Polaroid Umbrella


A pink candle perfectly centered atop a birthday cake, a cake my mother baked on a scorching summer afternoon in late August, 1965. It was my favorite cake, chocolate, lathered in pure white icing and decorated with symmetrically aligned maraschino cherries. The empty maraschino jar would later serve as the container for the lighting bugs my brother and I would fervently catch, in an effort to savor the last nights of summer.

The cake was lovingly baked in the kitchen of our Long Island Cape Cod home—my father built it in 1951. Peeking from the adjoining room, I watched my mother gather ingredients from the cupboard as a metal tabletop fan rhythmically circulated humid-laden air wisps, but soon those same wisps would indeed be welcomed, responsible for the wafting odors of the cake baking in the oven.

The occasion, my 5th birthday—the festivities would soon begin, balloons would predictably pop, succumbing to the sweltering heat, and I would tear open a pile of presents. The years ahead would quickly fade to decades, and the fond memories of my 5th birthday would remain archived and tightly tucked away—until recently, when I happened to find the pink candle, which I taped to a Polaroid picture, commemorating that particular birthday.

Today, I hold the pink candle in my right hand and I wallow in a melancholic disbelief that 45 years have come and gone.

I look carefully at the Polaroid, and take note of my location, the living room, the focal point of the house. I notice my proximity to the front door, a portal to the world. I would eventually walk through that door, graduate high school, attend college, law school, and join the working world. Eventually, a white knight would knock upon that door, my future husband. At other times, that same door would serve as a threshold, heralding both the happiest of news and the most devastating. It was also a gateway into the unknown, but at the same time, a haven, an archway carved in solace and comfort, safely leading me back to the place I knew best…home.

I look carefully at the Polaroid and focus on the gift I am opening, an umbrella. It triggers my recollection of other gifts. The details, a bit scattered and sketchy—threads of clarity slowly begin to weave a tapestry of memories. I remember opening a pale-pink plastic school bag, with a gold buckle that would sporadically jam throughout the school year, causing complete panic to all 40 inches of me. I also recall tearing open a fire-engine-red pencil case with a built in change purse. Despite the fact that man had recently landed on the moon, that built in change purse was the most incredible invention my little five year old eyes had ever seen.

Certainly these were practical gifts. I was starting kindergarten in less than a week, stepping off the front porch and entering the world beyond—well, for at least half a day. But the umbrella, it beckons reflection. I recall twirling it, singing the infamous song from Mary Poppins. But in hindsight, the umbrella was truly a gift tightly wrapped with a metaphorical bow. Figuratively speaking, that umbrella would provide shelter from life’s downpours, a place to hide from the tragedies, disappointments, the fragile twists and turns integral to life’s journey.

Age has been accompanied by wisdom, lessons learned, and a firm commitment to dance through life’s storms, splash and stomp in the puddles, to ultimately leave the umbrella behind. Decades of experiences and encounters have proven that adversity will eventually recede—the darkest days will surrender to streaks of radiant sunshine and in the midst of life’s torrential downpours—if you seek the rainbow, you are certain to find it. But perhaps, most of all, growing older gently reminds us that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is, indeed, life itself.