It’s here. As I write these words, my birthday is only two days away, and I’m still here.

I’m hoping, as I do each year, that I’ll get a surprise or two, maybe better than the best birthday surprise I received on my 9th.

JP Devine

That was when Mary Louise Karenbrock stood up at the festooned table and pulled up her party dress, to show me her new pink panties, the ones with a red bow at the top. Thanks for the memory, Mary Louise.

My life has been full of surprises like that, and just being alive for this one, is one of them. But I’m here.

She, whom I met on an escalator in Manhattan and who has kept me alive since then, is still here.

Over the years we have survived career ups and downs, one heart attack, one stroke, multiple earthquakes, the Watts riots and the Manson murders, and we’re here.

She reminds me to include the Patty Hearst and Symbionese Liberation Army shootout in 1974, the deaths of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, and having learned of the death of Marilyn Monroe while we were in line at the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland.

So far I’ve outlived my famous employers: Johnny Carson, Jerry Lewis, and the entire cast of “The Bob Newhart Show”, except for Bob. It’s a sad memory, because Jack Riley and Suzanne Pleshette were my close friends.

I’ve outlived all of my family members but for one, my baby sister, who at 84 is a breast cancer survivor, still living happily in one of her two houses in St. Louis.

My sister Dawn has had, except for that health scare, a charmed life. She married young to Leo, the son of a notable St. Louis gangster, in a wedding that looked a lot like “Connie Corleone’s.” Leo lived a legitimate life and, like his father, died in bed.

Dawn never remarried, but happily raised three wonderful children: two police officers and a successful Brooklyn restaurateur. My family is full of such stories, all true and hopeful, and they’re all here.

I remember fun birthdays and bad ones. My 19th is easy for me, and you, to remember: I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on my way to Japan.

I had finagled the job of assistant to the ship’s chaplain and without his knowing it, swiped a bottle of wine from his storage. With the help of my shipmates and a friendly Chinese cook, I mixed it with Kool Aid and conjured up what the team called a batch of “Purple Jesus.” You can be irreverent when you’re young, not any more.

My 21st, and my last birthday in Tokyo, Sgt. Basinger (Kim’s cousin) and I had Weiner Schnitzel and beer at a German restaurant once favored by visiting Nazis during the war. (Yes, you’ve heard this story before). Our waitress had one blue glass eye because when she lost it during the war and they had no brown ones left. You can’t make sushi like that up.

So here we are. Our two wonderful daughters, are as I write this, sitting in their homes in Los Angeles waiting for the temperature of 110 to go down, the movie business to start again and the forest fires to end.

I continue, with luck, to struggle to entertain, mystify and bemuse you each Sunday morning. It’s the only gift I have left.

As I put away our laundry this morning, I found a pair of panties I gave She for Christmas one year. I smile at the tiny red bow at the top.

Thank you, Mary Louise, wherever you are, for the birthday memory.


J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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