Partying Like I’m 21—Again

As the year 2013 draws to a close I become aware of old age. (No, not mine. Other people’s.)

I stopped in at the corner gas station to fill up the tank this morning. Small talking isn’t my best skill but I can do it with the best of them when the opportunity calls for it. As I was paying, I said to the attendant, “What do you have planned for New Year’s Eve?”

“I’m celebrating tonight,” she said. “You won’t catch me on the road tomorrow night with those crazy, drunk 21-year-olds. They think they’re never gonna die.”

Funny, I thought she was 21 years old. Now she was sounding like an old person. Of course, I’ve thought she was 21 for as long as I’ve been filling up at the corner gas station. I think she might have been when she first started working there but that was—come to think of it—about 21 years ago. I’ve watched her stand behind the counter and get older for probably half her life but the image of her as a 21-year-old remained implanted in my mind. You know: first impression. Of course she’s gotten grayer over the years and she’s acquired a paunch; my image had her simply evolving into an out-of-shape 21-year-old. I didn’t age. Why should she?

“I was 21 once,” I responded. I lied. I’ve been 21 three times already and am into my fourth cycle.

“Drive carefully,” she said.

“Are you kidding? I’ll be at home,” I said. “You won’t catch me on the road.”

Dad and I Drive to Cleveland

I drove into Cleveland yesterday for a family wedding. My plan was to arrive pretty much just in time for the wedding so I put on my dress clothes, which included a shirt and tie that had belonged to Dad. I often wear them at family events as a way to have Dad with me to share those occasions.

At the last minute, I decided I could put on my suit coat and tie at the folks’ and didn’t have to wear them in the car. I hung my coat on the hanger in the hanging bag.

The drive to Cleveland was relaxing and totally stress-free. The heavy snowfall from last week had given way to heavy rains the last few days so the streets were clear of snow and were actually now dry. Traffic was light. I was cruising at between 70 and 90 most of the way, feeling mellow, listening to my spiritual music: George Harrison and the Moody Blues. My speed didn’t even make my car stand out—for most of the way, I was simply going with the flow of traffic.

I assessed my life situation. Carrie was now safely in Ann Arbor after having taken the red-eye flight from Las Vegas; I had picked her up at the airport at 6 a.m. and she was sleeping in her own bed. David is living in Ann Arbor for the first time in a dozen years and is well established in his job in northeast Detroit as an executive sous chef. Emily is in New York for the week vacationing with her all-time best friend. And I was enjoying life, feeling good inside.

Suddenly I remembered, I had forgotten my tie. Or, Dad’s tie. The one with the small figures of tennis players. The figures were a sign of Dad’s love for tennis. He had lettered in high school and college and continued playing tennis every week into old age. I think he finally stopped only when all of his partners had either died or given way to Alzheimer’s disease. I was a fair tennis player myself. I could hold a volley with other fair tennis players. But I never developed the passion for it that Dad enjoyed. I wore the tie to honor Dad’s memory.

But apparently not at this wedding.

I thought I would borrow a tie from Brother Bob in Cleveland. Then a sudden vision caused me to change my mind. For this wedding, I decided I would remain tie-less. It was meant to be: b’shert, as we say in Yiddish. I saw the symbolism, and the symbolism quickly went through its own evolution. At first, I thought, forgetting the tie meant that Dad has let go of his current spiritual plane and moved on to the next one, whatever plane that is. Then, I thought, no, that’s not it. It means I’ve finally accepted my own loss. I added another layer: But he’s with me anyway, no matter what I wear.

I didn’t know for sure what the symbolism was but I felt deeply that it was significant. I surprised myself by laughing out loud, even as I was driving alone. With Dad. I’m pretty sure he laughed, too. We continued on to Cleveland.