I have many topics about which to write, but I do not want to think about such unpleasant topics.
Birthdays are special. Or, at least, they can be, if you are surrounded by loving and caring people. We met at a Michelin-starred restaurant, which has always been excellent in the past.
I have had a nice day, so far, because I have enjoyed my day. This must be what someone in the royal family (of England) must feel like every day. For them, a birthday cannot be special, because people blow smoke up his or her butt every day. No one blew any smoke, but each was especially nice, nicer than on other days. People wanted me to be happy. Not that they do not on other days, but each made an effort...except Number One Grandchild, who continued to want--no demand--to be the center of attention at times. I wanted him to be part of the party, partly because he needed to start, from a young age, to learn how to act in a classy joint. Of course, he was mostly cute, but he did drift into moments of fussing. The chef--who has a star--made a plate of mashed potato and broccoli, decorated to suit the surroundings. The kid refused to eat, demanding instead his bottle filled with water. That bothered his mother more than me. He will not remember his first starred-restaurant, but I will. I remember his mother’s first star meal, but she does not. I recall almost not birthdays from my early year,s but will recall a very pleasant meal at a pleasant restaurant on a pleasant day.
A birthday is just another day, but...
Happy Birthday to me.
Tolstoy started Anna Karenina with the line about all happy families being the same (and each unhappy one being unique). Not having studied happy (and/or sad) families, I cannot concur or disagree. All I can suggest is that my happy family has its own way of celebrating birthdays.
Today is my wife’s birthday. The photo offers some evidence of a typical birthday in our house.
First of all, I have been giving my wife roses--one for each year--for as long as I have know her. To ease the pain of growing old, to attempt to stop time, and to save money, I froze the number at 25 a few years back.
Second, I produce a birthday “artwork”, which greets each family member in the morning. This is to remind him or her, in guess the significance of the day might have slipped the mind.
Third, a card is necessary to carry a few warm words. The card in the photo says “I don’t want to grow up”, which sums up my wife’s attitude about life. Inside the words continue with “You haven’t”, which captures her personality.
Fourth, we play Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday at maximum volume at least once, but usually several times.
Fifth, too many presents are required. Earlier, we even had to provide Number One Son with a present on his sister’s birthday, or he would pout. He could not understand why she alone should get something, because we had always claimed to treat both children equally. His behavior should have told be something about the financial burden I would continue to endure until the grave.
Sixth aspect is mandatory Champagne.
Finally, we have a fine meal. In the past, this has included trips to France or London. This year, work demands prevented us from traveling, but we managed to discover a new “French” restaurant in the next town.
I have always said that a birthday is “just another day”, but members of my family have come to expect certain traditions. Perhaps, that is one element of being happy...
I do not feel old. I never had a mid-life crisis, so am expecting it to arrive some time in the future. I avoid mirrors, because I never enjoyed the sight.
Unfortunately, there is one reminder of ensuing old age, which one cannot avoid or deny: a child's birthday.
One recalls their arrival so many years ago and wonders what happened to the time since then. Despite advancing age, each will remain a child...which probably explains the occasional friction between generations. The younger one has grown up, and the older one has not figured this out or cannot accept it. In the mind of a parent, a child will need guidance and support until he or she takes his or her last breath. This has nothing to do with "helicopter parents"; it is a fact of deep emotional connection.
I am not affected by my birthday (I've had so much practice at indifference), but a child's is a time for reflection...
My family thinks that birthdays are special. We have always tried to make them so for the children, and I have strived to achieve this with my wife. Each one required a hand-painted sign for them to find each morning with their presents, and I designed and made invitations for kid’s birthdays, which I’m sure their young friends failed to appreciate. The day always started with Stevie Wonder blasting “Happy Birthday” through the house. Many years, I produced a 12-egg angel food cake. For me, my birthday is usually just another day...
I have few memories of childhood celebrations. I recall only two. The earliest was a birthday party at our house on Willow Road (a reference meaningful only to siblings), so I was rather young. Of it, I recall only playing a game called pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey in the living room of that house: nothing else. The second memory is aided by a photo of me holding a cake in a Cub Scout uniform, and I vaguely recall the house of a fellow scout in the same neighborhood. After that, I have no memories of a single birthday celebration until recently. I remember my 21st birthday, not because there was a celebration, but because I visited Neuschwanstein in the rain. I wanted to have trout (Forelle) for dinner, but could not remember the word and no one spoke English. (I had goulash: the only thing I recognized). I do recall my birthday in Vietnam, but that was no party: I spent the day in a helicopter doing the same things I did every day.
My wife and children try to make my birthday special for me and have managed to do so on several occasions, but I still do not retain many memories. It must be the way my brain works. This year, we are driving to France for lunch at our favorite restaurant. It sounds like a big deal—the distance, not the restaurant—but it is only three hours away. And, by the way, the restaurant is a big deal: it is one of the best in the France and the world. The restaurant has maintained its three-star status (in my opinion, only Michelin stars mean anything) for decades, and we have been making regular pilgrimages since the 70’s. It is a special place, for us and anyone lucky enough to enjoy the magic within the confines of its dining rooms and garden. In contrast to the demands of my sign, I do not expect something for nothing: it is worth every penny. And, as the Michelin Guide says of three-star establishments: it is always worth the trip.
This will be a special birthday, which I will surely remember....
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.