Tuesday, August 22, 2023
Today is my birthday :::toots horn:::
Except I don’t really want to have any more birthdays. It’s a thing the universe seems to insist on though, so I’ll take the cake and run. Just leave the reminder about my age out of it. I stopped counting after 49 and LALALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!
I’ll take presents, too, if you’ve got them. Hey, I’m no martyr. If you want to send me a new Hello Kitty or a jar of honey, I won’t be mad.
If you want to take me out for lobster tail or something, I won’t complain.
Birthdays can be pretty fun, and for most of my life they have been.
All birthdays in my life growing up came with balloons and streamers and candles. All birthdays, to this very one, included a spectacular rendition of the birthday song, with each person in my family trying to outdo the other for being off key and off tempo.
It’s a triumph of atonal genius, really, my father singing as slowly as possible, adding at least six syllables to every word, my mother snapping along at a brisk, staccato pace. Everyone else squealing or intoning or doing whatever it is they do to ensure that no single person hits any expected note.
This morning I got a rendition via phone, with my father caterwauling away in the background while my mother said Happy Birthday into my ear. This evening a few family members video chatted to do a live performance. Both were sweet music to my ears.
Every year my mother calls at precisely 12:03pm Eastern and wishes me a happy birthday. That’s the time I was born and that’s the time I must be properly wished a happy day. Except for the one year when she completely forgot… and subsequently forgot that she forgot, so technically she has plausible deniability. It might have been the Covid year, when nobody knew which day was what because they were all the same anyway. But since my mother is pretty saintly and perfect, it gives the rest of us something to tease her about.
Every birthday growing up came with cake and candles. After the singing, and mere seconds before the entire cake caught fire from how long the act took, I would make a wish and blow out the candles. I never revealed the wish because everyone knows if you tell your wishes they don’t come true.
Making a wish was serious business. You’ve seen the movies, right? Where someone finds a genie in a lamp and makes a wish and it backfires because the person wasn’t specific enough, or was too specific? You have to be careful with these things.
I could wish for a million dollars but a clever genie might shower down 4,000,000 quarters and crush my cake. And then send the IRS after me. So really, you had better know what you’re doing with wishes.
After wishes, I made the first slice in the cake, and then the grown ups took over and cut the rest.
For as long as I can remember, my favorite birthday cake has been Napoleon cake. But I live in Tennessee now, and the nearest Napoleon cake is somewhere around Yonkers. Still, sometimes my parents will host my birthday in November if that’s when we’re together and there is a Napoleon cake at hand. There’s never really a wrong time for birthday cake, is there?
For my third birthday or something thereabouts, my mother made me a hot dog cake. I mean, she actually cooked a hot dog and put it on top of my cake. I don’t remember the hot dog cake specifically, except as a thing of family legend. Apparently that’s what I wanted, and that’s what I got.
For my 10th birthday I got a ten-speed bike that I rode well into the next decade.
For my 16th birthday my grandmother made me a pink corsage with 16 sugar cubes. I may even have the remnants of that somewhere in a box.
For my 21st birthday my grandparents took me to a fancy Italian restaurant where I got all dressed up and felt very grown up but not yet old.
For my 40th birthday Ralph got me horseback riding lessons, among other things, and threw me not-a-surprise party, because if there is one thing he is not good at it’s not telling me about surprises.
I turned 50 the year we moved here to Franklin. That was the summer I was in traction, fat and decrepit and unable to sit/walk/bend/shave my own legs. Which was very appropriate given that I had just turned 50.
Two summers ago Ralph took me to the zoo and I petted a kangaroo.
Last year we ate ice cream first, dinner later, cake last.
Thing we did on my birthday this year: nothing. Nothing at all.
It was the best nothing I have ever done.
Ralph asked me at least half a dozen times if I wanted to go out or if there was anything I wanted to do and I said nope each time. Not nope as in maybe. Not nope as in I wish you’d take me out even though I’m saying nope. Not any kind of passive-aggressive nope or self-pitying nope or I’m-in-denial nope. Just plain old nope.
After a week in New Orleans, I had no intention of going back out into the heat, of walking, of exerting any energy at all. I did not want to be entertained. I did not want a steak or an ice cream cone. Just a couch and some cake.
My second favorite birthday cake is the chocolate one with chocolate buttercream frosting that I make for Ralph.
The nice thing about Ralph’s birthday being the day before mine is that I make him a cake and then it magically, by the Transitive Property of Birthday Cake, becomes mine the following day. I don’t even have to exert any extra effort.
So he made me a Sazerac. Then he made me another Sazerac. Then, quite possibly, he made me a third Sazerac but I stopped counting those along with my age.
And we ate cake.
I also made myself French toast for breakfast, with lots of crispy bacon.
And I fit four puzzle pieces into my all-white puzzle, so that was something. And… STILL no church bells! They’re doing something over there that involves digging up the entire lawn along the street so for all I know they’re installing megaphones, but in the meantime it’s been blessedly quiet.
A most excellent birthday gift.
Sometimes I actually forget how old I am. More than 50, less than 60. Something I don’t really want to think about.
I’m kind of over birthdays, but mostly I’m over getting older. I like the singing and the phone calls. I like the packages that arrive on my doorstep. I like going out, when we do, to the zoo and to dinner, to parks and for ice cream. I may be getting older but for a minute on my birthday I get to feel like a kid.
A big, fat, wrinkled one, but if you’ve got a balloon you can sometimes forget even that. As long as there’s cake.
Photo: a delicious, fabulous Napoleon cake. With my name spelled right and everything.