Consumer product warning: This is not a picture of my birthday cake. This is a stock image I grabbed off the internet. But the candles are like the ones my mom used to put on my birthday cakes, so that’s close enough. This picture also made me think about all the used birthday candles that Mom carefully collected in a drawer in the kitchen at my parents’ house. After our folks died, we sold the house with a ton of stuff still in it, including the used birthday candles. Did the buyer just shake her head when she opened that drawer? I wonder sometimes.
In case you’re wondering now – about where this is going, I mean, and not about the candles – I’m writing about birthdays because yesterday was mine. I turned 63, which means I am now three times as old as I was when the laws of the state of Texas declared me to be an adult. FYI, I spent most of my birthday dinner last night scribbling with crayons on the butcher paper covering our table. The waiter was very amused when I asked for crayons, but he correctly figured he’d get a bigger tip if he brought them to our table. The state may need to rethink its maturity markers.
By the way, my 21st birthday was really great. At that time, you could drink and vote at 18, so this day was more symbolic than life-changing. But my college friends threw me a party, which was my first birthday party not of my parents’ making. It felt momentous! If you were there, thanks again. If not, you missed a great party.
You may be thinking by now that having a birthday on January 4 stinks, since it’s just after the holidays, so people are no longer in the mood to celebrate. They’ve sung ”Auld Lang Syne” and have no desire to launch into ”Happy Birthday.” There is some truth in that, and there were several years when we went back to school on my birthday. I admit, that stank. But mostly I really like my birthday. The mercenary roots of this sentiment lie in the fact that my mother was a soft touch. Every year, she would buy in December for Christmas and my birthday and declare herself done. Then she’d start feeling sorry for me because I had a birthday on such an unfortunate date and put all of those presents under the tree. She would then shop the Christmas sales, where she would buy twice as much since everything was half off. I had extremely well-equipped Barbies.
And I’ve had some pretty stellar birthdays since then. For my 40th, Mark, Jane, Mary, and I flew to Cancun, stayed at a lovely resort, and saw the truly spectacular remnants of Chichen Itza. For my 50th, the family told me were taking a trip but wouldn’t tell me where we were going. I packed by placing three piles on the bed: one to take anywhere, one to take to a cold climate, and one to take to a warm climate. We ended up spending four days in San Francisco, staying at the Mark Hopkins and having a blast.
This birthday was a little quieter than those were. This was my third Covid birthday, so I was prepared with a great library book and a pair of soft pajamas to lounge around in. Mark and I took a walk in the sunshine, and we toddled out in the evening for the afore-mentioned Italian dinner. But of course the best part was getting lots of lovely birthday greetings from friends and family. I heard from a ton of people, which was great fun. The funniest was a gif sent by a pal in Spain, who texted me a Smurf singing the birthday song in Spanish. It is truly hilarious, and some of you may receive it yourselves this year. Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Look, I know that an early January birthday isn’t optimal. Like I said, when I was a kid, we went back to school on my birthday several times. People are a bit partied out. Decorations are either down or bedraggled. Many people who’ve resolved to lose weight refuse an offer of cake, which they wouldn’t do a week later. And I miss my mom calling me to tell me the story of the day I was born, and how she wisely decided to skip teaching Sunday School that morning and that the delivery room was really cold. I know all this, and yet I still love my birthday. It comes with good memories and, at this age, a little bit of perspective. Remember that good stuff. Focus on what you have. Savor the small joys. Be grateful for every single time someone cares enough to wish you well. And bear in mind that some birthday will arrive without you around to celebrate it, so try to give others good memories along the way.
I’m going to close by recounting a discussion that took place in the summer of 1978. I can fix the date precisely because I was talking to a guy who had a summer job at the same place I did. We got onto the subject of birthdays, and he allowed as how he hated his and wished he’d been born just about any other time. I told him I really liked mine and was glad I’d been born then. And you know what? It turns out our birthdays were the same day. So happy birthday a little late, Mike, and auld lang syne to boot.