My mom is 90 years old today. Today is her actual birthday although we celebrated last Saturday evening. These are some photos of older vintage that capture moments that mattered as she looked back on her nine decades of life. In a word, family. Oh, and my dad being knighted—she never pretends that wasn't a highlight, too. These photos, and many others of family and friends through the years, ran in a continuous loop on a screen during my mom's birthday dinner in a sumptuously decorated candlelit room with gold taffeta-tied chairs and red raw silk tablecloths and sixty invited guests, one hundred percent of whom showed up to toast the birthday girl.
My cousin Maureen circled the room with a mic after dinner, after my brother spoke, and after I read a thank you speech my mother had dictated to me that morning, and everyone shared memories of my mother, and my father too, whom my mother had earlier declared to be present and smiling down on us, and of our Paddington Terrace days. More than a few spoke the sentence, "Those Paddington Terrace days were the best of our lives," that exact same sentence, and the street where we lived before I moved to New York became a metaphor for the gathering, a potent memory of our own personal Camelot.
No wonder, I thought, no wonder when it came time to choose a name for this blog, I conjured the house on that street, because in that place, my parents created a sanctuary where everyone felt welcomed, young and old, the neighbor kids who ran in and out of each others homes barefoot, the grown ups who were a part of my parents circle, the aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, the young ones who moved in with us for months or years at a stretch while their parents worked through hard patches, or completed assignments abroad, or healed from illnesses, and the school friends who roamed through, and everyone was there, everyone, my mother and my father made it so.
My mother preferred us to bring our friends home, and she made it very appealing for us to do so. She ran her own real estate business with her brother, my uncle, and worked long hours showing houses for rent and for sale. And yet she somehow managed to be there to make sandwiches and stir up pitchers of lemonade when our friends came over, which made them often choose our home when there was a question of where to gather. I took it so for granted then. Now I know better.
The memory that encapsulates that time for me, was the day a new family moved in across the street from us, and there were so many people on our front verandah, and so many children of all ages and descriptions playing soccer on the front lawn, and I noticed a girl at the gate across the street, watching us, and I went to the fence and asked if she had just moved into that house, and she said yes, and she looked over at our yard and asked, "Is that a boarding house?" I was 14 and she was 12, and she would soon become my friend, but that day I recognized in her a kind of yearning because she could see, even at 12, that every person in the place she thought was a boarding house knew what it felt like to be a part of something. My mother and my father made it so.