Monday, 31 March 2008

Sixty Years Young!

My 60th birthday has come and gone!

I’d expected a quiet one, but Susanna had been plotting behind my back. “The courier is here”, she called. And when I opened the door there were my daughters Amy and Lucie, with their partners Ben and Tim, and my grandsons Cal and Gabe. I was taken completely by surprise - but what a lovely one! Among the presents they brought were a framed collection of happy family photos, and a CD of birthday greetings from them, from my other children Elinor and Barnaby who couldn’t be there, and from old friends, with more photos, and movies, and singing. Replaying it now by myself brings real tears of joy to my eyes - what a silly, sentimental old man I have become!

We were joined that evening by my brother Tom, with his wife Lucy and my nieces Hetty and Sophie, for a great family dinner, with a turkey hand-reared by a friend, and scrumptious birthday cake. And we played games: Are you there Moriarty?, Cahoots, and Holiday Planning. Over the meal Tom and I reminisced about our grandparents, in the presence of my grandchildren: if they were listening, they were hearing memories of their great-great-grandparents, from people who knew them. The continuity of memory that runs in families is amazing, and I think a very valuable thing, rooting us securely in a shared history.

Our gardens are often like that too. So many of the plants in our garden have an ancient history that I treasure. The tiny daffodils that have just flowered are an old cultivar of Narcissus minor from the Pyrenees: I got it from my mother, but it came originally from her Devenish grandparents' house Clonteem in County Roscommon, so I know it as the Clonteem daffodil. The balsam poplar, just coming into leaf and scenting the bottom of the garden, is a baby from my parents’ one, which in turn grew from a branch broken off her tree in Adare by Cousin Marjorie. “Here Lucie, stick it in the ground and it will grow”, she said: it did for her, and it did for me too. Other plants came from friends, or we have grown them from seeds or cuttings collected from beautiful places we have visited. They are now joined by a cherry (Prunus mume 'Contorta' I think) given me by Tom and his family for my birthday. A whole treasury of memories, rooting Susanna and I in our own landscape.

Despite the wind and rain, spring is bursting out all over in the garden. My birthday breakfast was scrambled eggs with our own asparagus from the polytunnel. There are tadpoles in the pond, so the frogspawn had been fertilised. Magnolia stellata (a house-warming present from a friend) is in full bloom, and M. 'Leonard Messel' is just showing pink. The first scarlet tulips are looking gay in Susanna's labyrinth garden. And the blackthorn has come out, so the fly will be up in a calendar month. How exciting it all is!

The theme of last Sunday’s readings was faith: the faith in Jesus the risen Christ confessed by Thomas who we wrongly call Doubting; the faith boldly proclaimed in public by Peter on the day of Pentecost; the faith passed down from the Apostles over the generations to us, which by the grace of God we will pass on to our children and grandchildren. It is a great gift from God which firmly roots us in the family of Christians of every place and age.

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