I knew from the moment I met her Belle was going to be a delight. I’d been dealing with the holidays in my usual funk. I’m happy that other people are buying and decorating trees, thrilled that nighttime brings such a splendid array of sparkling lights – and even grateful that at least for a few weeks perhaps people will be more focused on peace on earth and goodwill towards their fellow humans. I just always feel somehow like I’m on the outside looking in.
Much of this is my own fault and I know it. Although I consider myself to be a deeply spiritual person, I am not what I would call religious. I do firmly and emphatically believe that everyone is entitled to his or her beliefs, and I often envy friends who know exactly what these are. As is true with most things in my life, this is just one more area where I am always questioning and contemplating (and, yes, doubting).
On Christmas Eve, a very dear friend left me a voicemail asking if we would like to join her for a festive holiday dinner. Since I had been trying to figure out how I was going to watch It’s a Wonderful Life without throwing something at the flat screen, I quickly and appreciatively said YES!
We arrived early (because we’re always worried we’ll be late) and made small talk while noshing on tasty tidbits and sipping wine. I love it when I get to pretend I’m a grown up!
Shortly thereafter, Marc and Denise arrived with his 95-year-old mother in tow. From the moment she walked into the room she owned it. At first glance, what I saw was a diminutive, white haired woman. I quickly realized she might be tiny – but she was mighty. Mighty cute, mighty funny, mighty forgetful, and to my amazement – mighty young at heart.
Belle (I learned her name when she stuck out her hand to offer an introduction) let me know from the start that she was born in 1917. She must have gleaned my math skills quickly, because she went on to announce this made her 95 years young. The phrasing was hers not mine, by the way.
I had one of those moments I imagine many breast cancer survivors have (and perhaps people in general, but that’s territory I don’t own) when I not only marveled at her age – but hoped, really hoped I could live to be 95 and be as spry and amazing as she is. (And this was all before she wooed me with song!)
I learned that Belle used to deliver singing telegrams (which helps to explain why she asks everyone she meets if it’s their birthday). I found myself marveling at how many changes she has seen in her lifetime. I also tried to wrap my head around the fact that if I lived another 30 years, I still wouldn’t be 95 – which I can tell you made me feel just a bit like a spring chicken!
The dinner table was aglow with candles of all shapes and sizes, which gave the evening a fairytale quality I’ve often viewed in movies, but seldom seen in real life. Part way through the evening Belle once again asked if it was anyone’s birthday. I piped up that it wasn’t my birthday until April, but I wished she’d sing a song to me now.
Quicker than you can say Busby Berkeley (if you don’t know who this is, Google him), Belle stood up and began a full-on rendition of Happy Birthday, complete with staging that would make any Broadway singer or hoofer proud. Not only did I feel as though I was being transported through time and space – I know that Belle shared this sensation as well. There was no doubt I was in the presence of Belle Farer Telson, force of nature, singer extraordinaire, and quite obviously a little spitfire to boot!
Belle sat down and then, smiling at me through the shimmering candlelight, began belting out You Made Me Love You. Without a second thought I began singing with her even though the song is something I recall was old when my parents were still in their 20s. In that moment I realized this was the best holiday gift I’d had in a long, long time.
I, for one, am thankful that Belle has managed to not only live this long – but live this well. Because something else transpired that evening: By giving me hope, she made me believe in miracles once again.