The Grand Duchess of Dithering, Elbow, turns seventy Monday so we were going to throw her a surprise birthday party. This is a wily soul we are dealing with, so trying to coax her out of Seapond the weekend before her birthday was going to be difficult. But Elbow dithered her way out of that by changing the plans she had, and finally, yesterday at noon, she decided she wanted a small gathering at her house, at five thirty. Sigh. Phone calls were made, showers were taken, food was shopped for, alcohol was bought, and even before the sun began to set, people began to wander over to Elbow’s house, and a birthday party began.
Seventy seems old. It sounds old. But I look back in life and remember my grandmother was seventy-five when my father moved her in with three kids and she took over the household. Yet it still frets Elbow to be seventy. Even though she has a pair of friends who are in their mid-eighties who get around and go places and do things together, this is one of those even numbers divisible by both ten and five birthdays which is some sort of milestone. Seventy is not one of those ages where you have older people telling you that you are still very young. Seventy is above the speed limit everywhere but the Interstate. Seventy years old means you are not going to outlive too many more horses or parrots. Yet there is no guarantee anyone will live to see the next sun, and there are few people alive at any age who still have the mental and intellectual capacity of Elbow.
She’s writing a book and honored us with a rare reading of a passage last night, and I was surprised her already sharp writing skills seemed to have a still sharper edge to them. Concise and succinct, the passage read like something found in a philosophy essay written by…well, someone who knew what the hell they were talking about. Carl Sagan comes to mind, but Elbow doesn’t much like him. At any rate, even though slightly vexed by input and encouragement from the audience, she allowed she might add a few examples of what she was writing about for the readers, and the night’s conversation was set as we considered the offering. But there was a grill to ignite, and that fell to me, the Firesmith, to start the fire.
If there was nothing else vivacious and restoring about Seapond, the fact Elbow knows many writers would be enough. It would also be enough I can wander around and speak to the horses, who seem to like me, and no other animal on earth connects us back to the days of farming for a living than does the horse. Strong and sensible, horses once were all we really needed to bring forth from the earth all we really needed to live. There were transportation, work animals, recreation animals, and friends. Second only to dogs in my heart, the horses that Elbow shares her space with are good people. Diamond and her daughter, Mina, allow me to pet them, and they nuzzle me. During the party, they permit me to coax them into their paddock, where they stay at night, therefore Elbow doesn’t have to come out and be bothered with the animals. But I was speaking of writers, and Mark, a mystery writer, speaks to me of things he writes and asks me of my Demons. This is someone who has written a novel, is restructuring it, and knows what it is like to write, really write. It’s good just to be in the company of other writers, people who understand the problems of the craft, and who understand what it means to want to write, and write better. Mark is writing a novel that is filled with incredible imagery of Missouri, and all the lore that goes with that state from the time Twain walked the banks of the Mississippi. Mark, not the Twain but the friend of Elbow, has a quiet way of speaking, yet the world he describes in his novel is undeniably living loud. The master of detail and nuance, Mark has a way of putting words to a scene that challenges me to do the same. But this is the way of the writers; in each other we find ourselves all over again, to rejuvenate the way we craft words.
Sandy, Mark’s wife, is a painter, and even though I have no skill in that arena, it’s also good to be around other artists. Sandy is very much alive and is a nice counter to Mark’s quiet intellectualism. Sandy and Elbow connected through Sandy’s mother, who Sandy points out very slyly, was very active even though she was much older than Elbow. Sandy is one of those people who can get things going, gets parties started, here, you get this, I will get that, we will meet here, don’t forget the cake, and I don’t think I have ever seen the woman when she wasn’t bubbling with joy at being where she was, and doing what she was doing. She’s the perfect person to be around if you’re fretting over seventy, and before the meal has even begun, Elbow is back to be happier about the whole ordeal, which was never one to begin with.
When I arrived at Elbow’s place at Seapond, Elbow was on Skye with her son and his wife, and they have just had Elbow’s first grandson. We were treated with the sound of his first internet bowel movement, which likely was the first in the family I think. At the close of the party, Sandy asked Elbow to blow out two candles, one for the first thirty-five years of her life, and the next for the second thirty-five years. Elbow blew out the first for her son, who was born a week before she turned thirty-five, and his son was born a week before he turned thirty-five, and Elbow was born a week before her father turned thirty-five. The second candle was for the people in her life now, those at the party in particular, and being seventy suddenly meant she had lived long enough to have collected the people in her life, who were with her still.