Anyway, Ralph called, and began singing to me. Bad sign. I steeled myself.
Actually, the song was OK. It was actually "Happy Birthday", for one thing, and Ralph almost sounded like he meant it.
Still, I steeled myself.
I realized that was a wise move as soon as he started to talk. "You're just about done," he began. "What're ya doin' today, picking out a casket? We chipped in and bought you a plot for your birthday. HA HA HA HA HA."
It was a belly laugh.
"R-a-l-p-h," I began.
He interrupted me. "Just look at the good point. You don't have to worry about losing your figure. HA HA HA HA HA HA."
"R-a-l-p-h, STOP LAUGHING!" I demanded.
He ignored me. When his guffaws had receded to a tolerable heh, heh, he spoke again. "Gail's here, and she wants to talk to you. Try to stay alive long enough," he said. "HA HA HA HA." I could hear my sister-in-law telling Ralph to shut up as she came to the phone.
"Hi, Terry, just ignore him," she began. "You're only as old as you feel. You sure don't look ----- and you sure don't act it."
I love Gail.
Unfortunately, Ralph got back on the phone. He told me to check my post office box.
Sure enough, Ralph had sent me two cards.
The first, from "Young Ralph," was addressed to "Old Terry Talbert."
"Thought of you today. Got gas...don't think the two are related," the card said.
I opened it gingerly. Inside, Ralph wrote the following inspirational message. "Someday I'll probably look and act ----- too. Just think, you've entered your 'golden' years. It should be all downhill from here. We were going to get you some poli-grip as a gag gift but thought you might not know what it is, living in Maryland and all. Well, here's hoping you have a happy (heh-heh-heh) birthday and that no body parts fall off in the near future. Love, Ralph. P.S. Consider getting a blender to soften your food!"
The second card, from "Baby Brother," was addressed to Terry "Golden Age" Talbert. "Happy Freakin' Birthday. Hey, nothing says 'I care' quite like a card," the card read. The picture on the front is hard to describe. It is of a red-nosed, toothless dirty man with a Neanderthal look. He has little stubby black hairs growing out of his body and clothing. He has a heart tattoo on his left bicep. Underneath the tattoo appears the hand-written word "Terry."
Inside Gail had written a nice note. Not so my youngest nephew Michael, whom I used to love with all my heart. "Boy are you old!" he wrote. "My dad said you were born during WWII. Plastic surgery is coming a long way and you could get it done so that you look your age."
He's been hanging around his dad way too long.
Anyway, there was $10 inside the card, along with a couple of brief notes from Ralph. "You're three-quarters dead, better live it up," he wrote. "Enclosed is some money for 'Depends'. Will see you this spring (hopefully)."
On the back of the card, he had written things like, "Old, really old, ancient, pre-historic. Old crusty. Older than dirt."
After that, I was pleasantly surprised to get a beautiful flower arrangement at work, from mom and dad and Ralph and Gail. Had a Happy Birthday thing sticking out of it...along with a bag of chicken noodle soup emblazed with the words "Hope you feel better."
Mom called to see if I got my flowers. I told her about the chicken soup. She couldn't figure out what could have happened. Poor mom. So naive.
On the bright side, a friend brought me a cake on my birthday. On it was a single candle. My wish? To remain alive - by means of artificial life support if necessary - long enough to see my brother's...50th birthday.
OK, I said it. Sort of.
Now will everybody please leave me alone?