Today is Lee’s birthday. She would have been 69 years old.
I would not have forgotten. As soon as I glanced at the calendar the date’s significance would have jumped off the page. But the truth is that, until Tuesday, the quickly approaching special occasion had been out of mind for me.
I was engaged in tax planning, sorting and scanning financial documents for the meeting next week with my accountant. Traditionally, I bring her the original documents and maintain folders of scanned documents on my laptop computer.
In any case, when I inadvertently hit a wrong key, I jumped from the tax folder to a different folder marked “Lee.” It’s only one of several Lee-centric folders contained on my computer’s hard drive. At once I was reminded.
Then I noticed that this folder contained a sub-folder entitled “Lee’s Photos.” I opened it to see what it contained. It had been quite some while since I perused this folder or paused to look at the photographs.
These photos were taken with Lee’s 35 mm camera, a gift from me back in 2005, the same year we were married. Based on the dates of the photos, we did not use this camera much after 2015, possibly due to the increasing ease and convenience of using the cameras installed on our telephones. In fact, I’m not even sure whether I still have the camera.
Perhaps I will look around for it as the photographs were of excellent quality. I came across photos of our visit to sunny, warm Puerto Rico, of assorted family gatherings, of Lee’s mom and dad while they were still living, of one of two trips to Austin, Texas, with Bob and Linda, where we visited with his daughter and her group of friends. I recalled that when the Austin photos were taken Jordan was still unmarried, of course, not yet engaged, long before she and Ted would have baby Margot. The file contained the typical array of Deer Tick Manor photos, but also some specials, including ones of Lee, Linda, or both, posing for me, shovels in hand, standing alongside the newly planted and commemorative ornamental “Mom” tree, like two preening politicians breaking earth to initiate an important project. There were photos of Lee with miscellaneous women who might have been coworkers, but none I recognized. The photo file contained a few “gag” shots of Lee in bandages following another of her “routine” skin cancer surgeries, making a funny face. Nonetheless, I admit that when I opened the first of these pictures it gave me such a jolt that I had tears in my eyes. Despite Lee’s funny expression, this photo no longer felt like a joke. And I came across another photo of a screen shot that somebody, presumably one of her coworkers, had sent to Lee that now smacks of irony bordering on gallows humor.
I delighted in presenting Lee with gifts and surprises. I’m still very thoughtful and selective where it involves making gifts. Unfortunately, I can’t wrap them to save my life. (If you don’t believe me, just ask Robyn.)
Lee’s 65th birthday occurred a few months before she died, during the first year of the pandemic. Naturally, at the time I couldn’t throw a party for her as everyone was isolating, terrified by the prospect of becoming infected. Instead, I organized a surprise birthday party via Zoom and invited dozens of folks by email. On her birthday, at the appointed time, I lured Lee to the computer with some pretext, then sat back and watched silently as one by one friends and family members appeared on screen to wish her a happy birthday.
Every time a bell rang new faces would appear on the screen. Remarkably, the screen filled up with dozens of familiar, friendly faces. It was visual testament to the many lives that Lee touched and of the love that people felt for her. Watching Lee ‘s face light up, I knew this was a special gift.
Later, she told me it had been the best birthday party ever! I wish that I had had more opportunities to surpass it.
Happy birthday, Beebs.