WAS IT A SURPRISE? Y mil gracias!

Grandkids Eddie Hollandbyrd and Emma Birdie Byrd with their good friend Ana Jo Yellen.
Photo courtesy of the El Paso Times

NOTE: On April 13th, Lee once again surprised me with a party, this time for my 70th Birthday. 160 people came. My gosh. Lee was expecting maybe 50 or 60, but suddenly she was flooded with RSVPs. Our neighbors across the street--Esther and Orlando Arriola--opened up their house for the party. And the wild rumpus commenced. I'm not able to write everybody immediately, but this is my first swipe at saying Thank you, thank you--to all those people who came, all those who couldn't come and all those who are my friends. I am truly blessed.

Dear All,

It was a wonderful party. Truly a wonderful party. I was in a walking dreamy ecstasy for most of the evening. Muchos abrazos, many tears, much laughter, all those memories, good food (“potluck is always the best kind,” and of course the Taco Man) and cold beer and delicious wine. Plus all the children. They were our witnesses. They will take some understanding from that party. That’s what I believe.

Two days after the party, Lee and I went on a business trip to Houston and then came back to desks full of stuff to catch up on. Long lists. Now I’m in New York City for a month, doing some business but also taking a sabbatical. Some time to myself, reading and writing. The older we get the fuller our lives become. So very strange. And yet, all that time, in the time since the party, in the back of my mind is this letter churning—“What shall I say to these people who have been so nice to me? Who’ve honored and blessed me with their good wishes?”

So this is my try to say thank you. 

Most everybody asked me, “Was it a surprise?” Many of you were at the Palmore Apartments in Sunset Heights when Lee surprised me with my 50th birthday. And then again when I turned 60. Same place. My gosh! So certainly I should have been expecting something. And, yes, I was. Yet it didn’t happen the way I expected it to happen, the weekend before, so I was left in an empty place. Afloat in a sad wondering. Maybe I was wrong. 70 years old and nobody cares. Pobrecito. I thought: “I guess she’s not going to do it. Shit.”

Still, our friends Polly and Rob had invited us to Ardovino’s Desert Crossing, two days before we left for Houston, so I was cool with that. Sort of. And the lucky thing about me and surprise parties is that I’m an oblivious guy. Especially if somebody starts me talking about things important to me. 10 years ago—before the surprise party for my 60th—Connie Voisine started talking to me about poetry and poetics. Jackson MacLow and his theories of chance. Weird oblique topic. I got lost in the conversation. This time Rob Dowtin did the same thing. He started talking to me about Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, in particular, the first one, Dukkha—life is suffering, change, anguish. An interesting concept. Especially if you’re about to turn 70 and it really begins to surprise you (lying in bed at night) that there really isn’t any light at the end of the tunnel. Rob’s discussion turned an ignition switch. I started to blab away 90 miles an hour as we drove up Louisville Street. I saw our friends Peter and Candy Cooper. Oh, yeah, now I know. But, really, that didn’t bother me: I was in Cuckoolandia by then. Swimming through a warm pool of euphoric air. Ideas. Images. Lee was on the front porch with Polly. I was hustled into the house. Yeah, something was happening but my mind was no longer in gear. I was buoyant. Grandson Eddie came to get me. Across the street was my granddaughter Emma Birdie. And Andy Byrd, our baby boy—a man now, a wonderful man—here from San Antonio. Surprise! My gosh. I began to weep. Lee was holding my hand. Behind them Johnny Byrd and Susie Byrd and their families and behind them 160 people. Friends from all my various lives. Surprise! Friends from Albuquerque when Lee and I were trying to figure out how to grow up and care for two kids who would become three kids in Las Cruces; writer friends from the world of poetry and ideas and culture and politics; friends and colleagues from the world of publishing and loving books; friends from when I used to coach Andy Byrd soccer; friends from my Zen Buddhist practice; friends from the glory days of the Bridge Center for Contemporary Arts; frontera friends and friends of political activism; Tuesday night friends from playing old man basketball at the Missouri Street Center and then hanging out way too late at the L&J; neighborhood friends; friends who are simply friends, good friends; friends who are friends because they are good friends of our children. A big mix of friends. The wonderful stew of my life. I am so blessed. I wandered among you enchanted and ecstatic, so blessed. Oh, so very blessed.

Lee and Susie, the Primary Instigators
So yes, the answer is that I was surprised. Very surprised. Still surprised.

My deepest thanks to all of you for your friendship. For those who could come, for those who couldn’t come but who wished to be here. Thanks especially to Lee Merrill Byrd, such a marvelous and enchanting woman, and to my wonderful children (how very lucky Lee and I have been) and grandchildren, all of whom played their parts in the drama of the party. And in the peculiar comedy of my life. And to Esther and Orlando Arriola who so generously opened up the doors to their patio for us all.

It’s ironic but so important for Lee and me to have found our home rooted here in El Paso. Here we’ve put our hearts and minds to the many lessons of crossing borders—all the many borders, oh, they are boundless—and we’re learning to be whole.

My love to you all. May we all, in our own way, be a blessing to our communities, to our friends and to our families.

I am so honored to be your friend.
bbyrd@cincopuntos.com (Please write if you have the yearning.)

PS. Oh, there were so many presents. Odd. Unusual. Artsy. Funny. Practical—like wine! Like mescal! All the potluck food that filled the table, a true cornucopia. Like friendship, the most practical gift of all! I’ll be writing to each of you as time allows. Also, see the links below for El Paso Times writer Ramón Rentería nice piece about the party, the photographs that appeared in the Times, a wonderful article by Cheryl Howard and also visit her facebook pages for more photographs.


PPS. THINGS THAT WERE BEHIND (please contact leebyrd@cincopuntos.com. Lee’s the keeper of reality)—
Large stainless steel bean pot
Large red bowl
Metal Bowl
Red tea towel
Black tongs

Post PPS: Lee promises to write an essay telling the real true story of how we first met. Ha! Keep her to that promise. You’ll never believe it. Hasta the next time. bb

1 comment:

Connie said...

Tears in my eyes in Belfast. Happy birthday again!