Sorry for my silence the last two days. On Thursday night I was heading for bed until I remembered I needed to mix and bag a new batch of chai mix in order to be ready for Friday. By the time I was done it was past my bedtime!
Last night I was on my way home from Dallas, watching a spectacular lightning show the whole way. Again, by the time I got home it was well past my bedtime and in fact it was already my birthday.
My daughter Lina says there are two kinds of people in this world: celebrators and non-celebrators. Like my mother, I am a celebrator married to a non-celebrator. As a kid, the birthdays that involved some sort of celebration were the ones that stood out–except for the ones that stood out for other reasons!
My eleventh birthday began a string of memorable birthdays. The day I turned eleven, we were camped in a crowded campground in the Netherlands. The plan was to celebrate my birthday by spending the day at a nearby amusement park. Instead, we huddled in our tent and played board games while the rain came down in buckets all day long. The trip to the park could not be rescheduled and we never went.
My twelfth birthday involved a broken arm, absent parents, and a grumpy grandparent. My thirteenth birthday was celebrated aboard a Greek freighter in New York harbor, right before we set sail to return to Africa. My fourteenth birthday I think may have taken place while camping on vacation. My fifteenth birthday was spent in solitude, listening to show tunes on my parents’ reel-to-reel tape player, and my sixteenth birthday was a little surreal because I spent the day with two total strangers. They were very kind, but they really didn’t know me at all.
I mention these earlier birthdays because my seventeenth birthday was such a sharp contrast. I may have written about it before, but if so it was quite a few years ago, before I switched to WordPress.
My seventeenth birthday was my first birthday away from home and family. Although I had gone to boarding school for years, my birthday had always fallen in the long dry season (winter) vacation when I was at home with my family. Now, as a junior in high school, I went to a school which used the “trimester” system, so my birthday fell during the third and final term of the school year.
I went to bed the night before my birthday quite sure that no one at school even knew it was my birthday and that I wouldn’t even get a “Happy Birthday” greeting from anyone. (I was not the type to go around telling people that my birthday was approaching.)
On the stroke of midnight, I was woken up by the sensation of something touching my chest. I opened my eyes to see a cupcake sitting on my chest. I could see it because it was topped with a lighted candle, which also illuminated the grinning faces of several of my friends in the senior class who had tiptoed in and gathered around my bed. They whisper-sang Happy Birthday to me to avoid disturbing my roommate, and insisted that I blow out the candle and eat the cupcake instantly.
That one thing would have made my day. I was so tickled. Yet in the morning when the rising bell went off, my roommate Beth puffed into the room with a breakfast tray for me. It was a tradition in our dorm that you made breakfast in bed for your roommate on her birthday, but I hadn’t thought Beth knew it was my birthday. (Maybe she hadn’t been as asleep as she appeared to be at midnight!) The breakfasts weren’t fancy, because we didn’t have access to fancy food, but it was a thoughtful tradition and in fact this is what led, many years later, to our family tradition of breakfast in bed on your birthday.
Warmed inside by these tokens of my friends’ affection, I slid into my seat for my first class of the day, which was English. Our English teacher, Miss Platt, of course had access to our information, so to my horror she announced to the class that it was my birthday and they all burst into a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to You. While they were still singing, a boy from the senior English class next door dashed into our classroom, laid a piping hot pancake on my desk, said, “Happy Birthday, Linda!” and dashed out again.
I had no idea what the protocol was for dealing with a pancake which was delivered to one in the middle of a class, so I just stared at it in disbelief. “Don’t just look at it,” said Miss Platt. “Go ahead and eat it!” What else could I do? I ate it while my classmates snickered.
That afternoon I was invited for tea to the principal’s home. I thought nothing of it because my friend Lynnae and I went there every week to have tea and plan the Sunday School lesson with the principal’s wife. The toddler 3-5 year old class was held at her house every week and three of us had to entertain the kids for two full hours, so planning was essential.
This time Mrs. Entwistle had made a special birthday tea, including a whole chocolate cake which she insisted that I take back to the dorm to share with my friends. Full of joy, I headed back to my room, to find a beautiful angel food cake sitting on my desk. Worried that I’d be cakeless on my birthday, my mother had sent money and instructions to my friend Pam, who had made me my favorite kind of cake.
Staggered by all this generosity, I was further surprised when yet another whole cake arrived courtesy of my dorm mother (who would later also provide me with a lovely birthday dinner). I had three cakes on my desk, and although I offered it to all and sundry, I didn’t have many takers. What to do with all that cake?
Someone suggested that I call over to the boys’ dorm and let them know I had cake. By now it was evening. My roommate Beth was already in her pajamas and doing homework on her bed, but the lounge downstairs was still open, so if I could get a couple of guys to come over, I could take some cake down to them and they could share it in their dorm.
I made the call (each dorm had only one phone). The phone was answered by Steve, a boy in my class. I asked if he was interested in some cake, and he said, “We’ll be right over.” I waited to hear someone call me from the lounge, but the call never came. Instead, two heads suddenly appeared in the window of our second-story room. (Our windows had two panels that opened, and no screens.) One of them belonged to Steve, and the other one to his friend Jim. They had climbed up some pipes to reach our window.
Poor Beth ran screaming from the room, yelling down the hallway that there were men in our room. (Not technically true—it was only their heads.) The boys soon realized they had made a grave error in their calculations. They wanted cake, but they could not hold on to cake and also climb back down the pipes. So they climbed back down to the ground and then instructed me to throw the cake down. Picture me tossing half a chocolate cake out the window and having it be caught bare-handed by a teenage boy. Having tossed each boy half a cake, I watched them swagger off, covered in icing. By the time Beth returned with witnesses to prove our room had been invaded, there was no sign of any boys.
Best. Birthday. Ever. (When you’re seventeen, at least.)