Turning thirty

As I latch the Passage's shutters for the summer, I am looking forward to a milestone, our twin sons' thirtieth birthdays on July 9.

One son said, "I remember when I was seventeen, and a guy at work turned thirty. It seemed so old." In 1978, my thirtieth was similarly  regarded as the definitive departure of youth.

Women friends approached the day either deliberately distracted by some kind of hijinks, or wrapped in a granny-square afghan, weeping into poetry. Joanna stocked her kitchen with beer and pizza, invited forty friends, and then was so distraught she never left her bedroom. One by one, we entered to comfort her.


My birthday party in July, 1978 was here; I lived on the upper floor of this mansion, built in 1875. It was a romantic apartment that had retained its heritage features, with odd little quarter-levels off a centre hall wide as a street. The former tenant had entered a convent, so I'll bet the place had not seen a bash like that for some years.

See that balcony? John dangled from the railing by one hand (probably on a bet), while his wife pleaded with his pals to haul him back up. Fortunately the owner, who occupied the ground floor, was at her cottage.
At thirty

Our friends brought raccoon-themed gifts, because I was fond of the bushy, bandit-eyed coons who lived in the garage, and my then-husband liked theme parties. So I received ears of sweet corn, a silver raccoon stickpin, and of course a vintage Davy Crockett hat.

Robert ignored the theme, gave me a bottle of liqueur—and then drank it himself:

An immoderate amount of Bailey's

Thirty is a gusty age, full of energy but sometimes rudderless. In my circle, it was a time of movement, from job to job, partner to partner. There was no consensus about how take on adult roles; we were divided between the conventional models supplied by parents or mentors and New-Age experimentation.

Everyone turns thirty within a larger historical frame, the warp to your weft. The late '70s were a period of relative economic stability; no one at that party had yet faced chronic unemployment. Pension plans were robust, even if we barely thought of ever needing them. Women were now free to bear children or not, but if one were desired, thirty was considered "time to get on with it".

Though we had been vividly influenced by the '60s, few dressed for that party in "beads and feathers from Salvation Army counters" as Leonard Cohen wrote, except for Lisa, who was a dancer. I wore a brown Danskin leotard and matching wrap skirt. We were building our "work wardrobes", and were a good fifteen years away from anyone even thinking of wearing jeans to the office except on the occasional Casual Friday. Some of us worried about looking old enough!

As I look back on the guests, I realize how much instability roiled below the surface. The majority of those in relationships broke up, partly because of the relatively recent option for no-fault divorce. In less than three years I had moved to another city, taken a new job, and was about to divorce too. Only then, responsible for every aspect of my life, did I feel wholly adult.

The birthday boys

My sons are turning thirty in a different world; in '78, the population was 4.4 billion; today, it's 7.5 billion. Every day, they learn what is happening, anywhere, in real time; receiving and transmitting instantaneous information. (We didn't even have an answering machine in our apartment.)

Before we part for the summer, please tell us about your thirtieth birthday; I'll bet you remember, and I would love to hear that story before we part for two months.

The Passage will reopen on Tuesday, September 5. Thank you for reading and have a glorious, golden summer!



24 comments

Madame Là-bas said...

I took another road in my twenties:quit university as I felt rudderless, got married to a "safe" man and had a baby. Then I wondered, "What have I done?" Even then, I knew that another person could not provide me with purpose. Back to university with baby...I completed my BA in French Literature at 29 and was working in a library. At 30, I realized that I did not want to be married but lacked the financial resources or support to make the change. It would take me another two years to take the step. So many women that I know shared the experience of divorce and single parenthood in their early thirties.You're absolutely right about responsibility and adulthood. At age 30, in 1982, a change was in the air. Enjoy your vacation and happy birthday to the twins.

Duchesse said...

Mme: What determination you had. Your life tin those days is an example of realizing one needs to change, but also the resources- you took the time time to gather them. Today's "You Only Live Once" attitude can mask the need to think and plan. The instantaneous nature of life can drive impulsive decisions. (Not everyone operates that way, but I read a lot of justification for fast fixes, without thinking of consequences.)

Venasque said...

I can honestly say I have little memory of the '70s, nor of my 30th birthday. I do, however, remember my 33rd. I was at a family gathering and a relative was giving me the business about my shoes and how expensive they were (relatively, it's all relative, isn't it). I thought to myself - this is none of your business, and I don't want this life any more. So I went to university, which I adored (I had always hated school and not done well) and excelled, met a new man and got divorced. It was all for the good.

Have a wonderful summer. I enjoy your blog so much - you write so well.

Margie from Toronto said...

When I turned 30 I was working in a bank here in Toronto as a "Counter Officer". It was a Friday and our manager always left early and as we were closing up we always drew the curtains for the weekend. I was all set to head out for a birthday dinner with friends but somehow got stuck with a customer from another branch who was being very difficult. As I tried to explain why I couldn't do as he asked he suddenly walked through the gate that separated us - I thought he was going to attack me! Suddenly music filled the air, I turned to see all my colleagues lined up at the back of the office as the "customer" went into his stripper routine!

