A bunion, a birthday, and an edible work of art

by Rob Tiller

While we were at the class at the Carolina Ballet studio last week, at one point Peggy Severin-Hansen sat on the floor beside me and did some work on her feet.  We’ve been watching her for many years as she rose through the company ranks to become a soloist, and we just love her dancing.  Having the chance to see her working on the bandages on her toes was  intimate, like being in the family.  I thought of sharing with her that I too have foot problems (a bunion) but thought better of it.  She probably wouldn’t have appreciated the comparison.

One of the problems of a bunion, in addition to discomfort, is that it isn’t a good conversational topic. Other people’s health problems are usually uninteresting, but not all are equally off-putting.  There’s no particular stigma to talking about knee problems, wrist problems, or back problems.  But bunions are generally an older person’s issue.  Who likes to think about getting old?  Not me.  I do, however, now understand why there is a section for Dr. Scholl’s foot care products in the pharmacy.  It’s become one of my favorite sections.

As of yesterday, I know how it feels to be 55 years old.  I hate to make a big deal of birthdays, but I’m struck by how big a number this is.  It is clearly no longer the early fifties.  It is old enough to be a parent to two full-grown adults, and in theory old enough to be a grandparent.

But I feel young!  Both in good ways (plenty of energy and enthusiasm) and not-so-good ways (areas of uncertainty and insecurity).  In many ways, I’m healthier and happier than I was in my twenties.  I never completely lose sight of the possibility that there could be a piano hanging over my head and about to drop, in the form of a serious illness or random accident.  But with enough time and some good luck, perhaps I’ll someday look back over many years and think how young I was in 2010, but how I still feel remarkably young, all things considered.  Of course, this may turn out to be my apogee.

To celebrate the day, Sally got us a table at Second Empire, one of our favorite restaurants, and we walked there from our apartment.  It’s a restored grand old residence with elaborate ornamentation, and very traditional in a way.  But it avoids being stuffy with eclectic art, jazz, a great staff and highly imaginative food.  Our server was Katrina.  She was lively, smart, and friendly, and completely undaunted when I told her that we were vegetarians and wanted them to create something special for us.  She assured us they liked vegetarians and would enjoy the challenge to their creativity.  Music to my ears!

In fact, everything on the menu looked great except the animals, and our only suggestions were that there be pasta and perhaps a Spanish theme.  The dish that arrived had rigatoni and spices, with a unique combination of textures and tastes.  It was excellent!  For dessert, I planned to sample Sally’s cake, but they brought me delicious ice cream with a candle in it and a happy birthday message written on the plate in chocolate.  When we got the check, I thought they’d accidentally undercharged us, since there was just one main dish listed.  When I asked Katrina, she assured me that they’d considered the dish that we shared to be one.  Truly, this a great and wonderful restaurant.