It has been six years since Mike has been here to celebrate his birthday but I always think of him on his birthday, the fourth of July. He loved having his birthday on the fourth as people always celebrated and had a party on that day, even fireworks! This year he would have been 58 and for 30 plus years we shared those holidays together.
Mike always remembered to hang up the American flag on his birthday. He grew up in a family where his dad made everyone stand and salute when the national anthem was played at the beginning of a sports game. His respect for our country was admirable and Mike loved to read about the history of our country. Celebrating our democratic process and understanding the importance of our laws led him to pursue his undergraduate degree at UCSD in political science and then his law degree from Hofstra University.
After living in San Diego for 8 years in our 20s, we moved back to New York so Mike could attend law school and we lived at home with my parents. Those days were wonderful and filled with the laughter from our two young boys. In 2002 we moved into our first home as a family in the same school district where I worked as a kindergarten teacher. It was a 1960s high ranch with a big yard on a quiet street, everything we could want.
While the house was great, it was a bit outdated. The countertops in the kitchen were a pale pink formica. I covered the vinyl floors in the kitchen with checkered black and white, peel and stick tiles. We ripped out the old carpets to discover wood floors which we could not afford to sand and stain yet and the white shingles on the house were turning a deeper shade of gray.
That didn’t matter to us. The best part about this house was that the yard had a pool! It was a large above ground 30 foot in diameter round structure. Most people could stand in it since the depth was about 4 feet. I had never had my own pool before and to me this was the status symbol that we had made it. We had a swimming pool.
I bought the boys a float and a beach ball. I taught them how to dive to the bottom to collect pennies. My youngest son was only 5 when we moved in and he couldn’t quite keep his head above water. We enrolled both boys at the local beach for swimming lessons and then I followed up with weekly private lessons from a high school student. If we were going to have a pool, I knew enough to be sure they could both swim.
We were so excited to host our first 4th of July / Birthday party for Mike in our own yard. The pool was located under several large maple trees so we spent the morning pulling large green leaves out of the bottom of the pool. The vacuum that came with the pool didn’t really do anything so it was more of a team effort, a labor of love I insisted.
My sister and her family were visiting from Florida as well as Mike’s parents. Both his brothers and our nephew planned to join us that first holiday for a barbecue and a swim.
In New York you just never know what the weather will be like in early July. Every summer we are bound to get a heat wave for a few days where the humidity is high and the real feel temperature is 100 degrees Fahrenheit. That first holiday in our new home was one of those days.
It was a scorcher. We had one air conditioner in our bedroom, but the rest of the house was cooled off with electric fans. My mom had been recently been widowed and so came alone to our house that day. She brought her smile and her watermelon salad delicately crafted to look like a fruit basket. My in-laws were staying with us on a pullout couch in the lower level of our house. They were busy making macaroni and potato salad in the kitchen. Mike and his brothers got the charcoal barbecue going and the hot dogs and hamburgers were soon ready.
We called the kids out of the pool for lunch and little wet bodies soaked up the picnic benches as they tried to skip the food and eat only the watermelon fruit salad. Food and drinks were served on blue and red plastic ware with disposable utensils on the red, white and blue tablecloths. Mike’s favorite part of the meal was the Carvel ice cream cake so out that came after we all had our fill. He made a wish and blew out the candles quickly before the ice cream melted all over the colorful tablecloth.
Once the dessert had been served we sat around feeling the heat. The kids waited 30 minutes before I let them back into the pool because that has always been the rule. Not really sure why that is a rule. I think it is to give the parents a break from watching the children in the water.
When they tired of running around the circular pool attempting to make a whirlpool the kids started a new game. The challenge was to see how many times they could continuously keep the beach ball in the air. Soon Mike and the uncles saw how fun this game looked. They wanted in so up and over the rickety ladder they climbed to join in the competition. Next my sister, sister in law and I climbed in. It was sure hot and the little ones needed help having a turn hitting the ball.
As the fun continued, and the temperature outside rose, grandma and grandpa approached the pool. The plastic ladder was a bit unsteady and so were they, but up and over they climbed into the refreshingly cool family oasis. The game started over and everyone joined in. 23, 24, 25 we all counted as the ball stayed up and up and up.
We only lived in that house for 4 years but that is my favorite fourth of July memory. After four years we had a choice to either begin some renovations to the dated 1960s high ranch or move to another house in the same school district. Mike and I fell in love with a house by the sea in a special little beach community that few people know about. This neighborhood has a bicycle parade on the 4th of July where children decorate their bikes and dress in red, white and blue. Patriotic songs blast from the beach as people barbecue meats, eat salads and drink beers with their neighbors.
Mike and I always pinched ourselves as we sat on our deck looking out at the beach and boats in the harbor. We were so lucky to live here. Boating adventures each summer became a way of life and we enjoyed the beach association events like Lobsterfest with themed costumes and Family day with races on friendly competitions like potato sack races and the “Best Beach Mom” race. We were happy and loved all this close knit community and had to offer. Friends were frequently available for socializing and we were having so much fun.
But sometimes I have to wonder. Each day life is filled with choices. Some decisions will take you down a completely different path.
What if we never moved to the house by the beach and had stayed in the house with the pool. Would things be different now or is our life already preplanned. I like to think we have free will over the choices we make. How much do we actually control and how much is fate. Would Mike still be alive if we never moved to the beach and be celebrating that 58th birthday or was that his time no matter where we lived. I will never know.
I do know that I can not change the past and there is no sense in spending time thinking about things which can not be undone. One of my favorite quotes and one I try to live by is this one by the Dalai Lama:
“There are two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow. Today is the right day to LOVE, DO and mostly LIVE”.
This is what I need to read this weekend. Wishing you a happy holiday and summer.
Happy Birthday Mike. Remembering you on the 4th and everyday.
Read more about my journey after loss in my book below: NO SIMPLE HIGHWAY