Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Present for an Old Friend

We're going to a small 90th birthday party this week. It will be held at Aquitane, not a nursing home. The honoree will likely be wearing elegant Ferragamo pumps and carrying a vintage Ferragamo bag that's more chic than anything they've made in the past 20 years. And she'll be taking an evening off from work. She has too much energy to retire, so she still works nearly full time as a therapist, from home, often by phone, with patients around the country.

The conversation around the table will be mostly about politics, movies, current events, and Egyptology, but she'll try to talk about celebrities and recent Hollywood scandals that the rest of us are too out-of-it to know much about. She keeps up via TV, People, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair. She's very hip — although we haven't been able to persuade her to get on a computer yet, even when we tempt her with travel bargains, gossip sites, and eBay. But I guess she has plenty of time for that later. Maybe after she decides to retire.

She's an amazing person and a huge inspiration to me. I can talk to her pretty much the way I talk to friends my own age, or younger: no topics barred, no extra explaining necessary. And I get much better advice when I do. I hope I'm as young as she is when I'm 70. I'm counting on it.

She and her husband have been together for 40 years, and he's more than 20 years younger. Maybe that's what's kept her so young. Why don't more women think of doing that? (Hmm.... that means that I should have married an 18-year-old instead of a man my own age. Right now, I'd be married to a kid barely out of his 20s. Bleah! Never mind.)

I totally envy her. She started collecting antique European furniture, 19th-century art, and Tiffany lamps when they were all out of fashion and ridiculously cheap. She loves telling stories that run along the lines of her wandering into a Manhattan shop and deciding to empty her bank account to buy all the Tiffany lamps they had, to the tune of $400. (Now, of course, each one is worth six figures.) I like the story about the dealer in the shop across from the Pitti Palace, in Florence, who told her that it was all right if she had no money now, he'd ship his giant 17th-century chest to the U.S. for her and she could send him the money when it arrived. He trusted her even though she spoke no Italian and was dressed like a hippie in a long Marimekko sundress and sandals. I envy her for the story, the spectacular inlaid chest, the trip to Florence, and the dress.

She once called the White House and left a message for JFK, a carefully worded suggestion that may have helped him and his aides resolve the Cuban missile crisis. It would not surprise me one bit if that were true.

So, what kind of birthday present can you give a person who has had 90 years to figure out how to live a great life and who pretty much has everything?  We decided on a couple of witty little glass trays, from a shop in Oyster Bay called Ben's Garden:

This one is just the right size to hold a pair of reading glasses:

And this one sums up her philosophy so well that we couldn't resist:

I look forward to the toasts and speeches at her party. But she already knows I want to be just like her.


  1. Oh, what an inspiring post! You are fortunate to have her in your life, and she yours! Love the trays and love in your post!

  2. She sounds wonderful. I hope her party is marvelous.


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