I had been well and truly fooled as I'd already received flowers and had been treated to lunch - I wasn't expecting anything else. I couldn't stop laughing through the whole performance. Needless to say - I've never forgotten i!

As others have noted - we should celebrate birthdays and the fact that we are still here - life can be a challenge and it's seldom smooth sailing - but it doesn't mean we can't appreciate it and our friends and family.

Happy birthday to your boys and have a wonderful summer. See you in September.

Abigail said...

My 30th birthday was a low point. My birthday was in early December. The day after Thanksgiving my husband had announced that he had decided he didn’t want to be married any longer and “Don’t take it personally.” He left that weekend with a few clothes. I came home the night of my birthday to find that he had returned long enough to take two chairs and to clean out the liquor cabinet. I sobbed and sobbed. At that point I had a lot of growing up to do. I was extremely fortunate to have a supportive and loving family, a steady job, good health, a caring church, some very good friends, and a good education. I was way off balance for at least a year, but now look back at 69 on a very full, rich life that probably would not have happened if we had stayed in that marriage.

gigi01 said...

I gave birth to my daughter, my only child, on my 30th birthday. It was a milestone, needless to say.

materfamilias said...

This is a marvellous, marvellous post -- so well-written and entertaining and poignant (especially as I've been following you long enough to remember your sons turning 21!). I can't wait to get back and read all the responses -- what fun! -- but we're rushing out the door soon, taking advantage of our 60s to do many of the things we couldn't so easily manage at 30, with three children already, a 7, a 4, and a 1-year-old. And you've given me serious pause, because I can clearly remember my 40th -- we'd just bought our beachfront then-cabin and I had a sleepover party there, camping style, and I remember truly feeling mortality even as I celebrated a sense of strength in knowing myself. But my 30th? We must have marked it, somehow, but I can't remember. I know my brother gave Paul, my husband, a baseball shirt with large numerals -- 30 -- on the back for his, Paul being the first in our family to breach that barrier. I remember nothing at all from mine -- and I'm pretty sure that last year's move meant I culled the old calendars, dayplanners, etc., that might have given me a hint. I suspect that, thanks to you, I'll be combing through photo albums later today (which is my little sister's Freedom 55 birthday, and I remember her 4th. . . .
Happy Birthday to your sons!
and Happy Summer to all of you

LauraH said...

My 30th was in 1984 of all years but I can honestly say I don't remember it at all. I do remember that year I was living in a housing co-op in downtown Toronto and working at a job in computer programming which I didn't much like. I was drifting. Over the following three years I quit that job, apprenticed as a housing manager, found a job in that field, met my late husband and life began to open out in a better way.

Enjoy your family celebration and have a wonderful summer.

Duchesse said...

Venasque: It sounds as if you found an inner reserve of assertiveness at 33. It's remarkable how one remark can mobilize us, if the timing is right.

Margie: I think you get the Wild Award! You just could not do that in any office these days, let alone a bank.

Abagail: Some birthdays are low points, and to have it be a decade one is extra-low. I hope those good friends rallied round you. You definitely would have had a different life and given the small behavioural description, I'm willing to bet you are far better off.

gigi01: A double celebration! You were definitely too busy that day to philosophize about "what it means to be 30"!

materfamilias: 7, 4 and - 1! You were probably too tired to party much. (40 was like that to me, I had 1 year olds and stuck my feet in a Mr Froggy wading pool, had a beer and called it a party.) Your 40th sounds magical and your children old enough to join in and remember it too.

LauraH: 30 is still a drifty time, you see so many levels of stability (or not). Some of my contemporaries then were middle-aged by then, with kids, mortgages and big jobs, others were still bumming around in Guatemala and trying to find either god or a job they could stand. I remind myself of that now, with my sons: Thirty is adult, but not the same adult one will be at 40.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Oh such a delightful post...and as mater mentioned very poignant.
Our children are a few years away from their 40th...where does time go?

My 30th birthday stands out because we took our two children to Palm Springs to visit my husbands' parents who were Snowbirds and spent their winters in warmth...March 1985 was a hot sunny day and we swam in the pool and later went out for dinner at a fancy restaurant ate lobster and I rode in a limo!

Hope you have a lovely holiday.
Leslie

Beth said...

Such a great post. I love that picture of you at 30 and as for the bathroom one, well, we've all been there! I can't remember my 30th birthday with assurance...I had been married to J. for a year, together for three, and we had bought a house and combined our businesses, so we were busy getting going on our adult paths. I was very happy; this was after a short-lived miserable first marriage for me. I'm sure we had some sort of party, I always celebrate birthdays! He says he'll check the archives for a picture, though!

Duchesse said...

hostess: That was an elegant birthday and you seem to have been much loved on that occasion.

Beth: I always threatened Robert that his piracy would haunt him. Would love to see a photo, I too am sure there was a party.

Kristien62 said...

