The siblings sit quietly, saying nothing much at all.
“It’s your birthday, Sunday,” my sister said to her much older brother, as she adjusted the blanket around his frail shoulders.
He said nothing, only looked at her for a long time, his pale blue eyes locked on hers.
“Players Plain,” he finally said with a chuckle, meaning, of course, “buy me a package of smokes and it will all be good.”
I laugh when she tells me that story.
Years ago, my brother who is our oldest sibling, served in the Canadian Armed Forces. He was a handsome young man with a disarming grin and a soft gentleness about him, a kind of innocence like a kid might have.
When I was a kid, myself, I loved my brother, but not really the man, just the concept of him. To me, he was the guy who sent presents. I had no idea where they came from, nor did I care much. I specifically remember a beautiful embroidered silk bedspread from Korea, (unfortunately, the cat bore a litre of kittens on it and it never really was the same) and a beautiful jewelry box inlaid with Mother of Pearl from China.
So in my little mind, my brother and Santa kind of got mixed up.
Anyway, it was my brother’s 83rd birthday, Sunday.
His birthday party was a small, but tastefully elegant affair, held at his new home in Michener Extended Care.
The guests were few, but each distinguished in their own right.
First of all was my brother’s wife, his first lady. He is crazy in love with his wife, and her presence makes him all happy and when he sees her his face is wreathed in smiles.
He loves her like a love story.
And then there was the rest of us, all crowding around the little dining room in the main floor of the nursing home. His wife’s daughter who has adopted him as her own father, his sisters, brothers-in-law, great nieces, nephews, and bless her heart, one special nine-year-old little great niece.
Prompted by her mom, she shyly presented him a homemade birthday card which she had, no doubt, laboured over intensely. Me, being her grandma, was bursting with pride at her actions and wanted to immediately smother her slightly blushing ponytailed self with kisses, but I refrained, being I would probably embarrass her even more than she was already.
“Happy birthday, she wrote. The misspelling of his name reminding me of the letters I used to write to him when I was about her age. Who knew the name ‘Horace’ was not spelled the same as the animal ‘Horse”.
So there was cake and cupcakes and coffee and lots of cards. There was chatter and hugs and reminiscing and smiles.
It was a quiet and gentle January afternoon and I would like to believe all of us in that room were visited by an unseen presence.
Love. It would have to be love.
Finally, my brother was wheeled back to his room, but not before he went out for a smoke with the guys, all of them braced against the cold chill of the January wind.
Finally, we all went home and ate the leftover cupcakes.
Later my sister phoned and we talked over the party.
“I think he was surprised,” she said. “I don’t think he had a clue.”
Of course, I couldn’t see her pleased smile being we were on the phone and all.
But, I’m sure she was! Smiling, that is!