Friday, November 14, 2014

At 75, love can take on many forms

On Love and Life After 60

By Thomas P. Blake  November 14, 2014

At 75, love can take on many forms

As we age, love can be experienced in more ways than in just having a partner or seeking a partner. I was reminded of that last Tuesday night.

I never receive snail mail on my birthday. Even back when November 11 was called Armistice Day, the mail didn’t come. Now it’s called Veterans Day and the post office still closes on that day. November 11 has always been a low-key day for me, perhaps because I’m a vet and grateful I never was in an actual battle in my three and a half years of Naval duty. I’m not into fanfare, gifts, or parties on my birthday.

November 11, however, is special to me mainly because it was my mom’s birthday as well.

Tuesday morning, as I headed off to work at my deli, Greta said, “Remember, we are going out for a nice birthday dinner so try to get some rest.” I noted that she didn’t say where we were going, but she does that every year; we always go to a nice restaurant.

I arrived at Tutor and Spunky's, my Dana Point, California deli, hoping that my employees would just finesse the day and not do the gifts, cards, and other thoughtful things they do about 20 times a year, when there is an employee’s birthday. They greeted with hugs and “Happy Birthday” and that was about it. Whew, I was relieved.

Business was light that day. Around 2 p.m., Rosalinda, an employee of 26 years, said, “It’s slow today. Why not take the afternoon off and enjoy your birthday?”

I said, “It’s slow because it’s Veterans Day, why don’t you close early?”

Rosa said, “We will.” And I went home.

When Greta came home at 5:30 p.m. from her afternoon of volunteering at the Ocean Institute, she said, “Put on some nice clothes, remember, we’re going to dinner.” Still no indication from her of where. I was going to suggest pizza at home but didn’t want to be a Grinch.

Guys can get ready in a minute or two to go out. It seemed to me that she was taking her time. And then she said she needed to check her emails. I thought that perhaps our dinner reservation wasn’t until 6:15 or 6:30 and that she was merely stalling a bit. My sister Pam telephoned from San Diego to wish me a Happy Birthday.

Greta drove. We headed south on Pacific Coast Highway. That’s how I usually get to work. Then she turned on the street before the deli that leads down to Dana Point Harbor. I thought we might be going to the Harbor Grill or Harpoon Henry’s, or another of the fine restaurants down there. But, Greta made a quick left turn onto the street behind the deli. I thought, “Oh no, something is up.” But as we passed the deli’s rear deck, I noticed it was dark inside the restaurant so my suspicions of a party at the deli passed.

Then, Greta turned into the deli parking lot. The deli was dark, but I could see some balloons in the window. On the front door, there was a hand-written sign, “Closed. Private party.” We walked into the darkened dining room and then the lights came on and 35 employees, friends and family jumped up and shouted, “Happy Birthday.”

The first couple standing there was my sister Pam and her husband Bob, obviously not in San Diego.

The employees were dressed to the nines, having discarded their aprons for dress-up clothes. There were at least 35 hugs, probably more. Love filled the dining room.

Greta’s nephew, Jake Woodruff, is a musician. About six months ago, Greta and I saw him perform at the House of Blues in Hollywood. After seeing him there, I sent him a list of five country songs that I love and thought he might want to add to his repertoire. Jake and his mom Gina were at the party.

Jake announced to the crowd that he had prepared some songs for me. He nailed it when he opened with, “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” a Garth Brooks classic. And then, a Kris Kristofferson hit, “Loving Her was Easier Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again.”

Jake knew I had been a good friend of Johnny Cash. One night 40 years ago, at the Sahara Tahoe Resort, Johnny had asked me back stage before the show what my favorite song of his was. I said, “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Johnny came on stage that night and said to a packed show room crowd, “This song is for my friend Tom Blake,” and sang it.

Jake had mastered that song and performed it wlell. Then, he sang another Garth Brooks classic, “The Dance.” Those songs were from the list I had given him. His learning those songs, perfecting them and then singing them was an incredible gift to me.

There were people in the room between the ages of 19 to 75. When Jake sang Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, everybody—all ages--knew the words and joined in with the “So good, so good,” and the other words the audiences often sing along with Neil.

When the party was winding down, Jake and three of my young, talented, women employees were singing together and I could visualize a new singing group being born. They were really good.

I had no clue about the birthday party. Not one employee slipped by saying something that would have alerted me. It was a total surprise planned by Greta with the help of Rosalinda and the rest of the deli staff.

To receive that much love from 35 people who are very special to me was an incredible way to spend number 75. I am truly blessed. That is what love is. 

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