advent journal: many happy returns


    Growing up in Africa meant growing up with a number of British friends whose traditional birthday greeting was, “Many happy returns.” I was never really sure what it meant other than I was pretty sure they were wishing me a happy birthday. Tonight I learned it means, “Have many more happy days, especially birthdays.” I also found

    Since the 18th century this has been used as a salutation to offer the hope that a happy day being marked would recur many more times. It is now primarily used on birthdays; prior to the mid 19th century it was used more generally, at any celebratory or festive event.

    My morning started with a stunning spousal rendition of “Happy Birthday” followed by breakfast and cards. Ginger’s had this wonderful picture on the front

    and the caption: “Does this hat make me look fat?”

    She had a couple of things to do at the office and then we were meeting at the church to go lunch. My birthday traditions include doing something I’ve never done before (check: I’ve never had a birthday in Durham before) and eating in an ethnic restaurant that is new to me (check: she took me to the Palace International, an African restaurant – more later). When I got to church, the woman filling in for our office manager who is on vacation handed me a card from the Church Auxiliary which said:

    The Lord is blessing you right now.

    Forget wishes, man, let’s go straight for emphatic claims. I loved it. I needed it. I’m hanging on to that card. I may even carry it with me so the next time things get a little tense I can read it to myself or, better yet, pull it out and show it to whoever is the stress distributor and say, “Back off, man, I’m being blessed.”

    The Palace was a small, bright, and sparsely decorated room with one server whose smile sparkled as much as the sunshine that poured in through the windows. Her accent was one of the happy returns of my day, taking me back to the familiar voices of my childhood. I asked to go there because I passed it the other day and saw a photo in the window with a caption that read, “Come taste our world famous samosas.” They were the first thing I ordered and became my second return: samosas were street food when I was in Nairobi. I loved them. (I posted my recipe here.) The ones at the Palace did not disappoint. I may have to go back in, like Buddy the Elf, and say, “Congratulations on having world famous samosas.”

    We meandered through the afternoon and a couple of Durham neighborhoods looking at houses to see if we can get a sense of where we will live once we can sell our house in Marshfield (doesn’t anyone out there want to buy a house six hundred feet from Cape Cod Bay?) and move out of our rental. We are beginning to learn street names and are a little more able to understand how neighborhoods connect to each other, but there is still much to learn. We returned home so Ginger could drop me off and go to one short meeting at church and then she came back around seven so we could go to dinner. Though the restaurant was new to us, the event was yet another return because dear friends in Marshfield gave us the gift certificate to the Magnolia Grill before we left Massachusetts; it was fun to feel them at dinner with us, though I wouldn’t have been willing to share much of my wonderful food:

    Grilled Georgia Quail on Butternut Risotto with Hedgehog Mushrooms, Overnight Tomatoes, and Pomegranate Molasses Jus

    Chesapeake Bay Wild Striped Bass with Sneed’s Perry Littleneck Clam “Chowder,” Organic Kennebec Potatoes, Roasted Pepper, Spanish Chorizo, and Squash Ragout

    Manchego Crème Brulee with a Sweet Spanish Olive Oil Crisp and Poached Quince

    The food tasted as amazing as the text feels intimidating. I felt the blessing of the Lord with every bite.

    Throughout the day, my mobile phone would ring and someone on the other end would begin singing. Their voices full of celebration and remembrances were carried by that familiar melody of return. It was not until I got home, though, that I realized I had voice mail and got to hear my brother, sister-in-law, and oldest nephew sing to me in the same fashion as they do each year. The best was I can describe it is to say I picture them getting in the car together, driving to a drug-infested neighborhood, buying some crack, taking it together as a family, and then calling me and singing. This year, they each sang different songs at the same time, best I could tell. The sheer lunacy of the whole enterprise makes me feel loved.

    After dinner, Ginger and I returned home, or what passes for home right now. It’s home to me because I return to her. What I see from this side of her amazing eyes is God is truly blessing me right now and returns over and over to do it again and again just because I’m at home with her. Very little feels settled, I feel a few dark clouds on the horizon, and we are walking much like the Magi with only a little light to guide us, and – and we keep returning to each other day after day after day: many happy returns.

    Yes, the Lord is blessing me right now.



    1. Belated HB Milton! I must say though, with a few more meals like that from Magnolia Grill, you might have to get a bigger hat! 🙂 BTW, I went to MG’s web site, and love the following quote from there…
      “We believe sharing a table with co-workers, fellow professionals, family, friends or partners incorporates one of life’s greatest opportunities for communion: good food, good wine, good company.”
      God is blessing you today too.

    2. Belated – Happy Day and MANY happy returns! Great post, great description of your many blessings.

      I love the description of the phone call – we carry the same tradition, and the insanity is the best part. I have saved messages on my VM from TWO years ago of the birthday songs I received…it’s the little things that matter…

      You ARE blessed – and blessing in return.

    3. Many, many happy returns from the UK. Those samosas sound great. I once made samosas for a party – 100of them, and they disappeared like they were covered with a plague of locusts.

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