Birthdays are simply markers of time to associate our lives with the rotation of the earth. Sometime shortly prior to 3:00am on September 28, my Mom gave birth in what I suspect for her was a defining moment in her life. Growing up I heard bits an pieces over the years of my Grandmother and Aunt having breakfast at the Miss Portland Diner, of how I was premature and spent the better part of my first month in a chick incubator, and how some lovely nurse held my entire butt in the palm of her hand. I also heard my Dad bought more than a few rounds of drinks and handed out plenty of traditional cigars. I suspect the events of that day back in 1958 were far more traumatic for my parents than for me despite my premature condition.
My parents also had a wonderful pediatrician who even made house calls (and my Mom called him frequently). He was a short little man with balding head, complete with a little black bag, who always joked about how I would fall in love with his fictional “Shirley McGillicutty” but somehow I never forget his asking “How are the water works?” just before saying “Now turn your head and cough”.
As I grew older my memories graduated from vague recollections of red berries and squirt guns in the front yard to more specific things like spilling my pencils on my first day of kindergarten and being disciplined for starting a spitball fight in grade school. There were happy moments like when my Dad purchased a cottage on Coffee Pond from our neighbors, and sad events like my Grandmother passing away back in 1966. But the most defining day in my childhood was when my brother entered the family.
The entire neighborhood in Falmouth came over to our house for a baby shower. My Dad mixed drinks for everyone and that is where I first heard that Dad made the best Bloody Mary’s anyone had ever created. That day was also the beginning of another major transition from our home in Falmouth to a new home in Woolwich. We spent the summer at Coffee Pond and moved into a temporary trailer shortly before the school year began and were fully moved into our new home by Thanksgiving of 1970.
The teen years, especially in the 1970s, were a literal blur of emotions, expectations, mistakes and triumphs, while I did my best to figure out how adult I could be and how much I could get away with. It was a different time that was full of unfortunate clothing styles, extreme hair, and socially acceptable poor choices in regards to adult vices. High schools had smoking areas and “butt rooms” for students who smoked, the drinking age was 18 which basically gave every 16 year old with a fake ID free access to night clubs and bars and of course I took full advantage of every opportunity be be a non-conformist. By the time college happened I had already been through more than my share of what most college freshmen experience and so my sophomore year I moved off campus with a wonderful lady.
Needless to say, young love rarely lasts and due mostly to my own poor choices neither did mine. Over the next few years I did many jobs, played music, taught skiing, short order cooked, installed carpets and eventually found my way into the family business and spent the better part of a decade working there with a mixed bag of success and failures. By 1990 I had finally found the lady of my dreams and started my own business in technology. Within a few years I had established a fairly prominent presence (for a local Mainer), in the IT industry.
But this tale is about socks and so far I have avoided the topic by recalling years and decades of things that have nothing to do with what socks truly mean to me.
It was sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s and my Mom (on one of my birthdays), looked at me apologetically and proclaimed that all she had bought for me was a pair of socks. I had of course long given up the childhood hopes of a big present with a pretty bow or a cake with candles and all I really wanted was to spend some time with Mom but she had a perpetual yearning to somehow provide all the needs of childhood which always came to the surface on birthdays. She viewed her gift of socks as a failure of some sorts but I found sokcs to be very endearing and indicative of how much she loved me.
Somehow I began to realize the birthday of a son or daughter often means more to the parent than to the child. Now in my fifth decade, and my parents no longer in this existence, the one thing I still wish for is something that can never happen. However I can take the time to be nice to someone I have not yet met. I can help someone open a door or carry a parcel. I can wait for someone to make a turn in front of me or let someone enter traffic more easily. I can drop my change in a charity collection, donate some used items to the Salvation Army, and reach out to someone less fortunate than I.
Today I had a dozen or more automated birthday wishes from various websites in my inbox this morning and instead of focusing on the impersonal insanity I wondered about people for whom these automated messages may be their only birthday recognition. And so a pair of socks is my favorite birthday gift of all time and the one I remember most because those socks represented the true value of a birthday which is the gift of one more year with which to be kind, helpful, courteous, honest, and respectful of the people around us and an opportunity to help someone other than ourselves have a better life. So once I again I am thankful to my Mom for a wonderful pair of socks and I think I may go out and buy a new pair just to treat myself.