I was raised with unrealistic expectations for birthday celebrations. My mother made sure that each family member felt special on his or her day, offering favorite foods, thoughtfully chosen, if not extravagant, presents, and an embarrassment of attention.
I came into adulthood with a strong desire to make birthdays special for those around me, yet uncertain how best to accomplish that. As one who is terrible at imagining the perfect gift (for myself or others) and highly ambivalent about adding more stuff to anyone’s material life, I have, over the years, arrived at a labor-intensive gift I bestow upon friends and family to mark their 50th birthdays.
This tradition began in my adolescence; I would fold the number of cranes corresponding to my closest friends’ birthdays, and mount them on their bedroom wall, flying in V-formation. I remember most vividly doing this for my best friend’s 18th (while living in her home to finish my senior year in high school after my family moved), and for my now-husband’s 19th (he responded by creating a treasure hunt for me the next year, with clues slipped into fortune cookies and hidden throughout my apartment building, even in the apartments of people we didn’t really know!).
In recent years, I have been stringing 50 origami paper cranes on gold thread, punctuated by beads marking groups of 10, ending with a hand-made golden tassel at the bottom. My closest friends and siblings started turning 50 a few years ago, but in the past year all my peers have turned 50, and production has been, shall we say, intense. In addition, my mother-in-law turned 80 last year, so I strung 80 for her, and my parents received a string of 50 for their golden anniversary a few years ago. I haven’t kept track, but have probably strung at least 20 strands.
I welcome the chance to think of the recipient I am stringing cranes for as I fold the bright papers, choose beads, thread the needle and then string the cranes, adding finishing touches to each strand. It is a genuine labor of love to ponder what this relationship means, allowing memories to surface, to be relived and relished anew while I work.
I turned 50 last spring (and my oldest daughter strung the tiny strand of miniature cranes you see beside my latest creations, to mark my milestone). Women friends, many from this writing community, gathered for a truly memorable evening hosted by a spectacularly gracious and generous member of our tribe. We all left with the glow I dream of inspiring in others on their special days, feeling ourselves part of a remarkable community of women. This week, the founder of Women Writing for a Change-Bloomington marks this passage as well. We all wish her the best of days and many more years of friendship and creativity, offering up our profound gratitude for the community she has created among us.