Fifty-One*

My blog title is a reference to a great baseball flick series from 2001—61*. It’s about New York Yankee, Roger Maras on his quest to beat Babe Ruth’s home run record. Maras, played by Barry Pepper, (who incidentally I would cast as my husband if he ever gets a biopic) confronts criticism and outright hostility as he slowly, and almost reluctantly edges out fan favorite, Micky Mantle. The all-important asterisk is a reference to the fact that Maras did not beat Babe Ruth in the same number of games. By 1961, the baseball season had become longer, so Maras’ achievement is qualified because he had more games than Ruth to smash the record. So instead of an unquestionable distinction in baseball history, Maras gets a disclaimer.

Alas, my 51* has nothing to do with home run records or rivalry in the dugout. Today I’m 51 years old. This one is big. I don’t normally make a big deal about birthdays. Most people fixate on 50 and I certainly did some of that. This year, however, comes with a whole lot more baggage, hence the asterisk. It’s an age that while seemingly surreal and out of touch for me—there’s no way I’m that old—it also feels as if it’s been with me all along, eerily present and the number I’ve been chasing for decades now. 

My mom was 51 when she died. I was 22. I’ve finally reached the age when her brilliant light went out.

I have the same 5’2ish frame as my mother—a couple of shorties in a family punctuated with some surprising stature. People tell me I resemble her, although I don’t always see it, there are times… I remember trying on her 1960s wedding dress that she had casually stashed in my closet. It hung for as long as I can remember at the end of the rack, not even in a plastic dry-cleaning bag, yellowing with age. One day, I tried on the simple gown, sewn by a neighbor from a store pattern, because I missed her.  I was in my late 20’s. It fit like a glove—from the shoulders to the trim waistline down to the hem of the skirt. It made me happy that I was so like her physically. 

When my dad moved out of that house, the dress probably ended up in a donation pile. I didn’t hope to wear it to my wedding anyway. The aging process had done its damage and I preferred the idea of choosing something for myself. My (regretfully dated) dress is now stuffed in a specially sealed air-tight box in my closet, so it should remain white. Maybe someday my daughter will try it on. 

I wear my mother’s wedding ring. No adjustments necessary due to our matching long spindly fingers. But she enjoyed playing the piano. I recall telling my piano teacher I was quitting. He was devastated insisting, “but you have hands made for piano.” I never played again, preferring to listen to her. She was also a closet writer—I have journals, short stories, and the beginning of a book on her family history. When I write, I feel a kinship with her. She delighted in my childhood essays which showed no promise except to a proud mother. 

“But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. “

Matthew 24;26

I don’t know when I’ll die. Nonetheless, this number is significant and will undoubtedly occupy space in my brain. From here on out, each subsequent birthday I’m graced with will be marked as 51 plus whatever that number is—x number of years past my mom’s death. If it sounds morbid, it is. It’s my asterisk year. 

I certainly understand intellectually that my mom’s age of death does not signal mine. But there is more to the story than the number 51—the asterisk conveys my existential struggle since her untimely death and trying to surrender to all of the unknowns in life. 

I refuse to diminish Roger Maras’ achievement due to the addition of a special character after his legendary 61 home runs. His life story is way more than any record. The asterisk, rather than undermining his success, conveys to me the honorable way in which he pursued that number. 

In the same way, it’s my hope, that on this significant milestone, I can see past an age and find meaning in the margins of life. That’s where the real story is.

Photo by Angèle Kamp on Unsplash

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