When I was younger, much younger, the high point of my social calendar was a birthday party—preferably my own. These events always included a chocolate layer cake made from scratch by my mother. I enjoyed licking the beaters almost as much as I enjoyed the finished product. A family friend once requisitioned one of mom’s legendary creations, and, with the help of Tupperware, flew across the country with carry on cake to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. Talk about two wings and prayer. Fortunately, the cake and its escort both arrived in one piece.
My next birthday will usher in what some euphemistically call a banner year. I haven’t decided yet how I want to celebrate. High on my bucket list is seeing Iceland. I love the idea of going to a place where the space to tourist ratio favors the former. Less complicated and costing far fewer krona, however, would be a gathering with a few friends at a fine restaurant nearby. The one I’m thinking of is just a short, scenic jaunt from my house, but in all the years I’ve lived along the Michigan-Indiana border, I’ve only ever managed to drive by this capitol of fine dining and gaze longingly. Certainly, an inaugural visit is overdue; I still have a few months make up my mind.
Earlier this summer, I attended a friend’s surprise birthday party. It was no ordinary balloons and cake-from-a-box affair. This extravaganza—celebrating the entering of a new decade--was masterminded by my friend’s spouse who, conveniently, earns her livelihood by event planning. More than fifty family members and friends assembled and lay in siege at a neighbor’s acreage. The birthday lad was lured onto the property with the bogus promise of an impromptu pool party with a few friends. In place of inner tubes and paper umbrella-festooned drinks, however, he was met by a bagpiper; kilted, tartened, and variously plaid-swathed well-wishers; and an evening of Highland games and Scottish fare. Only a guest swim-by from Nessie herself could have rendered the celebration any bonnier. In the weeks beforehand, the unwitting guest of honor had allegedly proclaimed, “Please, no party this year.” But when the time came, he was not only surprised, but also genuinely moved by the acknowledgement of his heritage and the outpouring of love and affection.
This amazing party reminded me that as tempting as it is to skip the fuss, expense, and disruption that celebrations entail, we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to continue to mark birthdays, and to mark them in real time and space. While we don’t need to pull out all the stops every year, we do need to something that goes beyond electronic postings. The social media people have largely usurped the role of the once popular little hardbound birthday calendar books. Now someone or something on the other side of a screen tracks birthdays, sends reminders, and even supplies a blank window for us to fill with a few words of birthday cheer. At day’s end, we can log on to see where in the queue our few words fell, and whether a half-dozen or a hundred others registered good wishes. No candles, banners, or off-key singing required.
Call me old-fashioned, but when a dear one’s birthday is approaching, I still prefer the ritual of the paper greeting card. Nothing testifies to undying loyalty like trekking to the store and, before finding just the right card, subjecting myself to enough bad verse to sink a Hallmark harbor vessel. I always look for cards with sufficient space to accommodate a handwritten note. If I’m going to part with several dollars for a card and more coins for postage, I want that paper messenger pigeon to work for its keep. I draw the line at musical cards, however. After a certain age, birthdays are startling enough without the accompaniment of a computer chip brass band.
One of my fantasy occupations is greeting card writer. My birthday line would proclaim, “Here’s to the best ever new year of you!” and “They don’t make friends like you anymore. They knew enough to quit while they were ahead.” So whether your birthday is today, next week, or somewhere in the months ahead, “Call the spelling police! Someone left out the X in the middle of ‘Y-O-U!’ With love and best wishes for the happiest of birthdays, XXX OOO.”