This Side Up

Still making a splash at 90


Bushy eyebrows.

You’re probably wondering what that has to do with anything, least of all a birthday party.

That is until you meet cousin Nicholas. He’s got the wildest eyebrows of any of us in the family. I can’t say that for certain, for unquestionably there’s a pronounced eyebrow gene among the lot of us. While the rest of us keep those brows in check, Nicholas flaunts them. With some moustache wax he could easily twirl them into sculptured pointy appendages. But, no, they’re left to grow any which way they choose, creating, as my son Ted says, “bird nests.”

Well, perhaps that’s a bit too much hyperbole, but you get the picture.

Nicholas turned 90 on Monday and his wife, Cathy, threw him a party Saturday at their home. She pulled out all the stops, baking the densest and richest chocolate cake I’ve tasted and to offset it a Hawaiian wedding cake with coconut, nuts and pineapple. She had a spread of vegetable nibbles, dips and salted almonds and selection of Portuguese and French wines plus a variety of beer. When it was time for dinner, the assembly of family and friends, some having traveled from England to be there, were directed to the garage where a caterer served up barbecued chicken with all the trimmings.

Nicholas was in his element, engaging in one-on-one conversation which soon grew to groups of four and five as he regaled us with stories, some that have become family folklore and others that gave us insights to his full life as a pediatrician who, soon after graduating, joined the Peace Corps to go to Africa.

I wrestled with what to get for a gift. By 90 – even though it doesn’t take that long – most people are seeking to shed belongings, not acquire them. A bottle, it could be Scotch since he enjoys that, would have been appropriate yet hardly imaginative. Clothing hardly seemed necessary, although a bow tie might have worked for he wears them, and while eyebrow clippers would have been good for a laugh, they wouldn’t have been used.

Gifts aside, we decided those of us representing our branch of the family should wear the most outlandish clothing we could find, preferably items from the hippy days of the 60s buried in the dark corners of closets and hopefully spared from moths. Our searches of my father’s wardrobe – wish that he was still here to wear them – rewarded us with some “over the top” apparel, just what we needed to evoke plenty of conversation. Nicholas, we guessed, would even recall those bright pants, summer jackets and flowery shirts and who last wore them.

Leave it to my daughter Diana, who couldn’t be with us, to come up the crowning touch…great big bushy eyebrows that even Groucho Marx would envy.

Before piling in the car, Ted applied them to my sister Claire, her husband Edward and the two of us. Our arrival was greeted with laughs, “that’s great,” and envious inquiries of “where did you find them?” If only we had enough for all 50 or more guests to wear.

But that wasn’t needed. Nicholas loved the facial homage.

As for gifts, we settled on an array of silly items gleaned from the shelves of Job Lot; from a squirt gun, which I suggested could be filled with Scotch, a balsa airplane, to a glow stick and a small wood dog that when you depressed the button on the base would move that Claire found. He loved that one. We wrapped them up fitting them into pouches on a workman’s belt that I found at Lowe’s. He was to wear it on walks. All told our expenditures were surely less than a bottle of vintage Scotch.

When it came time to gifts and presentations, a cousin on Cathy’s side of the family performed a rap she had written, putting Nicholas’ life to rhythm. It was marvelous and was followed by a Bach piece performed by his son on the cello and granddaughter on violin.

Nick was animated; eyebrows waving as he excitedly took in the evening.

Maybe we should all be a little more carefree and let those eyebrows go wild.

It sure makes 90 look a lot more appealing.


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