I met a boy over forty years ago at my cousin’s birthday party. He fascinated me from the moment that he entered the celebration stylishly late. He might have walked straight off of a cover of GQ magazine with his cutting edge fashion sense but it was his confidence that caught my eye. He had only recently returned from attending Loyola University in New Orleans and he bore the international bohemian flair of the residents of that city. He was indeed quite different from the other attendees at the celebration and I was as drawn to him as a moth to a light, making a fool of myself as usual with far too much nervous idle chatter.
When he called me a week later and suggested that he’d like to take me to a movie I was dumbfounded. Somehow he seemed far too sophisticated to want to spend time with a bumpkin like me but he was quite sure of himself so I didn’t question his motives. Instead I decided to go along for the ride as long as it lasted.
He arrived at my house looking once again as though he had been hanging with the in crowd of high society, casually wearing a pair of madras slacks that had been tailored to fit him perfectly along with carefully polished brown penny loafers bearing no sign of the white socks that most of my male friends usually wore. A perfectly starched blue shirt topped off with a navy blue blazer completed his look making him appear to be the most handsome person I had ever known. I felt a bit overwhelmed and underdressed as I answered the door in my off the sale rack outfit from Penny’s. Somehow we didn’t seem to go together but I would soon enough learn that my first impression was so totally wrong.
We began a conversation on the way to the movie that would continue through the decades. We found that we shared so much in common that our interests overtook our social and economic differences. Superficialities mattered little as we talked as though we had been the best of friends for all of our lives. Ours was an exciting and easy flow of communication in which we were able to fill in the blanks for one another and anticipate what the next topic might be. I felt as though I had finally met my very best friend and I had only known him a few hours.
After that we became inseparable, spending as much time together as two college students might spare and still take care of business. Somehow I knew that I had truly met my soulmate even though I was incredibly young and naive. I was still quite shy with the world but never with him. I had grown up in an isolated neighborhood with a huge safety net just waiting to catch me if I fell. He had witnessed the vices of the Crescent City and his stories of his time there fascinated me but I was even more enthralled with his intellect. He possessed an uncanny ability to recall the smallest of details from the things that he had read. He was almost encyclopedic in his knowledge of history.
Ours was a whirlwind courtship played out against a backdrop of war and political intrigue. By the time that he proposed that we marry the easygoing world that had defined our childhood was forever gone. It had been replaced with dramatic cultural shifts that set fire to much of what we had once known. Some of those changes were far overdue while others only served to awaken our cynicism and sense of urgency. We felt as though we needed to hurry if we were to grab a slice of happiness in a world that had seemingly gone mad. We dove into a life together with full force and never once looked back with regret. It became a magnificent journey filled with all of the elements of a saga. Along the way we encountered the totality of the human experience and somehow managed to keep our heads above water no matter how crazy things became, always continuing our conversation and finding fun in even the simplest adventures.
Nowadays that boy is a man with thinning white hair. He long ago eschewed the call of fashion in favor of more practical and less expensive clothing. He is after all a husband, father and grandfather concerned with the well being of an ever expanding brood. He has little time or concern for outward appearances. He has become a practical man whose very existence is governed by a desire to keep his family safe and happy. He requires little more to feel content than to know that everyone is okay.
He is enjoying his retirement after years of hard work dedicated to making me and our two girls as comfortable as possible. He is still a romantic who looks at me with a special twinkle in his eyes. He is all in all a very good man whose entire focus has always been on our crazy extended family. He has spoiled me and our daughters not in a materialistic way but with unconditional love that has made us confident and strong.
Today is that man’s birthday, the final year in his sixth decade of life. He just celebrated with a trip to his favorite part of the world, the Rocky Mountains. He spent time with me and friends doing the things that he most loves. I still see that young lion that I met so many years ago whenever he smiles at me. He is a beautiful man that I was fortunate enough to encounter. He has changed my life in ways that I never thought possible and I am all the better because of his influence. I should be giving him a gift on his special day but somehow it always feels as though I am the eternal recipient of his favors and his love. He is the rock upon which all of us who know him depend.
Happy Birthday, Mike. I can only hope that there will be many, many more.