Turning Forty

Written By: Diane  Greenberg



Turning forty — a time when no ordinary party will do

By Diane Greenberg

At a clearing in Hargrave Vineyard, bordered on the west by well-trimmed vines abundant with cabernet grapes, and on the east by a row of peach trees more red and golden with fruit than green, we celebrate my husband’s fortieth birthday. Here, on theIsland’sNorth Fork, the sky seems to stretch forever, and the sun, this particular day, shines with a generously gentle touch. Surrounded by friends, wine and food, I forget that life could ever be sad: an obvious illusion, but illusions are sweet today, this day that life is supposed to begin.

Weeks before, I could sense that the fortieth, to my husband, was no ordinary birthday. Anxiety crept up slowly, then denial, anger, and a lingering, vague sense of discontent. “I want to do something different,” would be a phrase used often now, but what exactly it was that Bill wanted to do, he could not pinpoint.

“I don’t want a house party for my birthday,” he said. “I want to do something different.”

Alex and Louisa Hargrave, who I had met previously, and admired intensely, had never given a party in their vineyard. But graciously, they consented to the surprise party there to ease the passage from youth to midlife for my husband. “It sounds like such a good idea. How could we refuse?” Louisa said.

The day before, I prepared food for the twenty people I invited to the occasion. I told Bill we would be going to an unusual party I had arranged for him – it wouldn’t be at home. We would only have the ice cream cake at home at the end of the day.

“But I don’t want a party,” Bill said. “I wanted to do something different.”

I kept cooking, tasting salty tears and spicy shrimp.

The day arrived, and Bill, when he saw the cake I had especially designed for him in the shape of a wine bottle (Vintage: 1941, good to excellent) decided to attend his own party.

We arrived to meet our guests in the Hargraves’ huge wine-tasting and dining room, dignified by a stained glass window and classical music on the stereo. Bill, solemnly seated at the head of a 20-foot-long dining table, received greetings like condolences. “I feel like it’s a wake,” he said, but a playful grin was starting to spread across the room. Soon Louisa had to shush the increasingly enthusiastic and loud group, so that she could continue a tour.

Our group got a private tour, which Louisa told us in a mock-stern voice, “You’re getting whether you want it or not.” Alex showed us the vineyards and cellars, and was enormously entertaining, with a wit as dry as his wines. We tasted some of the Hargraves’ favorite wines afterwards, including an exquisitely rich 1980 Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, a Reisling, and a Cabarnet. We toasted Bill, who was obviously (no illusion) enjoying himself, and one guest very exuberantly exclaimed, “I feel so good.” My sentiment, exactly.

The wine drunk, the food devoured, the gifts opened, the conservation turned to turning 40. Lee, who would also turn 40 this year, said, “Well, becoming 30 was no big deal. I guess it will be the same with40.”

“I hate it,” said Laura, who recently reached the controversial age. “But one good thing about it. You can say whatever you want. People take you more seriously.”

“I may be41,”Elena said, “but I still don’t believe it. I feel like34.”

For Bill’s brother, turning 40 was no crisis. “You know what it means?” he asked. “Nothing. It’s the same, really. Nothing changes.”

“You mean, after you’ve turned 40, and you eat chocolate, you still get pimples?” Lee asked.

We thought about that, and drank more wine.

“I don’t think I’ll take well to turning40,”Pia said. “I won’t take well to turning34.”

“I’m enjoying my 30s,” said Margaret, “and I think I’ll enjoy my 40s. I like this phase of my life better than the teen years, which were turmoil, and better than my 20s, which required so many adjustments – marriage, children, making a home.

“I never feel old,” she added. “I resent it when other people remind me of my age, and put me down for it. For a woman, I think turning 40 is more of a beginning than for a man. She has raised her children, and she can start a new career, if she wants to. For a man, it’s a time of re-evaluation, and that’s harder.”