Forty Years Before the Mast, Forty Years Repairing the Mast



Verse to accompany the eightieth-birthday-party invitation for Greg's father,
a lawyer, a yachtsman, and champion wielder of the croquet mallet.


It really doesn't matter how long you live, or how
you choose to spend your life--in the stern or in the bow.
You have but one real birth day--a mewling, puking fête,
where they slap your little keister and dump you in a bassinet.

And even though that natal nightmare fades into the mist,
for two or three more birthdays all you seem to get is kissed
by far too many relatives doing "kitchy kitchy koos"
and presenting you with woolens in appalling day-glo hues.

About the age of four, though, you begin to realize
that birthdays needn't always be occasions to despise.
In fact, such celebrations can really be quite pleasant,
especially when the guests all bring along a big fat present.

Alas, such cake-and-candy birthdays do not last forever,
but only 'til your mom says, "no more goddam parties--ever!"
By then you are a hulking teen, and to you the truth be known:
if you want a birthday party … you've got to do it on your own.

So it is for Harvard, the subject of this doggerel,
born when Woodrow Wilson was the highest on the hoggerel.
T'was September, 1914, when the doctor punched his ticket,
and little Harvard rolled right through life's first momentous wicket.

To celebrate these 80 years the Palmers are delighted
to hold a birthday party, to which you are invited.
(Our host insists NO GIFTS ALLOWED; he just wants to see ya;
and claims that this damned gathering was Gertrude's big idea.)

Let this missive serve, then, as your personal subpoena,
to appear and eat a birthday brunch at Elliott Bay Marina,
Sunday, September 25, at 11 in the morning,
(The Seattle Yacht Club clubhouse there's the place we'll be adorning.)

And once again (because he asked) if you show up on that day
with a present in your hands he'll likely throw it in the bay.
Bring nothing but good spirits; expect nothing dull or weepy.
(And only if you have regrets do you need to RSVP.)

So please! Come join us, for an appropriate salute.
As Harvard rounds the windward mark, we're going to pop his chute.