seventy next month. She does not want a big celebration of her "three score years and ten" but she is having a morning tea at a nursery-garden with family and a few friends. I feel honoured to have been included.
My friend is an Italian migrant. She came here when she was just thirteen. Her father somehow contrived it so she did not go back to school but went straight to work. Her education was limited. There are occasions on which she still, after all these years, makes a grammatical error or will need to ask for a slightly more unusual word.
When I first met her I was hesitant to help. I did not want to embarrass her and I would never dream of correcting her English in public. Other, perhaps well meaning, people will do that and I know it makes her feel very uncomfortable.
Now we know one another well though and, in private, I will help. She asked me to do it and she likes me to do it. In public if she wants a word she will turn to me and ask "How do you say..." Sometimes she will give me the Italian word and ask for the English equivalent. I do not always know the Italian word by any means but I can sometimes guess what she means from the context of the conversation. It is good for both of us to work on this together.
On her birthday I want to give her a small present and a card. I am not particularly good at such things but, for the fun of it, I will sometimes create birthday cards for friends who are turning 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 or, once, 100. I find quotations related to their interests or that I feel they would like, type them up, cut them out and paste them randomly over sheets of coloured card. There will be one quotation for each year of their life. They are not artistic but people seem to find them fun to read.
Another friend asked me yesterday if I was going to make a card for our mutual friend. I said, "Yes, of course."
"Oh, I just wondered."
I know what she was wondering but my Italian friend is perfectly well able to read. For the past three years, since her retirement, she has been going to English classes at a technical college. What is more she is a knitter. She can read patterns, a unique language of their own. She can read Italian as well as English. It is more than most of her friends can do and I want to honour that skill. I am going to find her thirty-five quotes in Italian and thirty-five quotes in English. I am going to be the one who will be challenged.