my brother sent her flowers and chocolate, while i went downtown to buy her a bottle of her favorite gin. my mother gave me a ride home from all my errand running after she went to pick up my grandmother, her mother, who is 84 and very, very forgetful.
“tootsie,” i said (this is what we call my grandmother), “did you wish the birthday girl a happy day?” she put her hand on her cheek and gave a sad smile.
“i forgot,” she said. “i’m so forgetful, i forget my own name anymore.”
“oh, don’t be silly,” i said.
“yeah,” said my mom. “what’s your name?” my grandmother paused for a moment, then looked at my mother as if she were an alien, trying to figure out why she’d ask such a dumb ass question.
“zilpha,” she said. duh.
“and when’s your birthday?” she put her finger between her dentures and thought.
“may… 12th,” she said. (she was actually born on the 6th.)
“what year?” she paused again.
“1926.” i smiled. it makes me so happy when she remembers things.
we get home and i rush into the house to put my mother’s gin in the pretty bag and top it off with the bright blue tissue paper i bought. i wanted to have all her gifts on the dining room table waiting for her when she walked in. my grandmother somehow made it in before my mom did, and she sat at the table in front of the roses and the chocolates with the big green bow and the bag with the blue tissue paper cascading from it and her eyes lit up a bit. she picked up the birthday card and squinted trying to make sense of my handwriting (it said “to: mommy” with a big smiley face next to it). i caught her before she opened it. “hey hey hey! that’s not yours! it’s not your birthday!” she frowned a bit and took a look at the riot of color before her.
“this is mine?” she said. sometimes… sometimes, i swear, she pretends not to know things, pretends not to remember in order to get the things she wants. her light has dimmed a bit after all the years and all the strokes, no doubt about that, but she’s in there. the tack is sharper than she’d care to admit.
“no ma’am,” i said. “those are mom’s birthday presents. it’s her birthday, remember?” she pouted. i turned to leave the room for a moment.
when i walked back in, my grandmother had her arms outstretched to me, reaching out for what looked to be the biggest freaking hug ever in the history of hugs. i entered her arms and she squeezed, hard, and when i pulled away, she looked into my face and said, as if to convince me:
“happy birthday to me!”
…i laughed. hard. for a long time, until my mother walked in and i told her what happened.
“oh, honey,” my mother said to her mother as she reached out for her own biggest hug in the history of hugs, “that’s alright. we can share birthdays.”
mom handed granny the box of chocolates. happy birthday to everybody.