When you get older, a birthday is just another day on the calendar. It’s been a while since I had any candles on a cake. I wouldn’t want to set the smoke detectors off and have the fire department show up. And at this age, I don’t need a big celebration anyway.
But enough about me. It’s not my birthday. But it is a significant birthday month. My wife turned ## last week, and my sister turns ?? today.
Out of respect we, and by “we” I mean every male among us, never talk about a woman’s age, even if she is your sister and especially if she is your wife. There are health reasons for not mentioning any number higher than 29. Women everywhere want to forget how old they are. They want to hold on to an age that sounds youthful, no matter how much snow is on the roof. Which is also something a male should never mention publicly or privately.
This makes no sense to me. I’m proud of my age and the color of my hair. I’m glad to be a member of the grumpy old man gang. In fact, I still occasionally cheat a little on the high side when someone asks me how old I am. You know, like when you were 9 and wanted to be 10 so bad that you would start telling folks you were 10 six months ahead of your actual birthday. I worked for every birthday I’ve had, and I’ll wear those stripes proudly.
We never made much of a big deal out of birthdays in our family, though we did have parties when we were little. A half dozen little friends. A homemade cake with five candles. Little pointy party hats. The party really got wild when we used those rolled up paper party horns to try and put somebody’s eye out.
We’d all stand around the kitchen table at home. Chrome legs and a red colored top with little boomerang designs in it. Chairs to match. Red vinyl seats and chrome legs. The kitchen floor, get this, was a black and yellow checkered linoleum tile. I actually saw this same table, chairs and floor tile at the Smithsonian a few years back in the Americana Exhibit. It made me feel old to see my childhood in a museum.
I did a little research on birthdays around the world. There are countries where birthday parties are not allowed at all. No cake and balloons. No singing. No celebration for anyone except for the revered leaders of the country. Somebody had a bad childhood.
Then there’s Vietnam, where everyone celebrates birthdays on the same day of the year. The entire country turns another year older on New Year’s Day, no matter what month you were born. Which, when you think about it, is true and makes for one heck of a national birthday bash.
The best thing about this plan is that it would keep me from forgetting to send Happy Birthday wishes randomly throughout the year. We could all save up our best wishes for that one day for every friend, and we’d be right on time. The greeting card industry would have no need for all those belated cards that they print because we would have no excuse for forgetting. Driver’s licenses would just have a year on them, no month and day necessary because everyone has the same birthdate. And the ladies down at the county tag office would lose their minds trying to get those renewal notices out all on the same day.
The best birthday tradition I saw comes from Denmark. A little morbid, but totally done in fun. The parents make a cake in the shape of a little boy or little girl, depending on the guest of honor. The birthday kid gets to take a knife in hand and make the first cut. Moms and Dads and funny Uncles all stand around and cheer wildly as the kids slices in and cuts off his head. I think the idea is to say goodbye to the child of last year, at least I hope that’s what it means.
What a birthday means when you’re young can run the risk of being a little narcissistic when you get right down to it. Look at me. I want. Everybody is here for me. Now, don’t go all nuts on me. I think it’s great that we celebrate the ones we love, and we should. Loved ones should know that they are special to us. But I’ve been to a few birthday bashes that were a little like New Year’s Eve on Times Square, or Six Flags on steroids. I’m thinking to myself, “What are we doing here?” Same goes for weddings.
What a birthday should mean is really pretty simple. Especially when you get north of 60. It means that you’ve got the stamina necessary to take on anything life can dish out. By the time you start flirting with Medicare, chances are you’ve survived several major surgeries. You’ve gotten over most of the youthful stupid decisions of your life. Could be your life has been touched by divorce, and disease, and tornados, and inflation, and the gawd-awful 4-year cycle of political ads. But you’re still here.
Having a boat load of birthdays doesn’t mean that life is over. Getting older is not just about getting closer to the end of the road. It means that you are richer for all the friends you have accumulated over the years. It means that you are wiser for all the experiences that have taught you what life is really all about. And it definitely means that you are more charming, more interesting and more colorful than you were 40 years ago. “You age well” is both a compliment and a state of mind.
But I do have to be honest here. We can’t pretend to ignore the realities. More than six decades of birthdays also means that you know how bad your feet can hurt. It’s possible that you wear “special” shoes when no one is watching. You hesitate to get down on the floor for any reason, because you know that getting up may require help. You try to talk yourself out of feeling ashamed every time you eat ice cream, and you secretly wish bad things would happen to Marie Osmond.
This doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. It just means that each year you celebrate another birthday, you care less and less about what others think. You’re more prone to speak your mind. You’re comfortable with you. And, by God, if you want cake and ice cream, you’ll have cake and ice cream.
So, Happy Birthday Darling. Happy Birthday Sis. I hope this is a great year for you both. And don’t worry. Your ages are safe with me.
Just one word of warning. Between the two of you, there are 134 candles on your cake that need to be blown out before we set the house on fire.