• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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How Many Days Has It Been Since I Was Born

Thanks so much for all the good wishes. I had a mixed day, highs, lows, good news and disappointments, difficult situations and moments of grace. Just kidding. I don’t believe in moments of grace unless you count the subway arriving just as you get to the platform, the doors opening right in front of you. At home, John took me to Chick’s, a roadside crab shack on the water, and we ate onion rings in the lifeguard chair and for no reason I can understand he started singing Leon Russell songs. When we got home he gave me a book I had coveted some time ago but couldn’t justify. I can not tell you how happy I am to have it. It’s a book about pottery by a master potter.

What’s the best gift you ever got?

56 Responses

  1. When I was a kid, I had a traumatic experience with a Twirl-o-Paint set, involving my absentee dad, my drunken mom and one of those violent Chistmas Day scenarios you’d only hear about in pillow talk, a fucking memoir, or from a therapist’s couch. (FWIW, I’ve written about it, ad nauseum, in several places, of course.)

    Decades later, on the heels of what could have been an irredeemable fight, my then-boyfriend (now-husband), showed up at my doorstep with a plaintive, honest letter and a near-identical Twirl-o-Paint kit from the 70s he’d tracked down on eBay. KEEPER.

  2. 2nd best …. Collection of Styron first editions. Nothing beats last year’s puppy. Nothing. Even after all the emergency vet visits and shoes with the heels missing.

    We need a photo of your new book!!

  3. I could say all kinds of hokey things – my kids, the dog I received in lieu of an engagement ring, a poem written for me by my scientist/poet husband…but really, the best?

    Three heart-shaped rocks, one big, one medium, one little, collected by a friend for my family who had newly become three. My friend did not live to see that small rock become a big, gangly, pimply thing, but the permanence of those three heart-shaped rocks in a shadow box whacks me in the solar plexus every time I look at them.

  4. My mother was not supposed to be able to have any more children, but she had me anyway.

  5. A beautiful daughter (q.v.) from an anonymous “donor”, but she continues to gift me.

  6. In November I posted some stories describing my rambling childhood on a tumblr blog, excerpts from a work in progress begun after my mother died nine years ago. When she died I hadn’t seen her in decades, because at fifteen I became a foster child and gave up the care of all my younger siblings. I am the oldest of nine. Seven of us when I left and two born after I left, a girl and then a boy, both of whom I had never met when I got the call our Mother had died. In her car. The way she lived.

    I talked with the youngest girl by phone and she said she’d send me the turquoise ring our mother always wore, an object I remembered well for many reasons. I didn’t have anything from my childhood and nothing of hers, my mothers, so I looked forward to that package arriving from Missouri with that childhood talisman. But years passed, five, then a few more and the ring never arrived. Then last Christmas, after month of blogging those autobiographical stories, an awkward envelope fell through my mail slot. Hit the floor with a thud. A Christmas card from that sister I had never met, the one born after I left. A child I never had to keep quiet in the backseat of a speeding car, a baby I was never around to protect from our mother’s vicious rages.

    You pay a price for leaving and for staying put.

    When I opened the envelope I found my mother’s turquoise ring, and I could not stop shaking. I called to thank the woman who sent it, my youngest sister, a stranger to me really. We talked a while and eventually I asked her why now, why send the ring now? Her response was gift beyond the ring, which I greatly value. She said at first she thought I didn’t understand the life she had led with our mother. How could I possibly know? I was the oldest and she was the youngest girl. How could I know anything about her life? I had lived before her in a golden time. I could not possibly understand. And then she read my blog.

  7. I been so many places in my life and times,
    Seen so many faces, sang some bad rhymes;
    I acted my life on stages, with ten thousand people watching–
    But we are alone now, and I am singing this song for you.

    You’ve always had a weakness for master potters, haven’t you?

  8. PS Your client Roorbach’s sister is a master potter. I betcha plenty you knew that already.

  9. Happy Birthday, Betsy! (I was away for your last post.) Can’t believe I’m older than you…I think of you as my favorite teacher or my favorite, dare I say, agent? The best gift I ever got will hopefully come to me soon, like this fall. I’m sure you can guess what that is.

  10. I’d hate to forget a lifetime of memorable, thoughtful gifts but most recently: my very own whiskey blend, bottled with a label featuring a commissioned painting of my dog.

    Happy Birthday, Betsy. You’re one of my favorite people I’ve never met.

  11. From my youngest. A frozen Ikea cake with yellow almond icing which is my favourite.

    Everyone usually forgets.

  12. And Buon Compleanno!

  13. Happy Birthday Betsy! One of the best presents I ever received was a book too, a signed and numbered limited edition release of Pornucopia by Piers Anthony, my all time fave author.

  14. A couple of months ago, we were rolling up on Eddie’s place, and when I saw a bunch of cars there, I asked Lola if my old friend was having a party. “He might be.” was her reply.

    We were met by our sons and their families, and my brother, and my late brother’s widow. These are busy people, busy making a living and raising families, climbing the mountains I look back on. But they gave the time, travelled the miles, made the effort.

    We don’t see them often, and having them all together for a weekend is
    a great gift. All of our grandchildren were together for the first time, and that was, well, you know…

    Yeah, that was some birthday, and I will always smile at the telling.

