comments: 179

RailroadtieTomorrow is my birthday. It has been, for the past six years, also the most difficult day of the year, next to Christmas. The last birthday present my dad gave me never actually got to me. It was in 1999, and my parents had sent me a box from Corvallis, Oregon, where they were then living, having moved to Oregon about six months after my accident. My dad called me almost every day around when the box was supposed to arrive — I think it was one of those rectangular Priority Mail boxes — and he was so upset that it hadn't come yet. It wound up never coming. Lost. They worried they had overstuffed it. That summer he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died the following January, on my birthday. His funeral was on my mom's birthday. It was a funeral that was hardly worthy of him. It should've been back in Chicago, where he had lived for all but one of his 54 years. His friends should've been there, our friends and families and neighbors and the people he grew up with and we grew up with, the kids from our block and his band and the Italians, Bob and Jo, John and Sandy, the Mays and the Jessicas and Ann, Tom, Scott, and the softball team, and the Swedes, and the Purple Hearts gang, a hundred people, at St. Edmund's. Instead it was just us, just us few, standing in a snow flurry on the side of a hill in Oregon, playing the Eagles from a crappy little tape recorder with a priest we'd never met, and a hospice worker. There were so many, many people that we left behind when I managed to somehow get my own ass run over while crossing the street. Goddamn fucking truck.

I wish the box had gotten to me. I know there was a big photo book about the Romanovs in it. I don't know what else could've been, maybe a letter. I think there probably was a letter, and that was why he was so upset. Maybe not. I didn't get why at the time. He kept calling and calling: Did it come? I don't remember there being a replacement box, or present; there may have been, but I don't remember. It wouldn't have mattered. Perhaps the original was nothing particularly special at all, and would've been forgotten like so many other gifts are, eventually. What makes me sad now, almost unbearably sad, is remembering our conversations about where the box could've got to . . . his frustration, that weird helplessness, the feeling that it was close, and yet impossibly far. There was nothing we could do. It was the first thing that had ever been lost in the mail, so we didn't know. I was slightly impatient — I don't mind, really, it's okay, really. It never occurred to me it would be the last present. He might have known, I'm not sure.

My dad and I found the railroad spike pictured above when I was really little. It was, he always told me, our first walk in the woods a few blocks from our new house, where our family would live for over twenty-five years. My shoe came off in the mud and I started to cry and he didn't know why for many yards, then went back to get my shoe. I think it was one of the first things we'd done by ourselves, together. He engraved the spike when we got home that day. I keep it in my hallway on a little shelf with some photos and three little carved wooden people that were my grandma's. There's orange crayon scribbled on the bottom of it, classic irreverence. I still have it though, Dad. This gift I got.

I hope the deer are coming to your little forest; I know they like it there on that hill.

I wish there was a train passing through somewhere close by, though. That would make it seem more like home. Snow. Smoke. Bare trees. Music. Sunset behind the house. Your hands and your rings, the dragon, the tiger's eye, the tiny ruby, the diamond, the sapphire, gold. You were going to bury survival kits, water purification tablets, silver, things of real value, for all of us in the woods. Other things in there as well, I'll never know. Well, I'm surviving, I just kinda . . . made up my own. I hope some of the things I put in mine would've been things you intended for me. I'm sure they are. They must be. They must be.

I miss you. I wish you were here.
The first one


happy birthday tomorrow. beautiful story...beautifully told. thank you.

Your dad couldn't help but be proud of you. Wherever he is, his blessings are on you.

Happy Birthday Alicia!

The honor you show your dad is lovely.

Thank you for sharing this.

My father died at 54 and was buried on my 21st birthday. So, I truly know the pain you feel. I hope that each passing year becomes somewhat easier for you.

Many blessings to you Alicia. You're a gift to all of us.

Happy Birthday.

your dad sounds like he was a wonderful man. i hope you have a happy birthdy, filled with only lovely memories.

beautiful....i'm sure your dad is very proud of you....what a wonderful story....j

happy birthday, for tomorrow !

