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Birthday parties – and all that jazz … or some of it

I’m a sucker for birthday parties – other people’s birthday parties. The livelier, the better, rigged with balloons, glittering confetti, robust birthday greetings and singing, food in abundance, sweet cake with candles to blow, and all that jazz. For me, especially now that I’m a baby boomer, I’d rather have my birthday celebrated at a quiet dinner at home or a restaurant with family and/or close kins or friends. None of all that jazz – or, maybe, just a little bit of it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for full blown parties given for my birthday. Nor that I don’t enjoy the party. I really am not a party pooper. I just would prefer the other way … but that’s just for me. For other people’s celebration, I want all that jazz.

Last weekend, I attended a friend’s 100th birthday celebration. A smashing, elegant and momentous gathering for a very special lady, Iraida Espinosa of Palo Alto. It seemed like a curious reunion of senior seniors. Around 90% of attendees were in their 80s and 90s — attractive, fashionably dressed ladies and suave gentlemen, many of them with remarkable gray hair. Notwithstanding the combined golden years of the room’s population, it was a vibrant party, even zippy in applause and appreciation, especially when a 94-year old female guest sang Young at Heart for the celebrant. Charmingly nostalgic and sentimental, her performance actually brought timid tears to my eyes. Looking about the room, I was touched at noting how the senior seniors appeared starry eyed and as though some years dropped off their demeanor at that instant as they (I liked to imagine) reminisced their youth. Or just maybe, the music surged back the gaiety, carefree spirit and romance of youth.

My focus was drawn to the 100-year-old celebrant; she was starry and misty-eyed, too. Who wouldn’t be with lyrics crooned by the engaging voice of a 94-year-old – “Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth to be young at heart. For as rich as you are it’s much better by far to be young at heart. And if you should survive to a hundred and five, look at all you’ll derive out of bein’ alive. And here is the best part, you have a head start, if you are among the very young at heart.” Frank Sinatra had a stirring rendition of that song. But that singer, the lovely Jane Bloom, stole her audience’s hearts. It was the second time in two years that she performed that song to a 100th birthday celebrant. Life is good!

Also, much appreciated during the program was the Radcliffe alma mater hymn sung by a group of Iraida’s fellow Radcliffe alumni. Once again looking about the room, I saw represented the upper echelon of Palo Alto’s seniors: former mayor and city council members, former professors of the university, retired businessmen, former leaders of the community’s civic organizations, and the list goes on and on. Iraida herself, a popular community leader, was head of numerous organizations, including Palo Alto’s Neighbors Abroad, the international sister cities program. She and her husband, Aurelio were co-presidents of Neighbors Abroad (that’s how my husband and I met the Espinosas many years ago, when we were active members of Neighbors Abroad). Aurelio, now deceased, was a professor at Harvard and Stanford. He authored several Spanish textbooks used in universities.

Quite an impressive group at that party. An enjoyable birthday bash. It had all that jazz in refined fashion. A heartwarming conviviality for a regal 100-year-old who still stands tall and carries a ready sweet smile for everyone. As I watched the senior seniors around me, I realized, pride and humility can co-mingle in perfect harmony, especially in the 80s, 90s and 100s – the pride of experience and accomplishment, and the humility from the wisdom of knowing that life isn’t just all about the gain … there’s something better, something deeper, something you can barely touch, but it’s just there, like a sacred hush.

As the song goes, “Fairy tales do come true, it can happen to you when you’re young at heart.” At that rich age, life can still be a joyful fairy tale.

Just like Iraida’s 100th birthday party.

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