  15. This may sound odd, but the hair dryer, retractable backscratcher, and three hour nap from my family this year were among some of the best presents I’ve ever received.

    Because this means they know me.

  16. My brother said I was a ‘dorf’ because I wanted a desk for Christmas. He wanted a short-wave radio. He said, no kid gets a desk for a present. I was ten, he was obnoxious.

    Christmas morning as I descended the stairs, there next to the tree, polished with a mirror shine, a beautiful desk filled with everything I needed. In the drawers: paper, pens, pencils, folders, notebooks, markers and colored pencils. I had paper clips, a stapler and my very own hole punch. (Little round circles of paper confettied the floor for days). I still remember the smell of pine when I opened the long top drawer.

    It was still dark out, my mother and father went back to bed. I fell asleep on the couch looking at my desk and listening to my brother’s warbling radio while he tried to pick up England.

  17. Two healthy daughters, after my boy – my True North – who still struggles.
    But before all that, (as Mellencamp says,) a Jack to my Diane.

  18. Happy belated birthday!

    One of the best gifts I’ve received was from my two grown kids–my first book cover matted and beautifully framed. They did the same with the next two. I’ll get another one for Christmas in 2013 and then I’ll have one empty space left in my office. I just finished Chapter One for that wall.

  19. While in college I struck up a friendship with a guy from Thailand. He wasn’t the stereotypical Asian student and calculus was giving him trouble. He asked me to help. We were both on the light-hearted side but after he passed he came to in a very somber mood. He gave me a little Budhha. It was only about an inch high. He was in tears as he tried to explain what it meant. It had been in his family for several hundred years. He went back to his wealthy family in Thailand. I have gone on to greater things like posting on this blog. And don’t ask me anything about calculus.

  20. A viola for my seventeenth birthday. Twenty years later (as of tomorrow!) it’s still a glistening dark honey color, hits all the low notes, and has a sweet, sweet middle range.

  21. Easy. One time my husband said, “Hmm. So you want to quit your job, run off to Europe and see all that you missed while I work to support us. Sounds good to me my love. Pack your bags and let’s go.”

    • You’re right, Bobbi. That was, and continues to be, one hell of a gift. Here’s to our newest Swiss Miss …. can’t wait to hear about the next adventure.

  22. Gift: later. Re: Leon- – was it “A Song for You”?

  23. A pie. It was a freshly baked strawberry rhubarb pie given to me spontaneously by a woman I barely knew when she found out it was my birthday. The crust had just barely started to brown and a little bit of sweet red juice was flowing out of a few of the tiny ventilation holes. My traveling partner and I had finished our work for the day and we went and sat alongside the railroad tracks. No train ran there anymore and weeds were growing up between the ties. We weren’t far from the lake and could hear the summer people talking as they sipped cocktails on their screened in porches. My pal and I ate the whole pie, no silverware required, and I don’t think a meal has ever tasted so good; I’m certain I never had a pie that good, although I’ve sampled many in my search. We sat alongside those tracks for awhile, just looking up at the sky and summer clouds, the smell of barbequed meat, roasted vegetables and sweet steamed corn not harassing our stomachs in the least. That was more than thirty years ago and now I live less than a mile away from the spot where we ate that pie.

  24. Gosh, that’s a difficult call. I’m such a present hound; every gift is a treasure. Still, I did give myself a Gift and that big investment delights me everyday: after H.Katrina, I partnered with my neighbors and we bought the derelict, flood-damaged property behind us. No mortgage or loans – just pooled our funds and bought it. Tore down the house, trucked in 80 cubic yards of soil, 2500 square feet of sod; installed fencing, shrubbery and a vintage birdbath to create our urban oasis. Some nights, an owl sails overhead and during the day it is a carnival of butterflies, birds and dragonflies swooping to their own music. It is truly my sanctuary.

  25. I’m going to go with the very first thing that popped to my mind when I read this post. The guy I was dating when I was 17 built me a huge bookshelf with long glass doors. At that point I barely had any books to stack on it. Now 16 years later, I no longer have that guy, but I still have the bookshelf and it is overflowing.

    However, my husband doesn’t like the shelf (for obvious reasons) and the shelf has seen better days. So I am waiting for my next best gift ever – a replacement bookshelf from my husband!

  26. So my best gift ever was The American Heritage Dictionary: Third Edition, given to me by one of my father’s wives. She was nuts. Really nuts. And a genius. The marriage did not end well. Guns, restraining orders, that sort of thing, but that dictionary sits arm’s reach, to the right of my desk.

  27. Best present ever was from my now wife, then barely a girlfriend. I had a favorite pair of jeans that was disintegrating, that soft soft always feel sexy and wild kind of pair, almost gauzy in places, armor absolutely. I couldn’t bare to throw them away so I gave them to Christi telling her to just please toss, not in my dumpster where I’d see them. I was afraid they might cry and hate me. I know, jeans. For Christmas Christi handed those jeans back to me patched up with a shirt she had got me too, a throwaway flannel for a costume party. Those jeans have been on my dresser now patched and re-patched with nothing to hold the next set of patches now needed. Also, they are but a little tight where once they were baggy. One of these weekends I’ll do what I can. If not perhaps I’ll frame them. As for the girlfriend, reader, we’re married.


  28. My youngest, delivered in the early morning of my birthday. Truly the best gift of my life.

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