I have a long history of having birthday parties in December. Very long. This year will be my 75th time. (I remember when I used to think 75 was old. But I thought 40 was old, then 50, etc. until I realized that at those ages, I was young-to-youngish. I do think that I was at the height of my powers in my 50’s. Now at 75, I won’t say I’m elderly, but I’m definitely older—See, I digress as older people are wont to do.)
My birthday is December 28. I was born at 11:59PM—on my first birth record, the nurse had written in December 29. Which we didn’t know until I was sixteen and was getting my driver’s license. It really doesn’t matter that much unless you are getting your astrological chart done—but really, who gets born a minute before midnight? No wonder I’m always late.
You might think having a birthday between Christmas and New Year’s Eve would be festive and fun. It’s not. First off, no one is really in the mood—they’re full of sugar plums and are saving up for New Year’s Eve’s champagne. So, my birthday is an imposition. I started feeling this way at any early age. I was about seven when I heard my mother in the kitchen. She was making tuna sandwiches for my party.
“We’re in retail,” she said to no one. “I don’t have time for this.” It was a refrain I was to hear year after year.
Often the weather is not good on my birthday. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been rained or snowed out. It happened in Seattle all the time, but I thought I’d be safe in California. Nope. One year, we had a wonderful party planned at an Italian restaurant. The only problem was that the 101 and the entrance to the restaurant were both flooded. Friends from Santa Barbara had to turn around, and you needed waders to get into Padri. Once in, it was a wonderful evening, despite the smell of wet wool.
Three years ago, the family went to Hawaii in December. Everyone likes to adventure so I planned a birthday trip to the top of Mauna Kea. I’d arranged for a guide and picnic lunches. My granddaughter and I even went to Target to buy jackets and gloves. We were set to go. I didn’t even think about the weather—it was Hawaii for goodness sake. Then the guide called me.
“What kind of sandwich would you like tomorrow?” I asked him.
“Sorry, but I’m calling with bad news,” he said. “They’ve had so much snow at the top, the road is closed.” At first I thought he was joking, but the joke again was on me.
We did go to a lovely restaurant that night, right on the beach. It was so cold that we had to wear coats, and the wind knocked down our water glasses across the table in a domino effect. We took the birthday cake to-go.
My 70th birthday was not entirely rained out. It was cold and drizzly in Montecito, but all 19 of us were staying at the Biltmore, which was cozy and warm. Our family is intrepid, and from Seattle, so we didn’t let the weather stop us. We even took our family walk and managed to have photographs taken outside.
My husband used to make fun of me because I was so sensitive about my birthday—I didn’t want a Christmas wrap or even red and green ribbon on my package.
“You’re the only one who thinks like that,” he’d say.
But one day, after standing in a long line waiting to renew my driver’s license, I found out I was not alone. I happened to be standing between two truckers, who knew each other. (I knew they were truckers because their big rigs were parked in the lot.)
“Hey, your birthday’s this time of year?” the really tall one asked the other.
“Yeah, mine’s on Christmas Eve. Nobody wants to do anything, but maybe go to church,” the other guy said. He looked like a short Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Mine’s on Christmas. I get one crummy gift that says, “Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas” on it,” the tall one said.
“Me too!” the muscle builder said. “And it’s wrapped in paper with Santa Claus all over it.”
“Me, too,” I put in. They looked down at me as if I were a pesky fly looking for Pence’s white hair, but I wasn’t deterred. “One year when I was ten, my three aunts gave me a half-slip for Christmas and my birthday. I had to write a separate thank you note to each aunt!” I said.
“That’s awful,” Schwarzenegger Wanna-Be said. “What’s a half-slip?”
I explained this antique piece of clothing apparel, and we continued to commiserate with each other until we were called. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my husband.
Some gifts you never forget. On my 20th birthday, my husband gave me an engagement ring. On my 30th, he gave me in an instant hot. We’d been married ten years by then so you can see how our marriage was progressing. A few years ago, he did give me the largest iPad. My daughter called it a Homer Simpson gift—it seems Homer always gives Marge something he wants. Yep, the only time I ever touched that iPad was when I took it out of the box.
I don’t want you to think that all my birthdays were a disaster. Truly, most of them have been great. We’ve had many fun parties along the way. Six years ago, we were in New Zealand and helicoptered to a glacier. And family does seem to like to congregate in Hawaii at the end of December…if there’s not a pandemic.
So here I am about to celebrate my 75th. I feel much as I did when I was 65. Thanks to PRP and a stem cell in my knee, I can still walk three miles a day, do yoga and work out on ZOOM. I also continue to write and teach . I admit to being a couple of inches shorter and wider, and that my hearing is going downhill faster than Lindsey Vonn. But overall, I feel terrific. Which is a gift.
As for other gifts, I’ve asked my family and friends to donate to food banks or a charity. The vaccine will be another gift, but I’ll wait my turn. Which because I’m now 75, will be sooner rather than later. I think I’m 2 millionth in line.