From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

Not Just Another Birthday

To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.

Mark Twain

There are weekends and then there are weekends. Those minutes within hours within days which are completely perfect. Such was how I spent the last few days of my forty-ninth year, as I approached a half a century young.

I was given the best surprise of my life—a weekend at the Calistoga Hot Springs with my best friend, my sister, Arlie P.

From the moment Arlie picked me up at the airport with a happy birthday balloon and a smile as large as the universe, I knew I was in for something special.

We ate lunch in one of those elegant restaurants that one reads about in books and watches on the silver screen. The type of restaurant with high ceilings, spacious grounds and gracious waiters. The type we all deserve to eat at more often. Unfortunately, life seems to thread us between one obligation and another. And not until we’re about to unravel do we treat ourselves to what we deserved all along.

After a fabulous meal we checked into our room at the spa. Minutes later we were sprawled out on lawn chairs, basking in the warmth of the afternoon.

We came alive with sun-drunk conversation. Our laughter filled the air, bounced off the water, hung over us like a halo.

As the heat seeped into my skin, the tensions eased from my body. I knew I had arrived at a time and place in my life with more things to be thankful for than could be packed into my tiny, unorganized suitcase.

A few hours later, we strolled down Main Street, two giddy women. We got stares from the young men. Of course, not quite the same type our daughters would get. Nonetheless, we were noticed.

We disappeared into the dress shops and gift shops. And we talked.

We talked about growing older and the passage of time. Twenty years ago our conversations revolved around diapers and sleepless nights. Ten years ago around Girl Scout cookies and Little League. Today our talk centers on college education and retirement plans. Yet while the topics may be different, we are still talking. Our sisterly bond has endured the inevitable changes of growing older. Of moving out of our twin beds and into separate worlds.

Later that night, saturated with Mexican food and beer, we crawled into bed and tried to stay awake during a TV drama. After all, we weren’t that old yet. Within minutes, my sister and I were deep inside our own dreams.

Saturday morning started off with coffee, bagels and more talk. Pumped full of caffeine, we took a long bike ride during which we tried to talk as we huffed and puffed our way over the hills and back down along the highway.

Finally it was time for our treatments.

We were given lockers and keys and told to undress. Wrapped in towels, Arlie and I drank flavored water, ate sweet oranges and whispered. At that moment, I was so wonderfully thankful for this sister sitting beside me. For all of our silly fights over clothes and makeup. For all of the much-cherished conversations yet to come.

Nervously, I followed the attendant down the hall into the mud room. She instructed me to place my hands on the sides of the tub, balance over the mud and then settle in. It felt warm against my buttocks and back. Soon, the girls were packing us in as if we were going to be shipped across the country.

And as long as my sister went with me, I was willing to go anywhere.

Next, we sat in hot tubs, scrubbing our finger and toe nails, sipping water. I knew my sister was getting hungry when she started eating the cucumbers floating in the drinking water. This was followed by the steam spa in which my sister kept sticking her head out the hole for fresh air.

Once we’d had enough heat, I was led down a long hallway into a small room, much like an examination room at the doctor’s. Here, I spent fifteen minutes of total relaxation with cucumbers on my eyelids. Soothing music drifted into the air. My thoughts flowed randomly. I nearly fell asleep.

The treatment ended with a full-body massage. I can only say that a person has to experience this for herself. I know I can’t wait for another one.

After two and a half hours of pampering, we strolled out (even stroll is too fast a word for our movements) and collapsed onto the outside chairs. The cool air played against our softened skins. Flowery scents drifted past on the wings of our contented sighs.

Eventually, we gained enough strength to walk back to our motel to get ready for my birthday dinner. Despite our food arriving late and mosquitoes joining us for dessert, it was a perfect evening.

Over Sunday morning breakfast (yes, another meal!) we looked forward to next year’s treatment, the main reason for coming to Calistoga, but certainly not the most important one. Hot oils, mud baths, steam saunas, lotions and wraps can rejuvenate wrinkled, tired skin. For a bit. A day. A week. A strong bond between sisters lasts forever, keeping one’s soul rejuvenated for eternity.

Janie Emaus

Stone Soup

STONE SOUP. © Jan Eliot. Reprinted with permission of UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. All rights reserved.

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