Birthdays, The Day After
In fifty-five years, I have had some interesting birthdays. Being soon before Christmas, as many will understand this, I did get “shorted” when it came to gifts.
And clearly, the goal was to embarrass me if the gift rationing was not bad enough. I believe this to be the last photo taken, the time around my birthday and Christmas, before my parents divorced.
In 1974, my birthday had almost turned near tragic. This is one birthday I remember every detail. Even it being a Thursday night, which I will get to shortly. Since my parents divorce, my mother worked second shift, which left the birthday celebrations up to my grandmother and her sister. A simple tradition, make the requested birthday meal (not to be confused with a last meal), cake, presents, some time to play with the presents, a Christmas special on TV, then off to bed.
Thursday, December 19, 1974, started off the way that all my prior birthdays had begun. My grandmother made the meal I chose, tuna noodle casserole with sliced hard boiled eggs on top. She made it with peas that I would pull out and leave on the plate. At the table, were my grandmother, my aunt, my sister and I. My uncle was expected to stop by on his way to “bowling night” (that’s how I remember it being a Thursday). But he was running late. So, it was just us eating.
Then, my aunt disappeared. I knew what this meant. She was going to light my birthday cake, or in this case cupcakes. I do not recall if I requested it or not, but any kind of cake made from scratch by my aunt was awesome.
Soon, she appeared, with her cardboard tray, carrying my birthday cupcakes and nine candles. Off went the kitchen light, leaving the kitchen glowing only from the candles. Happy Birthday was sung by all, singing the same note. That was okay. The cupcakes were going to be worth it. Then I went to blow out the candles.
Just then, my uncle came crashing through the front door. He was yelling “FIRE!” rushing towards us. My aunt responded, “yes, right here,” pointing to the candles. “NO!” he shouted, “FIRE!” And again my aunt replied with “I know.”
As my uncle rushed towards us, he took a sharp right turn just before getting to the kitchen from the dining room. Attached to the dining room of this old Pennsylvania “twin” home, was a side porch. “Older” people were known to use these porches as storage areas, such as keeping a large freezer, keeping beverages cold in the winter, and… stacking newspapers to go to recycling.
My aunt it appears, choosing to light my candles on that side porch, upon striking the match, threw a spark onto a nearby stack of newspapers. The spark smoldered as she brought my birthday treat into the kitchen, eventually erupting into flames. My uncle and my aunt were both right. They both saw a fire.
Luckily, the damage was minimal contained to that side porch. But the smell in the house, lingered for weeks. It definitely could have been way worse had my uncle not been late at all, sitting at the table with us all already, or not even had come at all.
Unfortunately, not the most unusual birthday I have experienced. In general, I don’t like them. It has nothing to do with getting “older” at all. As I have mentioned, I do not like this time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is the time of year that I was not only diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but have dealt with several crisis. Also, the season just always seem to have a cloud over it. It just is not fun for me.
That changed for me when my daughters came along. It was not for me, but I enjoyed my birthdays for them. Their innocence always got me through this time. It is the best feeling in the world to hear your children say “Happy Birthday Daddy” (actually Dad now, a demotion attributed to their maturity). But the really cool thing is, now they actually remember my birthday without any prompting.
Today, my birthdays are celebrated even more different. Now divorced, I get to spend my daughters on video. And thanks to Covid19, even my birthday meals have changed. Used to being treated out for my birthday, Covid19 made it necessary to eat in again, the first time since I was a child. But you know what? It was a pretty good meal.
Great story, Paul. Sad, but with a happy ending.
I can definitely say that was the starting point of my disdain for the holidays.