Seymour I. "Spence" Toll

is an author and retired Philadelphia lawyer

On Feb. 19 I became 92. To celebrate that birthday, my wonderful caretaking daughter, Connie, had a family dinner party for me in our home.

In 1999, her dear mother, Jean - my wife for 48 blessed years - was swept away by pancreatic cancer. Connie had lived in our residence for years before that and has been a perfect helper for me, as well as a model mother for her delightful son and daughter.

Connie invited some close family members to the party in our dining room for which she prepared a perfect dinner topped with a luscious chocolate cake and four candles. The ceiling lights were turned off just before she brought the cake from the kitchen to me seated at the dinner table. I leaned toward the cake and blew out the candles as the folks started singing "Happy Birthday."

Then a curious thing began happening. Although I blew out the candles, each relit a few seconds after its flame vanished. Rather than have us spend the rest of the evening focused on my ineffective effort, Connie took the cake back to the kitchen, from which she returned with a tricky candle-free cake that was served and delicious.

The relighting candles were a brief delight for all and also something else for me. It has turned out to be an insistent memory in which the flame's failure to die has stood for my incredibly good fortune. As a 19-year-old World War II combat rifleman in the Battle of the Bulge in the Luxembourg Ardennes, I was wounded. I survived that Nazi rocket mortar shelling, whose shrapnel killed the soldiers around me.

The moment I was hit I was certain it was fatal. The screams of my fatally wounded squad mates were like a confirmation that the candlelight of my life had been blown out. It faded greatly but, to my great fortune, was never extinguished.

Since that time, that candlelight of my life has continued to burn, even today when I'm 92. The light it has cast across all these years is ceaseless gratitude for having lived this long with so much good fortune.

If there was a song that goes with this, it could be titled "Grateful Geezer."