They called it Birthday Club, eight young moms who left children to their fathers’ mercies every three months so they could meet for dinner. Each birthday that fell in that time period was celebrated, but often someone couldn’t make it because of conflicts with school activities or a sick child, so there might be only five or six at the table. They talked of toilet training, jobs and husbands.
In middle age, the conflicts with Birthday Club were apt to be business meetings or trips out of town. They spoke of college costs, teenage rebellion and husbands. Everyone grieved when Millie and Chet got divorced, and they let her talk it out until she felt better. They said goodby to Jean when her husband was transferred out of state.
When people began having trouble driving at night, Birthday Club was switched to lunch time. They asked each other’s advice about retirement plans and trips abroad. The little gifts turned into token remembrances, then funny cards, then….
“Let’s just knock it off,” Millie suggested. “We’ve all got more stuff than we know what to do with, and cards cost four or five bucks unless you go to the Dollar Store.”
“Yes, and we’ve seen all the ones from there,” Rose said. “I agree; it’s just a needless expense.” Her budget didn’t have much room for extras.
“And while we’re at it, it’s embarrassing to try to collect money for the birthday girls’ lunches while they’re sitting right there. We can all afford to pay for our own; it would be a lot simpler. And we certainly do not need birthday cake!”
So Birthday Club devolved into a sort of rueful shrug, but they kept on meeting. They felt triumphant to be, as Glenda put it, on the right side of the dirt. All but one were widows, and they knew about the other side of the dirt. The only husband left among them was Stalwart Sam. He took to tagging along for lunch, but it really put a crimp in their style to have a man at the table. Those lunches ended early and unsatisfactorily. Finally, they asked Serena not to bring him.
“I’d be more than happy not to bring him,” she said, “and not to bring him to the grocery store and my hair appointments and the Hallmark store…” Her eyes filled with tears. “I know you’ll think I’m ungrateful because my husband is still alive, but he follows me everywhere and he’s driving me crazy!”
There was a flurry of tissues and hugs while they patted her down. The next day, one of them placed a call to Serena’s daughter, and after that, Stalwart Sam didn’t join the ladies for lunch again. Serena looked much more relaxed.
One by one, they gave up driving. Zoe, the most adventurous, tried Uber, but the technology involved in coordinating the rides made her so nervous she couldn’t enjoy lunch. The two who still drove picked up the others for sometimes hair-raising rides. The conversation then was about grandchildren, ailments and obituaries. Car keys and spectacles became elusive. Sometimes whole cars were lost in parking lots for hours at a time and adult children would have to be called to come and help find them. More and more often there’d be confusion about dates, times and places.
Finally, the daughters got together and arranged for their mothers’ luncheons to take place at home. The offspring would arrange transportation and bring potluck. This proved to be easier all around. Bathrooms were near at hand, and in case of embarrassing accidents, discreet help was available. The daughters were now old enough themselves to be tolerant. They murmured in the kitchen as their mothers held forth in the dining room.
Conversations centered on nostalgia spiced with shrieks of laughter.
“Remember when Rose got locked in the Macy’s dressing room and the store closed and no one heard her call until the cleaning crew came around?”
“And I had to pee so bad!” Rose added, laughing along with everyone else.
Relentlessly, the years extracted their price. One by one the members of Birthday Club passed on until finally there were only two ancient ladies in the same assisted living center. Even though they saw each other every day, they continued to observe the quarterly Birthday Club meetings with a special lunch for just the two of them.
“Remember Serena?” one said, wiping a tear. “Remember Maude?”
Her companion cocked her head like a sparrow. “I’m sorry, dear, what did you say your name was?”
Then there was one.