Saturday, May 17, 2008

Turning 70: A Bash to Make a Birthday Boy Feel Like a Kid

... and act like one, I must admit. After this picture was taken, both Matthew, seven, (with the active face and hands) and I were given timeouts. After punishment and a good talking to, all of us kids were herded together for another group picture, this time under the watchful eye of a supervising adult. We were better behaved, drawing only one stern look from the adult.

The thing about a lot of kids at a 70-year-old's birthday party is that they are so full of life: running around, playing games made up on the spot, yelling, goofing, giggling, making friends with each other, being good AND bad, getting in trouble, causing bedlam, always being real.

Grown-ups see this and guess what? They forget they are in a social situation with many people that they do not know, where polite conversation is required, where there are certain standards of behavior to observe, where everything certainly does NOT go.

They begin to lighten up. You can almost see adult cares and proprieties abandoning ship and being replaced by smiles. And soon the smiles turn to laughter. Then normal, responsible adults start acting like, well, kids. And with over a hundred kids running around, little ones and big ones, and with so much noisy chatter, the party is soon completely out of control.

But what takes over is lots of love and happiness. And that is what this birthday boy saw and felt. Take this series of pictures of me and my niece Nanci, who flew in from California. We see each other for the first time. We rush toward each other. We wrap ourselves in each other's arms.
There had been a lot of rain in the days before the party and rain was threatening that morning. Fortunately, I was able to make the sun come out at exactly two in the afternoon and we were able to be out on the deck and also under the tent in the driveway.

Marty Griff, my opponent in tennis and in life, told me and told me that if it rained I would be in deep doo-doo "in that little house of yours." He used a different word for doo-doo. He is shown below left along with two other tennis friends, Jim Kane, the tall one, and Joge Tsang, right. I'm the good-looking one. When my daughter, Misha, was having so much fun that she forget to videotape the party, Jim stepped in and did so. He produced a terrific video. Thank you, Jim!
Surprisingly, Marty was on his best behavior. While everybody else was acting like a kid, he was acting like an adult. I kept wondering when he was going to cause trouble, but he never did. But then I realized why. His beautiful and feisty wife Christina was there keeping a watchful eye on him.

She brought with her a wonderful, creative gift that she made herself, a one-of-a-kind tennis racquet. It is is pictured here, complete with bandaids and a package of Aleve for the aches and pains of an aging tennis player. Thank you, Christina!

Another creative tennis-themed gift came from Barbie Bell, who has been family ever since I took her and my niece Linda to New York City when they were both 12. They had never been to the big city. I'll never forget their wide eyes and oohs and aahs as they looked up at the tall buildings and took in all the noise, bustle, and grandeur of a great city. What they have never forgotten was how I let them play three-card monte on the sidewalk and lose their spending money!

Barbie turned tennis balls into my age, 70, shown here. Along with the tennis balls, she wrote the following:

These balls represent some of the best parts of your life ...
-- They're round and have come full circle.
-- They're extremely Bright. (Don't say anything, Marty)
-- They're firm and full of bounce, yet a bit soft and fuzzy.
They may help you win the game on the court, but it's your LOVE that has won us all over.
Game! Set! Match!

Happy Birthday
Love, Barbie

Tennis players Billy Gibbons, Ed hippert, Rich Pyle, and Bob Smith also made time to stop by. Billy Gibbons is the unofficial mayor of Worcester's sports scene. He is in the paper all the time and I have been begging him to get my name in. So far, nothing. At the party, I tried to get my picture taken with him, but he kept slipping away. Bummer.

Ed is the winning tennis coach at St. John's in Shrewsbury. He is a student of the game. And what he teaches his players, he practices on the court. He plays classic doubles. It was good to see him -- and hear him on the video.

Rich Pyle is a new member of our tennis group. A marathon runner as well as a fine tennis player, he is in great shape, looks too young, and has more hair than this birthday boys thinks is fair. On top of that, he is a genuinely nice guy -- at least for now, before Marty Griff ruins him.

Bob Smith is a longtime winner of tennis tournaments. Years ago as a junior, he won the Holden Towers singles championship six years in a row, not to mention other titles in both singles and doubles. The day after the party, he and Lou Farber beat Al Kurlan and me in doubles. Frankly, I thought that was not a nice thing to do the day after my birthday party. (In the photo, Al is the little grey-haired head appropriately in Marilyn's shadow.)

Asjed Jalil also came by with his wife. It was especially good to see him since he is struggling physically and has not been able to play tennis. Doctors are not sure what is wrong. We are all pulling for him as he undergoes tests to get to the root of what is keeping him off the tennis court.

David Jacques was there because we made him come. He called me and said he was injured, hurting, and could hardly get in and out of a car. He, the iron man of the group, really was hurting. His injured leg was all bound up, making it hard for him to walk.

I told him that that was no excuse and that we would pick him up at home, drive him to the party, and carry him in and out. He thought I wasn't serious. But I immediately called Jim Kane who tightened the screws. Dave came and we all jumped on him for playing too much and asking for an overuse injury.

