Yes, today is my birthday! Usually I would not toot my own horn is such a way, but this birthday is a big one for me. Indeedy, yours truly was brought into the world exactly 50 years ago. I was born the typical way, a healthy, 7 pound 12 ounce bouncing baby girl to Edward Franklin and Marjorie Jo Hudson at Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Especially poignant this year, aside from the chronological Wow of hitting 5-0, I just returned from a week in Pascagoula visiting with my father and other family members. Sadly, my mom passed on 3 years ago, so her “happy birthday” wishes are felt in my heart. Luckily, I have reams of family remaining who made sure my approaching special day was celebrated.
Being present at the very place I was born and spent the first year of my life, when on the cusp of my birthday, was a unique experience. I met a few more of my cousins in a major shindig on our final Saturday in town. Oh man, the food was phenomenal! As I get older I recognize in a more profound way how precious the connections to my loved ones and to my heritage.
One incredibly moving moment came when my father and aunt took my sister and I to see the long-overdue erected memorial to my grandfather and his crew. That image is below. If the call had come 10 minutes earlier, my dad – who was a teenager but already setting his sights on being a fireman – was at the station during his lunch break from school, and he would have jumped onto the truck to lend a hand. If he had it is quite likely he too would have died. Scary thought! The followup to what is on the sign is that my grandfather Jimmie was out of commission for 6 months, resumed his Fire Chief duties temporarily, but was never able to work as a firefighter again. My father Eddie became a fireman and eventually was the Fire Marshall and then Fire Chief of Pascagoula and Moss Point, MS – just like his daddy. Seeing the memorial, hearing my dad and aunt emotionally relive one of the most horrific events from their childhood, was merely one of many special moments during this trip. All in all, it was a fabulous week chock full of memories, stories from the older folks, fine food, familial companionship, and plain old-fashioned Southern fun.
Because I am thinking of my ancestry and the plethora of stories shared and history imparted while in the South, I thought I would mention the legend behind why the hospital I was born at is called “Singing River.” My dad told me this tale a few years ago, this detailed version off a local area website. Not classically romantic, I suppose, but it is touching. Also, my great-grandmother was full-blooded Escatawpan Indian, the Escatawpa Indians the other tribe in the region.
The Singing River (now the Pascagoula River) is known throughout the world for its mysterious music. It sounds like a swarm of bees in flight and is best heard in late evenings during the late summer and autumn months.
The legend is based on the mysterious extinction of the Pascagoula Tribe of Indians. The name Pascagoula means “bread eaters.” The Pascagoula Indians were a peaceful, gentle and content people while their neighbors to the west were not. The Biloxi Indians considered themselves to be the first people and were enemies of the Pascagoula tribe.
A Biloxi Princess, known as Anola, fell in love with Altama, the Chief of the Pascagoula tribe. She was betrothed to a chieftain in her own tribe, but fled with Altama to live with his peopled. This lead to a war between the two tribes, and the Pascagoula Indians swore to either save the young couple or perish with them. The Pascagoula Indians were outnumbered and faced with enslavement by the Biloxi tribe or death.
The women and children lead the way, as the Pascagoula tribe joined hands and began to chant a song of death as they walked into the river. Many believe that the sounds heard by the river to this day are that song. Various explanations have been offered for this phenomenon, but none have been proven.
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For the record, I have never heard the singing myself. Guess on the next trip I will need to spend more time sitting on the riverbank for a spell! My heart has been additionally touched by the flood of birthday well wishes from fans on Facebook that began pouring in a couple days ago and are increasing by the minute. Talk about overwhelming! I have no way to fully express how lovely it is! And special thanks to my dear pals Esther Ann and Susanne for sending cards. Love you ladies! Then there is my dear, dear friend from Oz who not only sent me a sweet card but also the “faith” angel in the image to the left. I love you forever, Vee!
October 26 will start with a visit to my gynecologist – not sure what I was thinking when THAT appointment was made! But having the gorgeous bouquet of flowers from my hubby to cheer me all day, and knowing he will take me to a nice dinner tonight where I can dress up for a change and wear the stunning necklace he gifted me will cancel out the earlier unpleasantness! So gyno joy aside, it WILL be a fabulous 50th Birthday!
