I'm celebrating the big 5-oh this weekend so I find myself thinking back over my half century of life to other memorable birthdays - where I was, who I was with, and what I imagined for myself at that point in my life. There is one that come vividly to mind.
It was 1973 and I was turning 11 years old. I had a pen pal, the daughter of close friends of my parents, who lived in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Pat and I had known one another since we were babies - literally. Born just two days apart, we'd played together whenever our parents could manage visits. In our first photo together - I think we're about two and a half - she looks like a sweet little girl while I look like a boy - still almost entirely bald, which is ironic given all the hair I have now.
Anyway, in 1973, as a special treat Mom and Dad decided to take me to Newfoundland to spend my birthday with Pat. Keep in mind that this was 39 years ago when flying was still something of a luxury - every flight an adventure. To that point in my life, I'd never been on an airplane so it was with considerable trepidation and excitement that I boarded my first Eastern Provincial Airways flight to Deer Lake, Newfoundland.
I don't remember what time our flight left but it was late by the time we were in the air over Deer Lake and a fierce winter storm was raging. We could feel the plane descending but saw nothing but darkness beyond the swirling snow - no lights and certainly no runway. I didn't know enough to worry but could feel the tension in the air as the plane continued its approach. Looking back, it's a testament to the pilot's skills that we arrived safely that night. I suppose he must have had something to guide him as he brought the plane down, but we passengers saw nothing until we were on the ground and taxiing towards the terminal.
Pat and her family met us inside and loaded us into the family car for the 30 mile drive to their home in Corner Brook through the storm that continued to rage.
The highlight of the visit for me came the night of our birthday supper. After we cut the beautiful pink frosted cake, Pat's mother presented us with matching silver charm bracelets. Each bracelet held a dainty "happy birthday" charm engraved with "1973" to mark the occasion. Mine also held the small figure of a Newfoundland dog. I cherished that bracelet and wore it often until it was stolen from my apartment more than twenty years later.
That trip to Newfoundland was the beginning of my life-long love of adventure and travel, as well as my fascination with the beautiful island of Newfoundland. In the 39 years since, I've literally travelled "around the world" visiting places I couldn't have imagined existed when I was 11 - the highlands of Papua New Guinea, the massive Salar de Uyuni of Bolivia, the peaceful temples of Ubud. I've also come to know the people and culture of Newfoundland well - through its literature, music, theatre and my many friends who come from there.
Thanks Mom and Dad for making my 11th birthday such a special occasion. It's wonderful having great memories of my first big adventure to take with me into the second half of my life. :-)