Shirley Johnston is one of my closest friends. When I was playing in Camelot we used to share a lift to the State Theatre because she was appearing in another show at the same theatre complex. We both have the same sense of humour and I like her enormously.
In 1991, two years after my accident, Shirley approached me.”You turn thirty in three weeks. Dave and I were chatting in bed and we decided that we would very much like to host your thirtieth birthday party for you. That is, if you’d like one of course.”
What a question!
Shirley and Dave didn’t set a limit to the amount of people I could invite but I don’t think that they were anticipating 150 people. Word spread and everyone I knew wanted to come.
I had decided to make a lemon meringue pie as my contribution to the party. I used to be an ace lemon meringue pie maker and I was sure that I hadn’t lost my touch. I put all the Marie biscuits into an old Pick ‘n Pay packet ready for crushing later. It was a treat using all of Shirley’s gadgets. An electric fruit squeezer drew the juice from the lemons. An electric mixer mixed the condensed milk with the lemon juice. I was really enjoying myself. I decided to make the pie’s base. Crushed biscuits mixed with melted butter. I took hold of the Pick ‘n Pay packet with all the biscuits and looked around the kitchen. I needed a flat, hard surface. The granite kitchen counter top would do perfectly. I gripped the Pick ‘n Pay packet firmly in my hands. Like an axe-man chopping wood I bought it down hard on the counter. CRASH. Shirley turned from what she was doing startled. CRASH.
“What are you doing?” CRASH.
“I’m crushing the Marie biscuits.” CRASH.
“But Gaynor…” CRASH.
“It works brilliantly.” CRASH.
“Are you sure…” CRASH.
I didn’t hear the rest of her sentence. CRASH.
“That should do it.” CRASH. “Once more for luck.” CRASH. “Just to make sure!” CRASH.
I opened the packet. Two dozen smashed eggs met my eyes. A strangled cry behind me made me turn around. There was Shirley doubled over with the Pick ‘n Pay packet of crushed Marie biscuits in her hand. We looked at the sodden mess of crushed eggs and laughed till tears poured down our cheeks. We laughed. And laughed. And laughed.
We had to buy another two dozen eggs.
The day I turned thirty was special. Everyone who was there meant something to me. After lunch I said to Shirley: “I would like to say a few words to everyone, okay?” I stood on a table on the patio so that everyone could see me. I was nervous.
“Because of my accident, my speaking still isn’t quite right,” I began “so if I say anything and you don’t understand, won’t you shout out and tell me? I can’t guarantee that I will hear you but give it a try anyway.” There was a spontaneous round of encouraging laughter at this…and I was away.
I don’t really remember what I said. I do remember the heady experience of being in front of an audience again, their faces, laughing, listening, hanging on my every word. I finished off with a poem by ee cummings. I had learnt it before my accident and amazingly I remembered every word. If I didn’t know that he had died many years prior to my accident, I would have sworn that he had written this poem exclusively for me.
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings;and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any – lifted from the no
of all nothing – human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
My thirtieth birthday is so clearly imprinted on my mind. I am taken aback by the big heartedness of Shirley and Dave who gave to me such an incredible day, such a treasured memory. I love them both for always giving so much. (Shirley Johnston was the editor of my book, My Plunge to Fame, and she is the scriptwriter for this new film that has just come out: Felix. It has had brilliant reviews and I can’t wait to see it!
Yes, I remember my thirtieth birthday party clearly. Twenty-two years ago I remember the love woven into it.