I was wearing a little pink dress with white polka dots on it. Polka dots. Sounds like I should’ve been drinking beer and yelling “oofta!” at the top of my lungs. I loved that dress. It had a little teeny bit of lace on it, puffy sleeves, a huge bow at the waist and came just to the middle of my calves. My white slip on shoes were perfect. A little scuffed at the toes but that went well with the squeaky clean face, pigtails and crooked glasses. Hey, there are only so many times you can beat up a boy, fall off a horse and crawl through a haystack with your glasses intact.
I stood straight as an arrow against the yellow wallpaper in the dining room. What a night this would be! Mom was in her church clothes and Dad was taking pictures of me and Jennifer. She stood next to me in a borrowed dress with her caramel colored hair smelling ever so slightly of smoke and a smile from ear to ear. She’d been my friend since the 2nd grade and I will always remember her as the easiest friend I have ever had. She was tiny. I was the “early bloomer” who towered over everyone. Mutt and Jeff. She had the deepest dimples I’ve ever seen and sad blue eyes. We were thrilled that on this night we would get to be treated like Young Ladies. Something I saw in the lives of my sisters and something Jennifer had never known.
Off we went. 45 miles to town, into the tallest hotel and straight up the elevator to the 21st floor. The Lucky Diamond. We were ushered, ushered, to our seats. Floor to ceiling windows and more silver and glass on the table than I knew what to do with. The drapes looked like they went for miles. Even the chairs were refined. They had a man sitting behind a piano and he was singing slow smooth songs. It wasn’t just any piano either, it was a huge glossy black thing!!! Waiters in tuxedos, the lights of the city sprawled around us for miles. Jewels set in black velvet twinkling up at us. Surely I would never forget this night. Never.
Jennifer and I looked at the menu with huge eyes. “What’s a kabob?”, she whispered. I giggled back, “I don’t recognize any of the food here. What’s a pilaf?” Mom ordered, Dad ordered and then it was our turn. I don’t know what Jennifer ordered but I had the roast lamb kabobs, wild rice pilaf and sauteed peppers. Now? I think that sounds lovely. Then? I only ordered it because it was the only thing I could pronounce on the menu. We ate slivers of warm bread, drank our water from wine glasses and tried to look sophisticated. I’m certain we looked every bit as awkward and gauche as we were but I remember feeling so elegant.
Dinner came and I don’t think I managed much. To say my palate had not evolved is gracious and kind compared to the shock to my system when I tried to eat. I remember liking the pilaf but soggy burned peppers and chewy lamb? Otherwise known as roasted, sauteed peppers and grilled lamb… No thank you, sir. Can I box that for later, please? Like when hell freezes over? I can only imagine what my parents were thinking. Dessert came and the man with the wonderful voice sang “Happy Birthday” to me. To me! And every beautiful, well groomed and smiling adult in the place clapped. Jennifer and I bounced out of our very nice chairs and joined the man at his beautiful piano. We talked to him and he showed us his music books. Then we sat, one on each side of him and sang along for at least 20 minutes. The show was over with a rousing rendition of “Puff the Magic Dragon”. That was, of course, before I knew it was about pot. Before I even knew what pot was. I was 11 that night and I’ll never forget it.
My birthday is coming in a week or so and I’m looking forward to it. Each year I look at the blessings in my life and I am amazed, humbled, awed and grateful. I know I don’t deserve all the goodness G-d has blessed me with and I hope I can be a good steward with the people, resources and opportunities I have been given. Some birthdays in the last 20 odd years have been more stellar than others. Some quiet, some raucous, some sad, some joyous. But there’s never been another birthday like the one I spent 21 floors above Billings, Montana next to the saddest girl I ever knew while she smiled freely and sang her heart out.