With his wife Bev looking on approvingly, we literally read him the riot act. I won't go into that here, but Jim Kane captured it all on tape in his video. Dave went away apologizing to all and promising never to overplay ever again. He will be supervised by Marty Griff.
Bill, Tracy, and Tyler Murray came up from Nantucket for the party. No 70th party would have been right without these longtime friends. Not that Bill behaves any better than Marty Griff. He doesn't. When I introduced him as an old friend, he said with unmistakeable weariness, "Yeah, we've known him for sixty years."
When I apologized for having to leave him to talk to other guests, saying, "You know, Bill, it's all about me today and there's only so much of me to go around," he said, with a completely straight face, "Tell me, how is that different from every other day?"

The Mosebachs, Bob and Donna and their son Michael and fiancee Danielle, came up from Connecticut. For several years, we shared a home on Hidden Lake in Higganum, Ct. and I knew Michael, Bobby, and Kelly when they were little kids. Now they're all grown up and working and getting married. Time does pass, doesn't it? Bob sang at our wedding, which was at home on the stone patio I built overlooking Hidden Lake.
I thought he might bring his guitar and sing at the party, but he came minus guitar. I soon found out why. He is now a full-time professional singer with a full schedule of gigs in Connecticut and beyond. He didn't want the party to be just another day at the office. I don't blame him.

For a good part of the afternoon, while the birthday boy cavorted with tennis buddies and friends, my long-suffering family had to cool their heels. My four younger siblings -- Marion, Ruby, Victor, and Reggie --were left to amuse themselves. They ate, chatted and watched and rewatched a video about my life created by Barbara and Misha. With all exits blocked, there was no way for them to get out.
The 15-minute video, "The Life and Times of George Francis Pollock III: The First Seventy Years," complete with music and professionally done, came as a complete surprise to me. My creative wife and daughter gathered up old photos, scanned them, restored many of them, and organized them into chapters. It took them hundreds of hours. They overcame all kinds of technical problems.

The result speaks for itself. Marion cried during it. When I saw it, I nearly lost it. The video unavoidably and vividly recalls the very early days when we were all abandoned, separated, and placed in foster homes. We remained in foster care for our entire childhoods. No one wanted to adopt five kids. The trauma of growing up in foster care, unloved, alone, afraid, without family, is something that all five of us will forever share.
(Note to Joan Halloran and Sue : I am still available for adoption. Then I could enjoy your great baking and cooking all the time instead of just on special occasions.)
But that was way back then. Somehow, all five of us found our way in the world and built successful lives. Today we all have careers, homes, and families of our own as well as each other. From having no family in the beginning, we are now surrounded by family -- as anybody can tell by all those kids at the party.

Barbara and I have nine grandchildren and they were all there along with our four grown children. I never got a chance to introduce Greg, Jonathan, Mark, and Misha, but they were all there. It's not easy getting nine grandchildren together, but here they are.
Greg and his wife Kelly came all the way from Pennsylvania. They made the long trip even though they have a lot going on in their lives right now. Jonathan and Laurie also drove over an hour to get here with Aidan and Nathaniel (at opposite ends of the picture above).

Then came the time my four younger brothers and sisters were waiting for -- a chance to take me down a few pegs. Victor was especially eager. Watching all the attention I was getting and the fun I was having, he was visibly irritated. First chance, he led the attack.

My being better looking than he has never sat well with Vic. So the first thing he did was to take my handsome face and uglify it. This is what he made me look like. Then he threw a handful of worthless foreign paper money in my face (that I had given to him on his recent birthday thinking that he would never find out that the currency was worthless).

Then came the unkindest cuts -- off-color cards and anal-oriented health aids. I cannot show these so-called birthday greetings because this is a family-friendly blog and they are not suitable for small children. While I wanted to crawl into a hole, Vic thought all this was hilarious. Just look at him laughing his head off.

I was mortified. But then, horror of horrors, I realized that the rest of the family also thought this was funny. Every one of them was laughing at me! Me! The family patriarch! In my own home!

Where was the respect?

Anyway, I took it. No one ever taught these former foster kids how to behave. As the oldest sibling, I could not afford to get down to their level. I had a responsibility to set a higher standard of behavior. So I smiled and went along.

Also, we are family. We love each other and are committed to each other no matter what. We have a right to poke fun at each other. The truth is I deeply enjoyed seeing Vic, Reggie, Marion, and Ruby and the others holding their stomachs laughing -- even though it was at my expense.

This love and laughter is my 70th birthday gift to them and to all who came to my home to celebrate this milestone with me and Barbara.

Speaking of her, what a job she did!!! Using her own recipes, she cooked for and fed a hundred people. On top of that, she did a million other things that made this birthday party such a joy and special memory for all of us. Dear, I thank you, with all my love.

P.S. Then, suddenly, all the love, attention, and joy from so many people was gone -- and I missed it. I felt a letdown. I called Bill Murray in Nantucket and told him how I felt. He laughed. No help there. Desperate, I drove to Marty's and Christina's. Christina let me in with a warm smile, just the kind of smile I was missing. Yes! Then Marty came out with a perplexed look that said, "What do you want?" Christina brought me lemonade and then proceeded to make out some bills. Marty talked about problems with a large tree outside. I soon found myself nudged out the door. Back to reality.

P.P.S. Reggie, thanks for the mousepad shown here. I didn't have one. I'll use this one forever. I'll be sending you the papers showing that you are actually the oldest and I am the youngest. Happy 70th!

Finally, let's hear it for the photographer, Keith, who took almost all the photos and uploaded them for me to copy. He beautifully captured the fun, excitement, and love of a memorable day.