Last week I did something that took no effort at all. I turned 49. As special occasions go, you can't beat a birthday. No one expects you to plan for it. No one needs you to cook or shop or wrap presents or decorate the house. Compared to days like Thanksgiving or Christmas, birthdays are literally and figuratively a piece of cake.
And if you're lucky, that piece of cake is free from whatever restaurant your family took you to for dinner. Or maybe someone makes your favorite cake, which is what always happened when I was growing up. A wonderful lady we called Granny Davis, who went to our church, used to make the most incredible layered yellow cake with a lighter-than-air frosting that blended pineapple and mandarin oranges. (I'm pretty sure there was a more than generous amount of Cool Whip in there, too.) But it was so delicious, it quickly became the star of the buffet table at church potluck dinners.
One year my mom asked Granny Davis for the recipe, and that's how it became my official birthday cake. Even though lately I've been working hard on eating more vegetables and exercising "portion control," if someone left me next to a swimming pool full of that cake's creamy, fruity frosting, I would dive to the bottom and eat my way out. It's that good.
The day before my birthday, my friend Jennifer stopped by for a visit. Jennifer and I have been buddies since fifth grade, so we've marked a lot of birthdays together. (Her birthday is only seven weeks before mine.) She asked me if this one was bothering me the way it was bugging her.
Jennifer: Is this freaking you out? Turning 49?
Me: Not really. I always forget how old I am anyway, and I tend to round up. I've been thinking I was 49 for about two years now. You know I can't do math.
Her: I just don't like the way it sounds. FORTY-NINE. Ugh... it's not good.
Me: You've got a point. It does sound like we're hanging onto our 40s by our fingertips. It's like our youth is walking out the door and we're clawing at it, begging it not to leave.
Her: I don't like it.
Me: Maybe it'll be better next year. Maybe we'll be a young 50 instead of an old, dusty 49?
Her: I'm not sure it works that way.
Maybe the problem with aging, no matter how old you are, is that it can turn you into a dog guarding his food bowl. Our little Corgi, who looks like an over-baked loaf of bread on short legs, illustrates this issue perfectly.
I feed him first every morning because he's the oldest. His food bowl is separated from the other dog and the cat to prevent fights. In fact, the cat eats her breakfast on the back porch, which is separated from the dog's bowl by a glass door. Unless the cat suddenly grows opposable thumbs and opens the door, there's no chance she's getting anywhere near the Corgi's food.
But that doesn't stop the Corgi from worrying about it. This morning, instead of eating his food, he paced back and forth in front of it. On each pass, he walked by that glass door to peer at the cat on the other side. Then he growled his most menacing threat to make sure she didn't get any funny ideas.
He couldn't enjoy what he had because he was so afraid of losing it.
So here I am, staring directly into the tired, dark-shadowed eyes of age 49 (which really need a pair of readers to see print this small). I'll do my best to enjoy every minute of it -- as if it was a pool of fruity frosting -- before it slips away.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected]. Her book is available on Amazon.