Dear surrogate

I have a significant birthday anniversary in a little over a month. It’s been looming for while obviously, and I’ve been considering my options for as long. Last big birthday I had was an extravaganza, right down to a girl jumping out of a cake. I have a different scale in mind this time, but still want it to be special.

For a long while I had the notion of booking out a B&B for the weekend somewhere. I’d invite 8-10 of my closest friends and we’d make a big deal of it – golf for the boys, massage and spa treatment for the girls, perhaps a tour of some local wineries, and of course a debauched, over the top meal at the centre of it.

Circumstances have made planning difficult, and that option is pretty well impossible. Surprisingly an alternative fell into my lap.

I was having drinks last week with my mum’s friend, the woman so devoted to the memory of my mum that she has promised to keep me in her life. It doesn’t surprise me, she’s a woman of extreme feeling, though occasionally it feels odd. I attended her wedding a little over a month go in that role. Dressed in my suit and a little worse for wear I stood in for my mum, as my mum would want me to, and as this lady – A – so dearly wanted.

More of the wedding soon. Back to last week I’m sitting their sucking on a Corona when she asked me what I had planned for my birthday. I shrugged my shoulders, told her of my notion, trailing off as I spoke.

“How about this?” she said. There was a look in her eye as if she had just found that 4 was the product of 2+2. She proposed that I use their holiday home down in Sorrento as the venue for this party. The man she has just married is a multi-millionaire. They have a lovely home in Canterbury, a grand holiday home in Sorrento, and they’ve just bought another in Noosa. I was taken aback.

Before I could answer she went on, explaining how it could work. I love Sorrento, and a free house would be great, but…

You know how it is, particularly as a man. You feel reluctant to accept favours. You don’t want to be in anyone’s debt, especially when you’re really in debt to a man you don’t know that well. And it’s harder, not easier, in my present circumstance, because it feels as if you’re accepting charity because you can’t do it for yourself.

“Consider it my gift to you,” she said. I nodded my head. Ok.

So that’s it, and I’m grateful. Let me put it into some context. Back to the wedding…

It was a perfect day for a wedding. I drove down to Sorrento about lunchtime and checked into my hotel. I went for a walk. It was warm and very still, not even a wisp of breeze. The sky was a pretty blue. I walked down by the beach and looked over landscapes that graced postcodes. I bought an ice-cream and walked slowly back, serene but feeling a little off after a big party the night before. The rest of the afternoon I didn’t shift from the couch in my room, watching Johnson’s devastating spell in Adelaide.

The wedding was at 5.30. I dressed in my suit and walked down to the small jetty. There were people milling about waiting for the beach ceremony to begin. Looking about I saw one person I half knew, but had not seen for years. I was not uncomfortable, but I felt very much the odd man out.

Then the ceremony began. It was the best sort of wedding ceremony, brief and to the point. They stood on the beach and exchanged their simple vows and I thought of mum. I imagined had she been there, how she would have bustled around fussing over this and that. I knew her so well. Looking at A I saw something of mum in how she looked, the first time I had noticed, then realised the close parallels in their lives. Mum was 50 when she married Fred and her life changed. A is only a little older, and following the same path.

The reception was in the restaurant next door. Rather than a sit down meal it was a cocktail party with waitresses bringing around delicious finger food and topping up our glasses. I looked out over the quiet sea, and occasionally I spoke to others. No-one knew who I was initially, and initially when they asked I wondered what to say. Before I could reply the woman I knew piped up, “he’s Sandy’s son,” she said, and suddenly everyone understood. Their eyes widened as they took me in. Everyone knew Sandy. Everyone knew how much Sandy meant to A. I was famous by proxy.

That’s how it went most of the night. People were very friendly. Many had stories for me. Some were emotional. I felt in some way special because my mum had been special.

Later on came the speeches, all of them good. When it was A’s turn to speak she said all the conventional things, but finished by speaking of mum. She’s not here tonight, but will be watching keenly, she said. She spoke of their close bond and how sad she was that she couldn’t be here in person. I listened, unsurprised that A had made reference to mum, and moved by it. I missed mum again in the recollection, my eyes feeling with tears. Then A finished her speech by saying that Sandy’s son was here tonight in her place, and how happy she was that I could be there. Eyes turned to me. Someone patted my shoulder. I felt unaccountably proud.

Later I danced. The band was some remnant of Mondo Rock, Ross Wilson out front belting out familiar tunes, and by his side Eric McCusker playing guitar to many songs he had written. They were great, and a great choice. Everyone knew Eagle Rock and danced to it, and the Mondo Rock songs, Cool World, and my favourite, State of the Heart.

I left early, tired, weary, perhaps a little emotionally overdrawn. I declined the invitation to join them the next day at their Sorrento pad – I had to get back.

I was glad I went, for me, and for mum, as well as A. I’m happy to be the person A wants me to be – some embodiment of the great affection she had for mum. It costs me nothing, and doing it I feel like I represent mum. I want to do that well.

In the end that’s why I accepted the offer of their Sorrento property. We get caught up in trivial things. This is a gracious offer that gives pleasure to the person offering it. It’s something I need, and am sure will give great pleasure to both my friends and me. Why not?

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