The Allure of Birthdays
Just about every part of a birthday celebration is designed to please. What’s not to like, especially as a child, before you begin to understand the deeper meaning of those higher numbers?
The vintage birthday cards I remember from the early 50’s late 40’s were charming and fanciful. The cards portrayed a pastel world inhabited by a friendly smiling group of anthropomorphic kittens, all transformed and dressed up for my special day. Minus the frolicking animals, birthdays could easily match expectations if you had a mom who liked to decorate, as I had and knew how to throw a good party, as she did.
In the 40’s and early 50’s, there were no exhausting sleepover parties, or extended group outings, as there is today. All that was required was a pretty party dress, a pin-the- tale -on – the -donkey game, a birthday cake covered with frosted roses, some party hats, party plates and napkins and small favors of candy in a frilly crepe paper cup to put by each guest’s paper plate.
Parents dropped off and picked up their children within an hour and a half. A guest went right to the party table, sat down, ate cake, played a game and waited patiently as you opened your presents. I remember the parties as rather sedate, but happy affairs, nothing like the screaming excited kids being kids at a party of today, running around the house chasing each other.
When I was a child, birthdays were celebrated fully. Even my pet collie got into the act by singing/howling to the Happy Birthday song. The most magical moment of the celebration was when the lights of the dining room were turned off and my mother entered with my cake, candles blazing, on a cake stand that was also a music box that played Happy Birthday. I think this same scenario played out each year until I left home for college.
For many years of my childhood, on birthday weekend, my family would take me out to dinner at Toto’s, a glamorous, roadside supper club with a grand Sunday evening buffet that seemed the height of extravagance. I think we went there before it became seedy and faded as the 50’s progressed and tastes changed. A small orchestra played dance music. I can still picture myself in my father’s arms, dancing together in between courses. Fox trot or rhumba, no doubt. For a ten-year-old, this was as good as it gets. In later years, like so many buildings that were a part of my childhood scene in western Massachusetts, it burned down.
MY 9th birthday was my most unfortunate when I came down with the mumps on the eve of my birthday. Toto’s was out of the question and I was inconsolable.
Hope Springs Eternal
Segueway to my first year of married life, at 22, when I expected a significant response from my new husband when my birthday rolled around. He was close-mouthed as I’d drop hints about my birthday’s approach. On the morning of my birthday, before I headed for work, I expected him to tell me he wanted to take me out for dinner. Nope. I rushed home from work, expecting a lavish card waiting for me. Nope. I then convinced myself he’d planned a surprise party. When he came home from school, I suggested we go out for dinner. Ok, he said, willingly but unenthusiastically. I told myself a present would appear during or after dinner. Nope. Then I decided he’d slyly drive over to a friend’s house, saying something casual, like, “Let’s go visit Abner.” I could easily picture all my friends hiding inside. No such plans unfolded. We drove directly home. My hoped had expired with the day and I dissolved in tears. My husband was uncertain about what had gone wrong. It was then I learned that his family never made a big deal about birthdays. Wha????
It’s been slow going since then, because it’s hard to change those deep rooted childhood habits. I’m always more excited than most people my age are, as my birthday approaches. But now, my birthdays are always celebrated! My birthday got to be more fun once I had kids who would put on shows for me and bring me breakfast in bed.
I was in anguish for a while before turning 60, but got over that to celebrate 70 in a big way. Seventy five slid on by, and now I’m heading straight to 80.
Eighty doesn’t sound nearly as old as it once did.