We gathered over the weekend at the parents’ compound in the Berkshires, where there was nearly a foot of new snow so that the daughter’s Christmas snowboard could be initiated and the hill could be sledded down.
Oh, and to celebrate my father’s 89th birthday.
Milton Ralph Bass was born Jan. 15, 1923, in Pittsfield, Mass., the son of Jewish immigrants and the youngest of three.
Eighty-nine of anything is an achievement, whether it is bottles of beer on the wall or years accumulated on this planet. For me this was a particularly special occasion as there were several times over the last year that I was not sure we were going to see it.
One of the hardest parts of being an adult is being so aware of the fragility of everything around us. I suffered from this awareness even as a child, and I remember waking up every so often, my heart pounding, utterly sure that my parents were dead. I would get out of bed and go stand in the hallway outside their room, listening intently to their steady breathing, not going back to my own room until I was sure I had heard them both, and my heart had settled back to a regular rhythm.
My senior year in college my father had his heart attack, just a few days before Christmas. We almost lost him then, and it was a long, slow road back to what would become his new normal.
But in many ways his new normal was better than his old normal, and we went on to celebrate milestone after milestone that I knew my dad never expected he would see – the big party we threw for them on their 30th wedding anniversary, the weddings of my two siblings and myself, the birth of our collective six children, all of whom call him Miltie, the weekend away to mark their 50th anniversary.
My father – an infamous pessimist - always had a little smile around the corners of his mouth on these occasions, and I knew he was congratulating himself on foiling the fates yet again.
And while 60 may be the new 40, the 80s are the 80s, and even as the mind stays sharp the body begins to fade. In the last few years there have been issues and surgeries and setbacks and middle-of-the-night calls by my mother for an ambulance. This past summer and fall were particularly difficult, and there were times when I found myself girding for what I began to see as the inevitable. But Miltie being Miltie, he kept bouncing back.
It took a long time for him to recover from his pacemaker replacement in September, but at Thanksgiving he was great – he was himself. He did not feel good at Christmas, but for his birthday weekend he was looking good and feeling even better.
Aging has a way of equalizing people, and anyone who has an elderly parent knows that the roles become reversed more often than not, and we find ourselves doing for our parent what he or she once did for us. It is disconcerting for both at first, but once you realize that love is love no matter who has on the latex glove, it simply becomes the new reality and we all move on.
I was thrilled to be there this weekend, because I love my family and I love being with them. But mostly I was thrilled because Miltie was Miltie. I look forward to 90 with a full heart.