, who died at 18, over from the old country.

He had earned enough money for first class tickets, but my grandmother's friends or family in Italy told her to go steerage and use the money she saved in the New World.

Well, she listened to these people, and steerage turned out to be such a hell hole that she got sick and when she got to Ellis Island, the immigration authorities would not her leave.

She stayed in the infirmary there for close to two weeks, I think. Years later, I went to Ellis Island as a tourist and checked out the infirmary.

I tried to imagine my grandmother here, a young woman, with little or no English, sick and frightened. It brought tears to my eyes. I know nothing of her kind of suffering and sacrifice. Today people enter and leave America like it's a Motel Six, but in her day it was a one-way trip and you left an entire world behind.

That photo was taken in 1962, on this very day, and as I do every year, I clicked on to the History Channel Web site to see the other great events that happened on this day.

On this day in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was opened and called "eighth wonder of the world." I remember the 100th anniversary of the bridge, which featured a fabulous fireworks show. I watched in on TV, knowing the crowds would be out of control, and I pretended it was all in my honor.

On this day in 1844, Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message from the U.S. Capitol to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore, Maryland reading "What Hath God Wrought?" It's a line from Numbers 23:23.

My mother liked this expression, as she said it whenever we mentioned Morse or anything relating to Morse Code. Admittedly Morse didn't come up too often in normal conversation, but when it did, my mother would state it all the drama and majesty she could come up with. What Hath God Wrought?

On this day in 1899, the first public parking garage in the United States was established in Boston.

On this day in 1941, Germany's largest battleship, the Bismarck, sinks the pride of the British fleet, HMS Hood.

There were other grim events on this day, but I think I'll skip those. Suffice it to say it was a pretty jumping date and I glad I've got this many to my name. So no whining, no complaining, no tearing myself down. This was a great day.

What hath God wrought? A great deal. And I'm going to do some wroughting of my own.

6 comments:

DesertPeace said...

Again.... Happy Birthday ((((((Rob)))))))!!!

Loved the story about Dad....

Give him a hug from me too...
((((((((DAD))))))))

Rob K said...

Thanks, Peace, I'll pass it along to Dad. And right back at you, all the way from Brooklyn!

Rob

Babsbitchin said...

Sweetheart, I hope you had a good day. Happy Birthday with lots of sloppy kisses to make you forget all about your birthday. No, you'll be thinking OMG, get off me crazy freak and trying to run. So, see I'll help you forget all about it! May you have many more blessed years my friend and here's to you!!

Rob K said...

Hey, Babs, thanks so much and keep them sloppy kisses coming. It's a real thrill a guy my age!

Babsbitchin said...

Oooooooooh, and they're sloppy too!!

Rob K said...

bring 'em on!