I know your pain. My dad died just over 10 years ago, just a few days after my birthday and was buried on my sisters' birthay. Hold on tight to those wonderful memories.....
and Happy Birthay to you!

A very happy Birthday wish Alicia. You are very lucky to have happy memories of your father. I wish I did. It is a gift. Blessing Clarice

Your post today made me cry and miss my Dad too. He's been gone for 26 years now, hard to believe. My Mom re-married a couple of years after losing my Dad, and I had the privilige of having a 2nd wonderful Dad with more wonderful memories. He died last year on Jan. 10th, 4 days before my sister's birthday.

We have to hold on to the memories and blessings that we were given.

I hope you have a beautiful memory filled Birthday tomorrow.


Sweet Alicia,
I am so sorry that your birthday is also a hard day for you. I hope that you are able to find some joy and happiness in your special day tomorrow! And thank you for sharing your precious memories of your father with us- he sounds like he was a really amazing man.

Thank you Alicia for sharing your memories about your Dad with us...
Praying you feel him near and dear to you as you celebrate you birthday tomorrow.

Thank you for your willingness to share so much of yourself on your blog. You have such a gift--well, many gifts. As someone who lost their mom when I was 6, I often think of the what-ifs. I turned into an adult that day, and I long for my childhood often.
I wish you an amazing birthday. Your dad would only want happiness for you.

Without sorrow, I suppose there would be no joy? I'd pass a hankie and we could have a good cry if I was there. xo

Sitting here in floods of tears. I lost my Dad a few years ago, it was lung cancer too. It is still so awful and so raw. Christmas and Birthdays have never been the same since.

I'll think of you tomorrow and send you happy thoughts and light a candle in my corner.

oh sweetie...i read your post "my Birthday" and all i could think was how i would have loved to have had your dad...he sounded amazing and funny and life loving....and he was super handsome..and from the things he liked and enjoyed, he had fabulous taste..and i am sure he was and is so completely proud of you.

Thank you for opening your tender and beautiful heart to the world. May your birthday reflect back to you the REAL loveliness you project out to all of us.

My dad died when I was seventeen. The oddest things bring him back to me, but I surely would love to hear his laugh again.

Thinking of you and thanking you for sharing the realness of your life. Your story about your Dad is so touching..please know that you will be thought of tomorrow.
Happy Birthday.

my dad died when i was young, and some days i wonder what i might be like had he lived longer... but other days i know that i am exactly who i am because he still is in my life every day. memories are wonderful treasures and so wonderfully personal, hang on to them all.

Although it's going to be a sad day, I wish you a good birthday tomorrow with lots of healthy years to come. I know how it feels to miss a father. Wishing all fathers could stay forever with their little girls :)

i'm sure that wherever your dad is, he would be proud of you.

happy birthday

my father and i were never very close as he was an absent father [and that's my nicest comment i can make about him, so sad]. i always wanted a father like yours but my papa [my grampa] was my dear one, something regretibly, i didn't realize until after he died. his birthday is christmas day and it's been 7 years since he passed but it still isn't easier. christmas still feels empty and incomplete without him. i suppose it always will.

oh alicia... bitersweetness.... happy birthday - and know that your dad misses you too - but i bet he's around.... just wishing he could hug you tomorrow.....

there needs to be something good and comforting to say, but there isn't. I hope your day is a good one, and that you only have happy memories.

I don't even know what to say. I am just so sorry that you are feeling so much loss on a day that should be fitting for the sweet and cupcakey and radiant person that you are. Sheila and I have birthdays three days apart and I always do a dinner party for her on her birthday, in our backyard with lots of garden roses in vases, little candles and dinner served on my blue Spode. Thinking about birthdays this year gives me a touch of the sadness you are feeling. I hope that you can enjoy the fun parts of the day- from what we know of Andy, he will certainly do his best to make it a fun day for you in spite of the bitersweetness. I will be thinking about you.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com