Wednesday evening Star told me that he was planning to take the afternoon off for my birthday. (He's learned not to spring big surprises on me anymore --I seem to react better that way). Susie had arranged her schedule to keep Schuyler and the others would be in school.
Before we left on Thursday I asked, "should I bring a jacket?" He said we might want something even though it was a pretty morning.
For some reason I placed Grandma Hannah's old green and gold tweed coat over my arm. Then I grabbed my full bag of books, and we headed out. We drove south. We passed Provo, Springville, Covered Bridge canyon, past what remained of Thistle and Birdseye, and toward Fairview. I began reading Richard Peck's new book aloud, but we didn't get very far --too much to talk about --uninterrupted.
"Remember the time we drove to Montana together, and we came up with all kinds things we never knew about each other?" Star responded, "That was really fun. Do you want to play that now?"
Unfortunately I couldn't quite recall how the game was played or even all the things I'd learned about him because of it, but I knew that it had solidified things, marked another milestone in our marriage. On that trip he'd shown me the places he'd served as a missionary; he'd shared dreams that were more humble --deeper.
We were nearing Mt. Pleasant, "When you were very young, what did you want to be?" he asked. "A mother, and a teacher...until I was a teenager, then I wanted to be a lighthouse keeper. Even then though, I hoped for a family with several children ( just in thick wool sweaters and red galoshes). Later, in London, I began to imagine being a museum curator and living in big cities where so much culture was easily accessible, but mostly I'd wanted pretty small town stuff I guess."
It had begun to snow when we reached Manti. The temple stood -- towering over the little farming community. I remembered seeing it before us as we drove on that cold and rainy day in April of 1994. I was coming to receive my endowments. With me were my two older brothers, my parents, and this pale-blond boy whom I was engaged to. When we entered, I was greeted by smiling temple workers. They knew my name. They had been waiting for me.
We pulled up to the historic city hall to ask for a map (we'd missed the turn off to Spring City). Star opened my door for me. It had become quite chilly. He helped me into Grandma's coat. As we neared the door, I caught my reflection in the glass. Something reminded me of her... my profile? My long face? We went in and looked at the photographs of old barns on the wall. A young man came out of his office and welcomed us to Sanpete County; where were we from? He unlocked doors, told us the stories of how they'd come to renovate the building, and invited us to look around upstairs and wherever we'd like. He suggested visiting a little fudge shop further up on main street, and offered us a coupon they normally give out just during pageant season in June.
The candy shop was warm and smelled heavenly. The walls were lined with red painted old apothecary shelves --just like in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Our Town." In preparation for St. Patrick's Day, much of their displays had been dipped in green: green chocolate pretzels, popcorn, Oreos, Nutter-butters. The owner was working in the back and came out to meet us. She seemed delighted to redeem our little gift certificate and offered all kinds of free goodies. The scent of chocolate reminded me of my Aunt Millie. Whenever we'd visit her tiny kitchen, it seemed she'd just finished creating something wonderfully chocolate and pale green. According to Mom's stories, Grandma Aggie (a chocolate dipper like her sister) would have smelled like this shop I mused.
After a tour of her kitchen and stories of how the business had come to be, we stepped out into a real snow storm. I pushed my hands deep into the pockets of Grandma's coat. My right hand felt something small and square wrapped in paper. I brought it out and felt full. It was half a piece of trident gum --the only kind Grandma ever kept. Her car and purse always had the faint odor of trident gum and lightly perfumed powder.
To be honest, I have been reticent about being closer to forty than thirty. I have wondered if I have accomplished anything of real value. But as I held Star's familiar hand while he navigated back slowly through the blizzard, listening to him dream about our future as missionaries and grandparents, my other hand fingering the tightly wrapped piece of gum still in my pocket, I have to acknowledge that most of what I've wished for has come true. I am not a lighthouse keeper --standing sentinel against the storms; I do not give daily tours about the great artists of the past and ride the tube to work at the famous museums of the world.
But I am a teacher and a mother, a wife and a daughter, a sister and a friend --much like my grandmothers before me.
And perhaps recognizing that --on my 36th birthday is a milestone worth marking.