Now, just for extra fun, and because I have BIRTHDAY on the brain, here is an excerpt from Loving Mr. Darcy wherein a flashback chapter reveals the celebration of Mr. Darcy’s 29th birthday that took place while Lizzy and Darcy were betrothed. It is one of the first stories I ever wrote, waaayyy back when! Enjoy my gift to you….
Happy Birthday, Mr. Darcy
They arrived at Netherfield in time for luncheon. Once they had been relieved of their coats, gloves, and hats, Mr. Bingley took the lead. He offered his arm to Jane and walked toward the dining room. However, he passed by the double doors and continued on down a hall toward a far parlor rarely used. Darcy, who was absorbed in the enchanting appearance of Elizabeth’s rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes, did not even notice the detour until they were almost to the door.
“Bingley,” Darcy asked, “where in blazes are you leading us?”
“Thought a change of view would be welcome, Darcy. Come along!”
Mr. Bingley swept the door open and nimbly stepped aside so that Darcy was the first to enter the room. He stopped on the threshold thunderstruck. The normally sober room of muted creams and gold was a riot of bright colors. Yards of ribbons in every color of the rainbow were arranged across the windows and along the ceiling, twisted and tied together with some dangling like branches of a bizarre willow tree. A huge banner was draped over one wall with the words Joyous Birth Day painted on it. The furnishings were pushed against the walls and in the middle of the room sat two tables. One was set for dining with four chairs. The other was laden with wrapped gifts and a cake. The cake was round, white frosting decorated with tiny flowers and leaves, with one tall lit candle in the middle. Darcy had never seen anything like it.
He came to his senses when Lizzy wrapped her arms around his waist and whispered into his ear, “Are you surprised, my love?” Jane and Bingley were smiling at him.
“I am… speechless,” he stammered. He looked at Elizabeth. “Did you plan this? How did you know?”
“Yes I did, with some help obviously, and it was Georgiana who told me,” she replied. “Are you pleased?”
“Yes! Yes, I am!” He enfolded her with sturdy arms and kissed tenderly. Jane and Bingley swiftly turned into the room, letting them have a moment without prying eyes.
“I was afraid you were hurt, thinking I did not care when your birthday was,” Lizzy whispered with a hint of anxiety in her voice.
Darcy kissed her again, stroking over one cheek with feathering fingertips. “Not at all, dearest Elizabeth. My birthday has passed mostly unnoticed for years now. Georgiana always remembers, as does Mrs. Reynolds. Some years I have completely forgotten it myself until they remind me! I will receive a small gift from my sister and my favorite meal for dinner, but that is all. I have not had a celebration of any significance since I was a child. This is so unexpected!”
Lizzy glowed with pleasure. “Well, then, let the festivities begin! After you, Mr. Darcy.”
Luncheon was served first. They were all in high spirits so laughter abounded. After the meal was finished and the servants had cleared the table, a tea service was brought in, but the aroma was definitely not that of tea. It was warm cocoa, a favorite treat of Darcy’s. Snow had begun to fall outside, but the room was cozy and the occupants were relaxed.
“So, explain the cake,” Darcy asked. “I have never heard of a candle on a cake before.”
Bingley spoke up, “Lizzy read of a German tradition of placing a single candle, a ‘Light of Life’ was it, Lizzy?”
“Yes. The idea is that the candle symbolizes the life of the person being celebrated. It must stay lit all day and be blown out, by you, at dusk. You can make a wish before you blow it out and it will be granted.” Darcy smiled. “I am not one to lend credence to silly superstitions, but this seems harmless fun, so I shall play along. It certainly is pretty.”
They spent the afternoon playing several parlor games, charades first. Lizzy and Darcy paired up against Jane and Bingley. They were all astounded to discover that Darcy had a flair for the dramatic and was an exceptional player. Lizzy read his expressions readily now so could guess what he was acting out in short order, and they easily won the most rounds. Next they played Twenty Questions. Lizzy had asked Mr. Bennet, a neutral party, to come up with topics for both games, and he had thoroughly enjoyed conjuring up the oddest things. More than once they were stumped. In the end, Jane and Bingley proved the victors. Lastly, they played blind man’s bluff. Darcy always seemed to know exactly where Lizzy was, but she was agile and quick so could easily elude him. Bingley actually proved to be the best player. He had an uncanny ability to outthink another’s movements and would catch them every time. Needless to say, whenever a fiancée was caught, a pause would be necessary for a brief interlude of nuzzling and kisses, but no one minded.
