It turns out that Dao can't come to the party after all. Her back is hurting again and one of the children is sick. As the guests disperse, Mum begins to hum her happy hum. She is back in her element. She is never happier than when she is giving something away.
The clubhouse refrigerator is full of food that wasn't eaten. The choir from Watts never showed up, either. We found out a day or two later that their bus had broken down. Mum and I package up leftover roast beef and turkey, fruit and potato salad and we walk, heavily laden, to our car, balloons trailing over our shoulders.
I drive her to the Indo-Chinese section of the city and we park outside the Buddhist temple compound where Dao now rents a tiny house. Small Asian children are gathering by the curb, silently watching us with large eyes. Mum grabs a fistful of balloon strings from the back seat.
"Here!" She smiles reassuringly at them.
The children take them, delighted, and carefully distribute them among themselves. They make room as we step out with our arms full and move toward the gate. Dao is already opening it for us, her tired eyes radiant.
After her birthday party, Mum takes the book of letters home. She says she will read one a day, savoring each of them.
"How did you do this?" she asks me in amazement. "You've managed to get in touch with people I haven't heard from in years."
"I sneaked into your apartment and borrowed your Rolodex while you were gone. I wrote on the invitation that it was meant not just for the addressee but for anyone the addressee might know who was a friend of yours. A lot of invitations were returned, marked, 'Addressee unknown.' So I checked telephone books to see if the people might have moved within the same area--maybe their change of address order had expired.
"But Mum, one thing bothers me. Some of your closest friends weren't listed. How come?"
"Oh," Mum laughs lightly. "That's because the Rolodex is an old list." She opens a closet and takes out a notebook bulging with names and addresses. "Here's the current one!"
For more about Mum, see:
MUM: The king's treasury
MUM: Living by her convictions
MUM: Healing wounds
MUM: Bodhisattva Barbara
MUM: To the man who mugged my mother
MUM and the exploding wheatgerm
MUM and the olive nut sandwiches