Friday, September 23, 2011


Kim Hansen, Dick Purinton at Ferry Office, Sept. 22
Washington Island, Wisconsin - 

Yesterday was my birthday, and I turned 64.  Announcing my birthday is not something I've been comfortable in doing.   If no one knew, I thought, it would be just fine.  As we get older, we can think of plenty of excuses for keeping our birthdays a secret, and I often found myself repeating well-worn phrases such as:  "They don't get any easier..." or, "I remember when l turned sixteen. Now there was a birthday to celebrate!"

Like a curmudgeon, I thought that somehow skipping over that certain day would allow me to get on more easily with my life, knowing that after all, everyone has a birthday once a year, and it isn't such a big deal.

I've changed my mind, after yesterday.  Many friends and co-workers wished me a Happy Birthday, a few of them including the greeting with a good-natured question: "How does it feel to be...?" which was laughed off.

Actually, it feels pretty good, thanks.  And it feels especially good to know there are others who notice, who cared perhaps even more than I did what day it was.   I am referring especially to two friends who have more to think about than someone else's birthday, and yet, they made that a priority.  

Kim Hansen and Ruth Gunnerson are two people to admire.  Each is upbeat and outgoing, and they rise to any occasion with selflessness, which only makes them seem to feel better about their day.  When that sort of friendship is expressed, how can I not be pleased and happy, for them, and for another year of my own life to know them, as a way to celebrate their lives, too.

Kim, widely known for her cheery telephone voice and an outgoing style while serving others at our front ferry office desk, has not had it easy these past several years as she battles against cancer.  I know there are times when she must feel down, but each time I've visited at her home, or when she visits us here at the Ferry Office, she is always pleasant, smiling, laughing at jokes (especially her own).  It is an uplifting experience to be in her presence.  I thank Kim for the presents she brought:  bakery, egg rolls, and journal books. But especially, the gift of her friendship.  She and Frank made the drive from one end of the island to the other to wish me a happy birthday when just getting out of her hospital bed and down the steps at her home is a challenge.  Priceless friendship.

Another gift came from friend and neighboring business owner Ruth Gunnerson, who runs the gift shop next door to the Ferry Office.  Ruth dropped by around 10 am with a chocolate raspberry cake made from her special Scandinavian recipe.  Her cake was great, but Ruth't visit was even better.  When not teaching, working in her shop, assisting her sister Mary, or doing dozens of things for others, she's been working hard to maintain her health.  Multiple diagnoses with follow-up treatments, interspersed with a winter's slip on icy pavement which severely broke her shoulder, puts Ruth in a special class for deflecting mud pies thrown in her direction.  It is rare to see Ruth down in spirit.  Instead, she continues steadily forward, doing things that make a difference for others.

Ruth Gunnerson and I are framed
in front of the Kaupstadur gift shop
There is a great deal to be admired in and learned from these two friends.  I accept, first and foremost, the gift of friendship they bestow.  That is a gift above all others, and further, that as birthdays come and go, as they will, each one is to be treasured, shared, and not taken lightly.  

I recall attending birthday occasions when I was younger of persons several generations older than myself.   I wondered then what these older people found enjoyable about sitting in a chair throughout an afternoon, accepting stoically the fuss made over them, showing no particular outward excitement or emotion about their day.  

I now realize they were basking in an inner feeling of warmth that comes from being with family members and friends, from observing children playing around kitchen tables.  That feeling never grows old, but it maybe intensifies.  Those senior birthday people I observed recognized that love, family, and community continue to have meaning when all the rest begins to fade into the past.  

We become part of something special by accepting, not rejecting, the love and friendship of others.

So, to those who wished me a happy birthday yesterday, I sincerely thank you, and I will wish you the same when the time comes.  No excuses and no regrets for getting older.  I will welcome each new birthday.   It's your friendship, and my family, first and foremost.
  -  Dick Purinton


Anonymous said...

thank you for your wisdom. At 65 I know how you feel. It was great seeing it put into words.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dick for sharing your special birthday visitors. These two ladies are truly special & I appreciate every day we have with them. We are in the "golden years" of life & friends like them are the real "gems". Thanks for your thoughts.

steve o'connor said...

Dick: happy birthday to you first off. And second, thanks for sharing the visits by these two very special ladies. They give new meaning to the phrase, if you have lemons, make lemonade!!