Dinner was served late in the evening with the four famished after their activities. Georgiana, upon request, had provided a list of Darcy’s favorite foods. Lizzy joked that it was fortunate she had asked Georgiana’s advice since she was contemplating serving mutton. Darcy winced and they all laughed. He detested mutton.
After dinner it was time for presents. The table was taken away and a couple of sofas were brought forth. Lizzy sat next to Darcy on one sofa with Jane and Charles on the other. Georgiana had sent her gift: a new riding crop. Charles gave him a pocket watch and Jane a set of handkerchiefs, which she had embroidered with his initials. Darcy was touched that his soon-to-be sister would go to so much trouble for him and he told her so. Jane blushed.
Lizzy handed him her present, wrapped with silk and a blue ribbon the color of his eyes. Darcy opened it gradually, theatrically adding to the tension. Inside was a book: Paradise Lost by John Milton.
“It is the first edition volume,” Lizzy said. “You said you had been searching for that one.”
Darcy was stunned. “Elizabeth, I cannot believe you remember that! I said it in passing when you were at Pemberley, when I showed you the library.”
“I vividly remember every moment and every word of that day,” she said softly, touching his cheek gently with her fingertips. Neither of them noticed that Jane and Bingley arose and crept silently from the room.
He captured her hand and kissed it, then leaned over and kissed her lips. “You are amazing,” he breathed. “I love you so, my Elizabeth. How did you ever find it?”
She laughed. “My father has connections. He is forever adding old books to his collection. He is acquainted with a man at Oxford who specializes in finding unusual volumes. He had three Milton first editions! Open it, there is more.”
Darcy was unsure if his heart could take any more, but he complied. Inside was a bookmark of fine silk with a quilted backing. Lizzy had embroidered in her delicate hand a verse from Genesis: “The two shall become one flesh.” Below were two hearts intertwined with Elizabeth in one and Fitzwilliam in the other.
To say that Darcy was overwhelmed would be a gross understatement. Tears welled up in his eyes and he could not speak. He gathered Lizzy into a tight embrace and simply held her, hoping that his wildly beating heart would express his thankfulness. He finally withdrew, gazing into her eyes with bottomless devotion, and then kissed her with reckless abandon. His soul was fiercely touched. She responded in kind, fingers instantly rising to caress the flesh above his cravat and lace into thick hair as their kiss deepened to a dangerous level. Neither of them wanted to stop, and it took a monumental act of strength to do so.
Darcy cupped her face with both large hands, eyes closed and forehead resting on hers as he attempted to regulate his erratic breathing. “God, Elizabeth! How I want you! How desperately I love you!”
“Two weeks,” she murmured, “just two more weeks, my heart.”
He chuckled harshly and opened his eyes to see her glorious face so near his own. “It feels like an eternity.” He met her lips in a tender, controlled kiss. “Elizabeth, my precious love, this has been the very best birthday of my entire life. How can I ever thank you?”
She smiled naughtily. “Well, my birthday will be here in six months. You can start planning now!” They both laughed and the jocularity lightened the mood. After another brief kiss, they recalled Jane and Charles, who had managed to take advantage of their alone time in like pursuits.
More hot cocoa was served, and then it was time to blow out the candle and have some cake. Darcy made his silent wish, glowing eyes locked with his fiancée’s, and cut the cake, performing the honored task of serving the others. All too soon it was time to return the ladies to Longbourn.
Some weeks after, Lizzy and Darcy were in their bed at Pemberley lying in each other’s arms. They were in the satisfied haze of post lovemaking, Lizzy gently caressing his chest while Darcy played with her hair. Out of the blue Lizzy spoke. “William? What was your wish when you blew out your birthday candle?”
“I wished that I would forever be as happy as I was at that moment.”
“Has your wish come true, then?”
She rose up on her elbow to see his face. “No? Are you not happy?”
He smiled at her troubled face and caressed her cheek. “I wished to be as happy as I was at that moment. Fool that I was, I had no concept of the greater happiness in store for me.” He pulled her face to his but paused just before kissing her, whispering softly, “The ecstasy I feel for you now, my heart, is beyond mere happiness.”