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Opinion >  Column

The Slice: These birthday nights bring mix of joy, memories

Birthday night at my mother’s South Hill retirement community is a happy occasion.

Held on the third Thursday, it salutes all who celebrate birthdays that month.

Before people even head into the main dining room for prime rib, there’s mingling and punch or wine. Someone usually plays the piano.

There are more visitors than at a regular dinner. And once everyone proceeds into the dining room, the birthday people find bright balloons flying at their designated tables.

The good-natured facility director tells a few jokes and takes personal note of the birthday people. Then there’s always a spirited singing of “Happy birthday to you …”

It’s nice. There are a lot of smiles.

But after enough years have gone by, a regular visitor at birthday night can’t help but notice something else.

A lot of residents from, say, 2000 or 2004 are gone.

Now, of course, this is not news to anyone who lives or works at this or any other retirement community. They all understand aging and the cycle of life.

They also understand that you don’t stop playing hard just because the game is in the late innings. After all, no one knows how long an inning will last.

But for a resident’s adult child whose visits don’t usually coincide with large gatherings, birthday nights can be a series of time-lapse snapshots of the community. And seemingly in each new picture, a few more faces are missing.

Maybe this seems especially jarring at this time of year, when verdant nature is in full bloom and many young people seem so eager to find out what’s just over the near horizon.

Or perhaps it’s simple regret about not having said more to that one guy who used to sit and wait for the mail to come.

Now he’s gone. So is that woman who had the great laugh.

They aren’t forgotten, though.

They used to shake your hand and inquire about how your folks were doing. They used to ask “How are things down at the paper?”

They used to hope that you saw in their eyes that they were not always white-haired and stooped.

They used to come to birthday night. And we miss them.

•Reminder about The Slice’s Good Old Days Newspaper Folding and Throwing Contest: This friendly competition for former paperboys and papergirls takes place Saturday morning. We’ll gather in the Review Tower lobby at 9:30. Call me if you have questions.

•Today’s Slice question: For what do you want The Slice to write you a permission slip?

Write The Slice at P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210; call (509) 459-5470; fax (509) 459-5098; e-mail pault@spokesman.com. For previous Slice columns, see www.spokesman.com/columnists. I am declaring today to be Jeri Hershberger Day.

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