My thirtieth birthday is my most memorable. I had wanted to go to NYC to a spa, a plan I had hatched several years before. Instead, I was in St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica, NY, giving birth to my second son. Sharing a birthday has been a "gas" (as they said in th'60's. We really have a special bond, and I wouldn't change that birthday gift for anything in the world.

une femme said...

Ah, my 30th was spent dancing the night away with friends at a cavernous beer hall/disco. 35 was when I finally began to settle down and get serious about my career and relationships.

Susan said...

My 30th birthday could not have been that much fun--because I have no recollection of it. At that time, I was mother to a three year old and pregnant with another child. We were living pay check to pay check---so costume parties or what we wore was just not a concern. i was loving being the best mother I could be--but still feeling a bit oppressed. It was not an easy time. I was well educated, loved my husband, but life was challenging. Looking back, I realize that I faced MUCH bigger challenges in later years. I guess my comment is that my 30th birthday passed without notice or thought.

Unknown said...

Ah...my 30th....I do remember Spanish coffee. We had gone out to dinner to a very swish restaurant. We had Spanish coffee after a fabulous meal. When we returned home...there was a group of us....we decided to attempt to make the coffee the same way. The waiter had poured rum down a knife, held over a glass of hot sweet coffee. The rum was lit and the flames were to run into the glass of hot coffee. Well, ours went over the counter...flames and alll. The counter was in flames. Thank goodness there was at least one sober person to put out jthe fire.

I will never forget my 30th...the year we almost burned the house down....

Ali

Dulce Young said...

Funny, but i do not remember my 30th birthday celebration, if there was a celebration at all! Probably because, i too, was busy rearing 2 kids at that time.

Have a great summer Duchesse! I'll be missing your post, so what i'll do is to revisit the old ones! Looking forward to September, when you're back. And happy 30th to your sons!

Duchesse said...

Kristien62: My how are plans can take a turn! Not quite a spa, but you left with a prize.

Pseu: If I had to guess, that is exactly the setting I would have predicted: dancing merrily with friends.

Susan: You are not the only commenter who can't vividly recall a decade birthday. But sometimes the date does not coincide with the time when more significant changes happened. And fogginess is natural in the midst of pregnancy.

Unknown: Was one of your friends in the Talking Heads? I will never look at a Spanish Coffee the same way.

Dulce: As you will note, others can't remember either, and not for embarrassing reasons! Thank you- there are some good posts back in the archives; sometimes I read them myself.

lagatta à montréal said...

The local Petite-Italie SAQ must think the twins' birthday worthy of a raucous celebration, as they are temporarily moving the outlet to a location just across from the Vices et Versa pub, as they renovate their usual premises. Please no burning of countertops or anything else in the Holy Condos

I was at Jean-Talon market VERY early this morning; fun as they are setting up but had to dodge some trucks while walking around, as I wasn't entirely awake yet, despite an espresso at San-Siméon. I'm making this very simple recipe: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jun/21/sausages-and-greens-recipe-napoli-style-from-rachel-roddy-kitchen-in-rome
Actually just with spinach and spring onions as those are in season - chard or broccoli later on. Using the small chicken sausages from Milano...

Buon estate a tutti!

Marina Malvada said...

I remember the year I turned thirty, but don't recall exactly how I celebrated it. There's little doubt in my mind that I had a low-key-good-time. What's foremost in my mind now is that I consider menopause to be a second adulthood, or "adulthood 2.0".

Duchesse said...

lagatta: Early morning, summer is a magical time to be in the market.

Marina: Menopause is definitely a new chapter, and some women celebrate with a special party- though I have never been to one.

Blume said...

I had just arrived in Berlin for the summer, as had a recently made friend of mine. On the eve of my 30th he had plans that night, but invited me over early for a drink. We sat in the courtyard of his building watching bats fly overhead in the dusk as one bottle of prosecco turned into two. When we parted ways, I went to a bar to meet a traveling friend who was going to stay at my place that night. She was hours late, and sitting at one of the long communal tables outside the bar, I ended up talking to all sorts of people. Berlin is very different from the U.S. when it comes to attitudes about age, and no one was the slightest bit fazed that I was turning 30 and unmarried, still in school, still moving back and forth between Berlin and Boston. I was many beers in by the time my friend got there, and she and I went back to my apartment and talked until morning.

I spent a lot of time with my prosecco-drinking partner that summer, cementing a friendship and regard that lasts to this day, though we're in very different life places now. The traveling friend, I have never crossed paths with again in person again after that night.

I turn 40 this month. Thank you for the opportunity to do a little pre-reflection on my 30th and the decade since then.

Duchesse said...

Blume: Thank you for this evocative memoir; your 30th represents the openness to life that one finds outside the habitual surroundings, the connections made by chance, and the friendships that endure, but we don't always know which will last at the time. You had a magical birthday and I wish you many more- not just on the decade ones.

My own birthday is three days after my son's and will not be a decade one quite yet. But I am already thinking of that. I veer between spending it in my neighbourhood, which is filled with the kinds of convivial places where you spent your 30th and somewhere distant- maybe Capri.

lagatta à montréal said...
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