The mail recently brought the usual things: a few bills and a note from some organization called Funeral Alternatives reminding me that cremation is convenient and economical and asking me to “like” them on Facebook. Also, the president – of the United States, not the funeral company – sent me a birthday card.
“That’s very nice,” a friend said, running his finger over the embossed presidential seal and turning the envelope over to read “The White House, Washington D.C. “ printed as the return address. “Of course,” he reflected conversationally, “I have always considered that man to be the devil incarnate.”
This left the conversation with nowhere to go, so I watched open-mouthed as he pointed out the signature loops that he thought could be interpreted as cloven hoofs. I rejoiced that this is a free country where all can say or think what they want — and I snatched it out of his hand before it could burst into flame, just to be on the safe side.
It turns out that the president didn’t just wake up one morning and say to the first lady, “You know, we should get Dorothy’s birthday card in the mail” — although that’s a very nice image. If you want a birthday card sent from the White House for a parent or grandparent’s 80th birthday, you must send a request at least two months in advance. So I have my No. 3 son and his wife to thank for their forethought.
It does not look to me as if President and Mrs. Obama personally signed the card, but my name is handwritten on the envelope and it came with an 8-by-10 color photo suitable for framing. It’s kind of exciting.
The card says, “Your generation has shown the courage to persevere through moments of uncertainty and challenge.” It’s about time someone noticed.
When you reach a major event such as an 80th birthday, everyone asks what secrets of life you’ve learned from those moments of uncertainty and challenge. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I haven’t learned much, but I can share a couple of things I have discovered just in the past year of writing this column.
Discovery No. 1: You don’t have to know all the answers. Chances are, someone else does. Just reach out.
In September, I wrote that I’d ruined my favorite baking dish by setting it on fire and turning the brownies inside into a thick sticky layer of cinder. A dozen readers wrote to tell me that I could reclaim my ruined dish by soaking it overnight with a fabric softener sheet. (Ciscoe Morris says those same sheets keep wasps away from your picnic, get rid of doggy odor, wipe scum off shower doors and countless other tasks.) It worked! Of course, the procedure took the blue flower off the side of the dish but at least I have my dish back.
Discovery No. 2: No matter how smart you become, your smartphone will always be one step ahead of you. And it turns out that there is an app for everything.
In June, I wrote that I wished there was an app to tell you where public restrooms are in case of an unexpected urgent need, which seems to arrive on an hourly basis. Immediately I got an email note from Dr. Dan Davidson of Olympia who wrote to tell me that there is such an app. I downloaded it immediately. It is called Sit or Squat and tells you all public restrooms from the GPS on your phone. It even rates them on cleanliness, etc. — hence the name.
The president’s card concludes “We hope you look back with joy and pride on the many contributions and memories made over the course of your life.”
I’m writing this as my family arrives for my birthday celebration. Last time we were all together was 10 years ago. One of the grandsons who was very small then has just become a teenager. How is it? “Exciting,” he said, “but a little scary.”
I feel the same way. There’s no road map for the time ahead for either of us, but at least the days are getting longer. We’ll get through it if we head toward the sunshine and keep a couple of fabric softener sheets in our pockets. Happy New Year!