Of all the strange things my young ears heard adults say, that was the strangest.
“Why wouldn’t Mom want a birthday?” I would wonder. Presents. Cake. Party…and not necessarily in that order.
What’s not to love about a birthday?
I just didn’t get it.
Well, I do now.
Birthdays are an annual reminder that your time on this planet is as a ticking clock you peer at in the middle of the night….tick, tock, tick tock….the alarm is set and will ring that much sooner with each passing tick, tock, tick, tock.
Clearly, a birthday is a celebration that you have made it through another year. However, no matter how optimistic one’s view of life is, a birthday reminds us that we have one less year left before the alarm goes off.
A birthday is like that persistent “gong” in the living room that a grandfather clock makes each hour, on the hour, as time marches on.
Yesterday I celebrated yet another one of those “gongs”.
Notwithstanding the reminder that the clock continues to click, it was one of my best birthday celebrations.
Let me share with your why.
Julie and I had dinner at my favorite restaurant, The Ringside, in downtown Portland, with close friends and family. I have been going there since I was 5 years old and I am happy to report it has not changed one bit.
We came home and enjoyed what I hope is a new tradition in our family that will replace the traditional birthday cake- a fabulous potpourri of cup cakes from Saint Cupcake on NW 17th and Flanders.
Ahhh. Very nice. The immutable tick tock of our life is a little quieter when surrounded by good friends and family.
But wait…I may be 54 now but I still look forward to the presents.
As my wife, Julie, my step daughter Nicole and Grandson Cole gathered around, they piled the presents on the ottoman in front of me.
“Hmmm. Which one first” I said as my eager audience looked excitedly at my pile.
Yes…the one mailed to me from my sister and brother in law in Dallas, Oregon.
It’s a small package…but Patt and Jim are well known among our family and friends for always giving thoughtful and extra nice gifts.
I pulled the mail wrapping from the small package. Inside, a cd. I recognized it immediately….I already own it.
“That’s cool” I thought. “I will keep it at work.”
It was Curtis Salgado’s latest cd, “Strong Suspicion”.
“How”, I thought to myself “does Patt know I am a Curtis fan?”
We have never talked about him. I have never played his music when they were over.
No matter. The fact that I already own it aside, Patt and Jim did it again.
“What a thoughtful gift” I said out loud. “But how in the world did Patt know that Curtis’s music is among my favorite”…especially the past few months.
As Julie shrugged her shoulders I moved for the next unopened gift. As I was lying the cd down I finally focused on the yellow sticky that read “OPEN” on the cd case.
“That’s weird” I thought. The hellish plastic wrapping that irritates me to this day as I try to peel it off was not there.
In fact, I now realized Patt had taken pains to put a little sticky note under the plastic case but over the artwork on the front of the cd.
I refocused my attention on the cd and opened it….I glanced at the cd and thought…”OK…it’s a cd.”
I glanced to the other side of the case and finally saw the handwriting.
Happy Birthday To You
God Bless Ya
Thank You For The Support At The Blues Fest
As I read the hand written note from Curtis to me I cannot explain why I reacted the way I did…I just did.
I couldn’t talk. I felt a rising lump in my throat. I couldn’t believe one of my all time music favorites had inscribed such a personal note to me.
Julie and the kids looked at me and I knew I could not begin to explain my reaction. All I could say was “I cannot believe Patt got this”.
I regained my composure and continued opening more great gifts from Julie, Nicole and Cole.
I loved them all…but I kept staring back at the Curtis cd…wondering how my sister would have ever known such a gift would mean so much to me.
I called her after the gift opening was done and asked “Patt, how in the world did you know I am such a Curtis Salgado fan and how did you get this wonderful inscription from him?”
“Well”, Patt began, “I read your Blue Oregon Posts about him and, believe it or not, shortly after that we got a postcard in the mail that announced a wonderful community event in Monmouth that included “Blues Legend Curtis Salgado”. Knowing your birthday was coming up I bought the CD and off we went”.
I tend to default to my basic 60’s and 70’s self when my guard is down. “Wow” is all I could come up with.
“So”, Patt continued, “we showed up and the place was packed. The music had not started and I asked someone if he could point out who Curtis Salgado was.”
““Sure”, the man said, “he’s the guy sitting on the curb”. I walked towards him and he had his head down and his hands were clasped together. He was praying, Randy. I waited until he raised his head and I approached him.”
Patt continued “I said Hi to him and told him that I was Randy Leonard’s sister. “Randy Leonard?” Curtis replied, “I can’t place him”.
“Here” Patt said as she handed Curtis a piece of paper “Randy wrote this on a blog about you after he introduced you at the Blues Festival in Portland last month”.
It was the post I wrote here on BlueOregon shortly after I introduced Curtis at the Waterfront Blues festival this past July 3rd.
“Did he read it?” I asked.
“Yes” Patt said, “I sat down next to him on the curb as he silently read each word very carefully and very intently. When he finished with the article he said “Oh Yeah, that guy was cool”.
Me? Being called cool by Curtis Salgado? Wow.
Patt wasn’t done.
“I told him that the CD he autographed for you in 1991 was during the same period that I too had cancer.”
“Curtis”, Patt said directly to him “I made it and I know you will too”.
This is more than just polite talk from my sister. Patt has inherited a trait that some in my family have acquired that I will just call spiritual intuition.
She sees, feels and senses things about the people and world around her that others miss completely…present company included.
As they talked, Patt handed my gift to be to Curtis and asked if he would sign it for her….for my upcoming birthday.
Patt told me that as people lined up, around and behind them to have their own conversation with Curtis, they continued sitting on the curb and talking about both of their struggles with cancer and the purpose that disease can illuminate in one’s life.
Patt said her conversation with Curtis was one of the most moving and touching conversations she has ever had.
That is saying a lot.
In a span of a few weeks Patt had gone from not ever having heard of Curtis Salgado to believing she had met and talked with one of the most kind, genuine and inspirational people she had ever met.
Patt actually thanked me for causing the chain of events that led to her meeting this man who spoke to her of his spirituality and faith in life, God and destiny…no matter what that holds.
As much as my newest Curtis cd now ranks up there with my most prized possessions, I don’t know if I cherish my most recently inscribed Curtis cd as much as I do knowing that my sister and Curtis Salgado made such a deep, personal connection.
So now the clock has just clicked past midnight as the soulful sound of Curtis singing Bill Withers “Who Is He (And What Is He To You)” eases me into day one of the next 365.
But a strange –if vaguely familiar- feeling has come over me.
I can’t wait until my next birthday.
By Randy Leonard
Aug. 30, 2006
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