Listen, all you have to do is turn 60 — or any other age ending in an 0 or a 5 — and go around telling people and they give you presents. Which is kind of the point of telling people. That and the too-occasional protests about how good you look, you know, for your age and everything.
But my friend Laurie was typically straightforward. “I’m giving you something so you won’t feel so old,” she announced. She left the room to retrieve my present. I was staying with her and her husband Rob in Dallas, while I worked on an article, since they’re more interesting and fun than almost anyone else I know and also because they put up with me, for some reason.
“Look at this,” Laurie said, when she came back. She held a fossil in her palm. “It’s more than a million years old. Doesn’t that make you feel young?”
She’d found it in a creekbed outside Kerrville, Texas, last summer. During the long Central Texas drought, the creeks have dried up and you can find fossils embedded in the earth that’s usually covered by water, Laurie said. She’d returned to Dallas with a few fossils she soaked in water, cleaned with dental tools, then sandblasted.
“They’re from an ancient period, when all of Texas was covered in water,” Laurie said. “Look at it. Stephen Jay Gould called them vulva stones.” She turned it over in her hand.
Now that she mentioned it, my birthday present did have a certain markedly female shape to it.
“A million years old,” Laurie repeated, so I wouldn’t forget.
I brought the fossil back with me to New York, carefully wrapped in a paper towel at the bottom of my purse. I felt deeply touched. No one’s ever given me a fossil before.
And how funny to be given a fossil in Dallas, of all places — a city with such an uneasy relationship with its own short history. Buildings and houses there are routinely razed to make way for newer and grander structures. Many in the city had wanted to destroy the Texas Schoolbook Depository after Kennedy’s assassination; building a museum, the Sixth Floor Exhibit, on the site had been painfully controversial. Dallas is a city, my husband always said, that preferred to look to the future and try to forget its dark past.
For me, though, Dallas is a place I’ll always remember fondly, where our son was born, where we still have so many wonderful friends who knew us before we began to resemble a couple of shar-peis. Visiting there, I had a new awareness of some losses — years and decades that had passed, houses now inhabited by other families, friends who were sick.
“A million years,” said Laurie, who had been such a loyal friend to me after my breast cancer diagnosis and who had since suffered the unbearable loss of her younger son, Tommy. “Just think about it. Our lives are just grains of sand on the beach.”
Grains of sand, millions of years, droughts and sorrows and death, the fragile places where we build our lives. My fossil doesn’t really make me or my vulva feel any younger. It just reminds me of how temporary I am, we all are. Day after day, I try not to forget.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about something I should have said
Your feelings about Dallas sound somewhat like mine. It’s a real love/hate relationship. Being born and raised here, there are so many memories. Then I think about the politics and I feel like the throw-out of the litter.
Can’t stop giggling at the picture of you and your husband resembling “a couple of shar-peis.” Here’s woofing at you (from another one)!
While awfully feminine looking, that fossil looks like art!
That is the coolest gift I ever heard of anyone getting! You and your rock rock, Ruth.
Not just any old vulva, but a million year old one. That’s a special gift indeed.
I think this is the greatest present!
What a unique gift. A pertrified vulva…
No, really, I like it! I think it’s pretty interesting to look at, too.
Great post! I especially loved the last paragraph, and the final sentence.
When I turned 60, I told all my friends, “No presents.” But I’d have made an exception for a vulva-shaped fossil. Lovely post!
There must be a way to embed that fossil in Lucite or within a glass bauble, then wear it as a pendant– great conversation starter!
When my mom turned 60, I told her to lie and start saying she was 80, or I would.
“Why?” she asked. “You’ll get more compliments,” I replied.
She didn’t care for that. She just wanted me to take her out to buy a bright, new floral-print dress.
But as she neared 70, she seemed quite cheerful about the approaching benchmark. “Why?” it was my turn to ask. She said, “I’ve always believed 70 was the proper age when a lady could get by with saying whatever she pleased to anyone.” Over breakfast the morning of her 70th birthday, I asked, “Well, Mom, who are you going to tell off first?” She thought a moment. With a plaintive look, she sighed, “The main ones I’ve waited to tell off are already dead.”
I have a younger friend who calls me a fossil every time I play a Gershwin CD.
What a beautiful post, and what a good friend.
Meanwhile, I wonder how many errant visitors you’ll get once Google indexes this post title?
Such an intriguing gift! I think I would have busted out laughing once I saw it, but I’d still be touched nonetheless.
Um, that didn’t sound right, did it?
Well, since my Veteran’s Day post soared to 700 viewers in one day because it talked about my grandfather, Henry Butts, I can just imagine what traffic this post will draw.
My mom is an evolutionary biologist and she is always trying to teach people what you write about here: that we are temporary, that geological time is epic but human time fleeting. (p.s. It’s hilarious that the rock is shaped like a vulva!)
Just goes to show you…..the vulva eternal.