Last week I turned 60.
Trust me; I never intended for it to happen.
I woke up in the morning and wondered how I got here; remembered the day I woke up 15 and ached to be 18: then the desperation of wanting to be 21.When 21 came I believed like Christopher Robin that I would never grow old.
But next came the certainty of 30 and with it the realisation that 40 was only a matter of weeks away, or so it seemed. Forty came and went and mild panic turned to celebration. I no longer had to cook and clean up after a family of five. Fifty slipped by quietly and thankfully unrecognised. But then…the bullet train to 60.
I begged to let it slip by too. But no such luck. Sixty it seems, must be celebrated; a sort of obligatory dress rehearsal for the final wake.
For several weeks the conspiracy went on around me. Like a dutiful soon to be geriatric I feigned ignorance and every now and then put more loose lipped friends under interrogation and listened to them squirm. I marvelled at the lousiness of their lies as I pieced the plot together.
And then last week I turned 60. Did I feel any older? No. Do I look old? No not really. But you’d think that senility and woollen bloomers were guaranteed to sprout overnight. Suddenly the birthday cards featured capricious old women, welcoming me to a world of dowagers’ hump and sterile desperation. One told me to drink up large for there was ‘no fool like an old fool’ and another reminded me to be nice to my family for they would ‘pick out my nursing home.’
And I laughed – for I’m nothing if not courteous even when choking grimly.
By afternoon the house resembled a glorious funeral parlour but, thankfully, without the scent of embalming fluid. There were flowers for Africa. The phone messages just kept coming. At work there was cake and candles, champagne and speeches. There were parcels on the doorstep and emails from afar and I knew there was no getting away from what was to come. Furthermore I had been instructed to dress up for the evening and to behave no matter what. I was 60. I dutifully behaved.
The house filled rapidly with the warmth and chatter of guests from my present and past, friends and family from near and far: my sister and brother, nieces and nephews, grandkids, kids, their partners and their ex partners, my ex partners! There were people I had not seen for years and others I had not spoken to for equally as long.
And as they sprawled out onto the deck I began to take in the significance of it all.
This was not some television cliché. This was MY life. If the last 60 years lay scattered like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle then every person there could be perfectly placed.
There were those who had supported me through university and training college, put up with me through, marriage, pregnancy, childrearing, and separations; carried me through accidents, illness and operations: and all of them had never ceased to encourage me in a myriad of wonderful ways.
There were some whose continued friendship I marvelled at; like Stu who stood by stoically as I wrote off both his cars and the garage doors in one morning and Bev who smiled serenely as she steamrolled me to the doctor.
There were the Frost family who took in my grand daughter the day her parents disappeared off the face of the earth and I had nowhere to turn. They were her second family and my support crew over eighteen years.
There was Cor who taught me how to sail, patting my rear fondly at every tack and jibe and Jill who pulled me up whenever I misbehaved. And propping up the booze table were my ex’s, both once proud owners of MGs; British Racing Green, soft tops; and gleefully boasting uncensored back seat memories of me to a captive audience.’
It seems a long way from the 60s and the gear sticks on the MGs and anyway, I doubt I could manage the compulsory contortions these days. But it’s been a rollicking ride if the lyrics are to be believed. Just ask the ‘Singing Telegram’
About a metre high he strode in, bald and unannounced to render my life a strangled opera. Yes, it’s true. I was a sexually repressed convent school escapee, with a voracious appetite for learning, I did do time as a teenage parent, fringe feminist and drama queen, was under house arrest in Fiji, suspended from training college for successfully egging Muldoon, could drive non stop Auckland to Wellington in six hours, and was good mates with the guy who dropped the flour bomb on Eden Park. And I once left my new born son in the supermarket trolley and drove the full 10ks home; although to hear him tell it you’d think he’d been permanently abandoned. And I do have a very good excuse…if anyone cares to listen.
But this was the dress rehearsal for the wake so there’s no point in trying to explain. It will all go down in history the way they want to tell it.
As the little chap sang I looked around the room towards my family and friends wildly embellishing each chorus with their own memories, laughter and quips. There was a world of history, love and laughter in that room. And it wasn’t all mine.
They were how I had got to 60. And they are how I will continue to 100.