Friday, April 18, 2014


I turned forty two days ago, and for the longest (although we'd made plenty of plans to celebrate), we hadn't made any plans for the actual day. But then Aunt Ellie called to say she'd have my Girl Scout cookies at her timeshare at Massanutten, this week. She wondered if I'd like to pick them up there or meet halfway, and I knew almost right away: I wanted to pick them up on my birthday.

"I'll bake you a cake! What kind do you want?" she asked.

"Do you know how to make my mama's applesauce raisin?" I wondered (because my whole life is pretty much about trying to score apple cake or bread from someone who loves me), and she laughed and said no but that she'd call Mom for the recipe.

Jim took the day off work; I pulled Cade from school; and the six of us made the two-hour drive to Massanutten. Aunt Ellie's been spending a chunk of April in one particular Massanutten villa most all my life. Back in the day, she and my grandparents had back-to-back weeks; I can't walk in without seeing Grandma and Grandad at the table, a board game at their elbows.

It all comes back in a rush, how my favorite thing as a little girl was the generous hot tub of the villa. We'd don our bathing suits and climb in, four or five of us at a time. At thirteen, I started my period for the very first time in that villa, and I remember fretting that, in their excitement, the women would tell Grandad my business. Funny how times have changed; I'll share with just anyone, now: I was days from turning thirteen, and praise be that my body has bled and borne so well.

On my twenty-fifth birthday, I conceived Cade in the villa. The story (in all its irony) goes that his dad had been transferred from Dallas to close-by Harrisonburg, and--since the villa was standing empty during her week--my aunt passed me her key. Jason and I ending up buying a five-bedroom, brick cape cod in the railroad town just behind Massanuttten; we had an amazing, back-deck view of its ski runs. It was the house to which we brought home our baby, the house in which Cade reached many of his earliest milestones.

I'm a little surprised, writing this, that I feel no sadness in my aunt's villa, but no: only blessed history. Only joy in seeing Jim puttering around the applesauce-raisin-cake-smelling kitchen; Cade and Daniel fishing golf balls out of the stream just like my brother and I used to do; my little daughters chasing Madison up the steps and peeking down through the rails on the balcony; Chip finding great amusement in the low thrum of the door stop on a spring.

When we left the villa, the moon sat near and red in the sky. Blood moon, they call it, and at points it looked as though we might drive straight into it. I thought of Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon: another gift from Aunt Ellie, who bought the book for my brother when he was a little boy. When Harold journeys home, he remembers: his window is the one with the moon just outside of it. On my fortieth birthday, the moon became a marker for me, too.

At forty, I know the unspeakable pleasures between the dropping of the crayon (or, in this case, my hair clip) and the dropping off to sleep. I've never loved the bones of another like I've loved those of my husband. I'm forty, and I'm on fire. I'm forty, and if it were my time I would die satisfied, but I'm just as glad to live on. I'm barreling into the blood moon, and in this moment, at least, I'm wholly unafraid.

Photo by Anjie Kay


  1. What a beautiful reflection. May God bless you with many more years full of happiness. :)

  2. So very cool, Brandee. I love personal remembrances like this. I've skied at Massanutten many times, and love the whole area. Harrisonburg, the Blue Ridge, the lovely vistas from the ski runs. Now it has a new meaning: the love of the family. And applesauce cake. Oh father's favorite and after mom died, he tried so hard to make it. Mostly he succeeded.

    I know Cade, and the rest of your wonderful family totally enjoyed your passage into your FORTIES! But there are some good things...forty is the new thirty, right? And you're not getting older, you're getting MORE WONDERFUL!!! Mom, wife, woman, Christian...all good!

    Peace <3

    (May will be "Post a Pic a Day May". Watch out! You should do it, too!)

    1. Thanks so much, Jay. Do you know I've never skied? Let me know if you need my mama's applesauce-raisin cake recipe. You've got me interested, now, in the photo project for May...

  3. I feel like I am there right with you. What a place of many memories and what a great Aunt, did she come thru was it close to grandma's cake?

    Glad you had a happy birthday, you are a beauty thru and thru and I love ya. I ask the Lord to bless your life over and abundantly in Jesus fashion for this coming year in your life.

    Happy birthday!

    1. She nailed it! Thank you for your prayers and friendship: both are so dear to me...

  4. Happy birthday. I turn forty in May, and I've noticed that I already have a sense of calm about it. A renewed strength, sort of. I've started my blog post about it, but I haven't finished it. I'll do that soon.

  5. Happy birthday, dear friend! What sweet memories you have - and a bright future!
    (Also, I have only had my grandpa's applecake with dates- such good memories for me thinking for that dessert.)

  6. wow! I loved this post. Happy Birthday, Brandee! You are so beautiful!

  7. Happy birthday, Brandee! So glad you got to celebrate in a place full of good memories. May the decade ahead be full of great joy and more good memories.

  8. Brandee, that photo of you is gorgeous! And happy (late) birthday! Xx