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Green Acre #211: Happy Quarantine Birthday

Here’s LittleBird Stephanie’s sister Jeanie, who obviously knows how to celebrate a birthday. This picture is from a pre-Covid celebration. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

MY SISTER JEANIE once had a summer job, sleeping in a luxurious bed in the window of a New York City department store. Talk about exhausting work.

This was in the late 1940s, before I was born. While many of our family stories extend the truth with, shall we say, a few alternative facts, this one is real. There’s a photo somewhere.

Jeanie turns 88 today. I suppose you could look at it as an unimportant birthday—it’s not 90—but it’s still cause for celebration. And where am I?

Sitting on my back porch steps admiring the dance of the autumn clematis, waltzing with the purple rose of Sharon, a sight I’ve rarely seen, as peak bloom is always September third, and we’re never here.

We’re usually there, the Prince and I, splashing about in Juno Beach, Florida, with a mile or so of white sand, crystal waves, spawning sea turtles, and scarcely a soul in sight. Jeanie’s condo is afloat with balloons, and littered with gift wrap tissue. Later there’ll be photos that I’ll promise will be tweaked in Photoshop, and dinner. Probably Italian, which we all love and, for some reason, is particularly good in south Florida.

When I was a kid, Jeanie reminded me of glamorous comic-strip reporter Brenda Starr, though with light brown hair, not red. She wore high-heeled, backless sandals called Spring-O-Lators (I won’t say what they’re more crudely called) with a magical strip of elastic at the arch that prevented them from falling off, even with the slipperiness of sheer stockings. These she had in every candy color, including licorice, in row upon row on her closet floor. They also gave her terrible corns, but what price beauty?

Every night she’d set her hair in a hundred pin curls, brushing it out each morning in Lauren Bacall waves. She wore mink stoles, turquoise eye shadow, bold lipstick and drifts of Arpège. There were hat boxes and a flashy convertible.

Dad was a furniture designer and manufacturer with a showroom in New York. Jeanie worked with him, picking fabrics, designing vignettes, flirting with department-store buyers as she sold them the moon.

When her husband, Lou, retired, they moved to Florida, to an oceanfront condo with terraces north and east, high enough up that sitting down you feel as if you’re on a cruise ship. When Lou passed away she took up with Jack, a handsome widower who lived across the hall in an apartment the mirror image of hers. They were together 10 years, but kept both places—one for living, the other for entertaining. An admirable setup, I think.

When Jack passed away, she decided she was done with men. The only ones left, she said, are looking for a nurse. For a social butterfly, she’s surprisingly content. On hiatus are mah-jongg, card games, meals out with friends and Happy Hour (Note: Since the Boomers hit 65, the term Early Bird Special has been retired). But there is the endlessly changing ocean, visible from every room. That, and a gin-and-tonic at 5 appear to be enough.

Baby sister Bonnie, who lives about 20 minutes away from her, will go by tonight with balloons, presents, Chinese food,and cake. The Prince and I will join them by phone;  maybe we’ll have cake too.

We could have driven down, though it would probably have been the end of our 1987 Mustang convertible. Flying was not an option.

This is all wrong.

And so I sit, watching the clematis blazing along the fence line. So much for this week’s gardening column.

Happy Birthday, Sister! I love and miss you. Here’s to being together for your 89th.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” writes about gardening, and a lot of other things. She also answers gardening questions, including the one I’m about to send her about growing turmeric.

4 thoughts on “Green Acre #211: Happy Quarantine Birthday

  1. Carol says:

    Happy birthday to Jeanie, 88 years young!

  2. Maggie Hall says:

    Apart from a tantalising glimpse into the glamour of a life well lived by Jeannie (wonderfully shown in that fab balloon birthday pic) this puts into poignant perspective the very personal impact of this dreaded lurgy that is controlling our lives.

  3. She says she’s looking for that photo now. Also, thanked me for the obituary:)

  4. Kathy Legg says:

    This is lovely. Happy birthday Jeanie!

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