Alfred smiled, but inside he felt tired. He was surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Dozens of relatives he had never met before were in his home to celebrate his ninety-fifth birthday. He had every right to celebrate, not many made it to his age. The fact that he was a widower, and his son and daughter had preceded him in death, were painful reminders of his accomplishment.
It was true, he had seen much in his lifetime. A world war, cars, planes, rockets to the moon, and now computers that could fit in your pocket. Alfred thought he would trade all of that to be with his friends once more. Cries of “Speech” rang out in his living room and pulled him back into the moment.
Alfred slowly stood up with the help of his cane, and everyone applauded. His five-feet five-inch frame was a good three inches short from his younger days. At least he had his hair gray though it may be. Although his physique was frail, it was nice to not carry the weight of his youth. He held up his shaky free hand and silence fell upon the room. He gazed at the young, and middle-aged faces transfixed on what he was about to say. I have throw pillows older than most of these people, he thought to himself.
Alfred centered his cane in front of his body, leaned forward against it and began to speak. “First, thank you for coming to celebrate my ninety-fifth birthday.” Applause broke out, and Alfred waited for it to die down before he continued. “I must confess, I feel like I’m tardy to my own funeral.” “No” could be heard muttered around the room. Alfred smiled and continued. “God gives us all an appointed time. There was a time I was like all of you. Young and ready to make the world my own. Middle-aged and reevaluating my priorities as mortality now seemed to be a closer reality. I would not be truthful with you all if I did not share I miss being where you are now. But, you all give this old man hope. I don’t know if Jesus intends for me to wait for his return, but whatever becomes of me I will always have hope. I have hope because of you, our future.”
Applause broke out, and Alfred eased his painful joints back into his rocking chair. Tracy, his nurse, brought him a piece of cake. It was not homemade like his wife would make, but he enjoyed it all the same. His great-grandchildren came and sat in front of his chair. Alfred proceeded to tell them what it was like to ride a horse to school and milk a cow by hand. He smiled and soaked up the awe on their shiny faces.
Tha party ended. Soon only Tracy and he were left.
“Well, Al, how did you like your party.”
He smiled and said, “Thank you. That was lovely, but I believe I’m partied out.”
They both laughed. Tracy brought him some warm tea, and he watched television for an hour and reflected on birthdays in the past. He wondered what his wife Ella was doing up in heaven today. Were his children celebrating up there too?
Alfred felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up and said, “I’m sorry, Tracy. I guess I dozed off.”
She grabbed his cane, put out her hand, and said. “It’s no problem. I hope I can party as good as you at your age. Are you ready to go to bed?”
Alfred nodded, and Tracy helped him to his feet. Although her small Hispanic frame only climbed to five feet she could pull, push and even carry Alfred if the situation called for it. He slowly made his way to his chairlift and began the slow ride to the upstairs with Tracy at his side. After she helped him into his night clothes, Alfred crawled into bed. He was happy, but all the celebration had definitely taken its toll. Tracy wished him goodnight and left the room. Alfred closed his eyes and dozed off.
Sometime later there was a tap on his shoulder. He opened his eyes and saw Ella standing before him. Her face was bright as the sun. “It’s time to wake up dear.” She said with a smile. Beside her stood his grown son and daughter. “Happy Birthday, Dad!” they exclaimed.
Alfred was afraid and spoke quietly. “I don’t understand.”
Ella extended her graceful hand. It looked as young and beautiful as the day they first met. “Stand up, you will.”
Alfred moved slowly, waiting for the familiar pain he had lived with the last twenty years to kick in, but there was no pain. Instead, he felt strong, he felt young. He jumped up and hugged his family. Ella kissed him and said. “Let’s go home.” All four walked toward the light filling the doorway to his room.
Tracy was walking by Alfred’s bedroom when she heard the familiar rattle. She stopped and looked into Alfred’s bedroom. His chest sat still. She walked in to check on him. His eyes appeared partially opened but were unresponsive. Tracy was unable to find a pulse. She said, “Happy Birthday, Alfred. Tell the family hello for me.” Tracy left his room and went downstairs and called 911.
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