Friday, 07 September 2012
I'm having a lot of trouble being productive today, mostly because I stayed up too late with Alicia on Skype, getting a head start on my birthday celebration. She gave me a really nice Skype party last year, complete with cake and gifts and virtual decorations. (She ate the cake, and I got the gifts when I went to see her at Christmas.) I suspect tonight will be delightful as well.
But right now I'm groggy and out of it. I don't like falling asleep at my desk because it could get me fired, I'll get a crick in my neck, and if I snore it will be embarrassing.
I was born on Labor Day. I remember the first time I realized that it was funny. I was telling someone's mom, and suddenly realized what I had just said. This was back when I blushed easily, probably late grade school.
Birthdays were a big deal in my family when I was little. Mom loved to lavish us with presents. One year I had a double party with my friend Murray, whose birthday is the 3rd. Everyone from George Washington School was there, all 24 of them. That year there were even more presents than usual. One of mine was a soccer-ball-sized gift from Mark W. that turned out to be many layers of newspaper wrapped around a marble. I was not amused.
George Washington School, where most of the Medellín missionary kids attended, was a generally pleasant place. There were three classrooms, three grades per room. I was there from 3rd through 9th grades, except for 6th when we were in the US on furlough.
After attending a few GWS birthday parties, we discovered certain patterns: The ribbons we used, and sometimes the wrapping paper, frequently turned up at the next party on a different gift. (Missionaries are frugal people.) My brother and I always gave shirts. (Mom did the shopping.) The C boys gave socks.
In our family, when you turned 11 you got an Instamatic camera. I still have a bunch of little square pictures I took during my 6th-grade year in Kansas City.
My 12th birthday happened in Miami on our way back to Colombia. I got an Erector set with an electric winch, and had great fun that year building cable cars and other contrivances.
At 13, by family tradition, I got a watch. I used it for years, but it got too expensive to have it cleaned. I wonder whatever became of it. Might still be in a drawer at my kids' house.
The first time I had a birthday away from family was the beginning of 10th grade when I turned 15. My brother and I were new boarding students at a mission base in eastern Colombia. There were no dorm parents and we hadn't yet been assigned a host family, so we were sharing a dorm room and eating at the dining hall. The Gs, who were friends of our parents, had us over on my birthday. Mom had left presents for me, and Mrs. G made a cake, so it was all right. (We moved in with the R family a few days later.)
On my first birthday in college, my sister Ruth called me up "anonymously" and sang Happy Birthday over the phone while holding her nose. She and her husband had me over for dinner that weekend. Afterwards, she made me wash the dishes, which seemed weird given that I was a guest and it was my birthday we were celebrating.
Battenfeld Scholarship Hall had the tradition of "fountaining" or "Pottering" guys on their birthdays. On the afternoon of the 7th, the other B-felders chased me and my roommate Steve (whose birthday was the same day) through the parking lot and down the street. After a long and fruitless pursuit, they finally offered me immunity if I would help them catch Steve. After a few seconds of agonized soul-searching, I tackled him, and they threw him in a car trunk and drove across campus to Potter Lake, where they took off his pants and threw him in.
That evening we had a small celebration with our other two roommates with wine and cheese, plus a cake made by Steve's girlfriend TJ. My sister Mez came over with a girl from her dorm. (I don't know if she was trying to fix me up or what. The girl eventually married another B-felder, George. George was elected student body vice-president my sophomore year. His running mate, the president, was Mez's roommate Margaret.)
In September 1984 I was in Honduras, working in a refugee resettlement program on the Mosquito Coast. The girl I was interested in (and whom I married the next year) was in Tegucigalpa at the time, developing the program budget for the next fiscal year. On the 7th, she sent me a delicious crumb cake and a carton of orange juice on the daily Piper Aztec flight from the capital. I was living in a thatch-roofed cabin on the bank of the Dursuna river, with no electricity or plumbing, so orange juice was a luxury that I had been craving ever since I arrived. It made the day special.
Dang, that was almost 30 years ago! A lot of birthdays since then.
Nowadays my kids come over to celebrate my birthday on the nearest Sunday. This weekend they'll no doubt prepare a meal and a cake. The gift I asked for (Terry Pratchett's latest) doesn't come out until the 13th, unfortunately, but I received a Silvio Rodriguez CD in the mail from my sister Ruth, and tonight Alicia will show me her gifts. Yesterday she had me buy myself some shoes (black casual Rockports), which are also from her.
It's nice to turn 53 and feel like life is beginning to get really good.