Birthday Memory

Fragments of a birthday past begin to coalesce in my memory. A few weeks after the start of the school year, my father picked me up one day and took me to the mall. He had a cover story about looking for new camping gear or some such. I didn’t notice how out of the ordinary this was until we had done that and he suggested that we stop off in the food court for a bite to eat. I was too dense to realize what was going on; I just wanted to go home. When we got there, I was truly surprised by the party that was waiting for me.

I extract bits of information from the fragments to help me figure out which birthday it was. The mall Dad took me to was close to my high school, but for most of my friends at the party were from middle school, so it must have been the birthday I had at the beginning of ninth grade. I had gone off to a magnet high school and wasn’t around those friends any more. Perhaps my parents were worried that I wasn’t making new friends quickly enough, and wanted me to remember that I did have friends. As it turns out, that was the last time I saw some of those guys.

In the piecing together I find a clue about why that memory surfaced just now, deeper than the obvious fact that it’s close to my birthday. Growing up, a September birthday always came at a time of transition with the beginning of a school year and all its attendant changes. Sometimes the birthday got lost in the shuffle, and sometimes I preferred it that way, such as when I went off to college and didn’t want to draw attention.

Although I’m no longer connected to the school cycle, this is still a time of transition, with life changes similar to those that coincided with the start of high school for me. Last weekend I celebrated with my family, at least the members of it that live nearby. They’ve been so good to us during the transition, but after we move in a couple of weeks, we’ll see less of them.

My birthday celebration had three main components, none of which were a surprise. While Gran Ann cared for Elena on Friday night, Jenny and I went out for dinner at Matthew’s Pizza, which lived up to its lofty reputation. We had the crab pizza, which was excellent. Afterwards we took in the view of the city skyline from Federal Hill, and then set off in search of ice cream for dessert. Every place that we found on Google maps was closed, so we never did get dessert, but our quest wasn’t without success–we ran across a block party with some rocking live music where one of the ice cream shops should have been.

The following day, with Leisa and Sam visiting, we all went down to a park where I spent many childhood afternoons that are remembered only by my mother. Elena liked walking over the little bridge to the island in the middle of the pond. We threw around the frisbee and cooked bratwursts over the open charcoals. We had a few stale hot dog buns left over after dinner, which we put to good use as fish food. We had seen some in the pond when we first looked, but didn’t realize how many there were–bread crumbs at dusk caused a feeding frenzy.

The third component was my birthday cake, designed so creatively and decorated so beautifully by Jenny that it deserves mention as the third key component of my birthday. Her plan to make it clown-themed fell through when she couldn’t find clown heads at a craft store, so she made it math-themed.

My mother found enough candles to fill it up. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t blow them all out on the first try, but I blame poor strategic planning, not a lack of lung capacity. The cake was as tasty as it was beautiful, paired with two of my favorite ice cream flavors. Elena took advantage of the opportunity by sharing and ice cream with me, Jenny, and Leisa. She probably had more than was good for her, and by bedtime she was bouncing off the walls even more than normal. She didn’t have a sugar crash meltdown, and went down without complaint, which might have been her birthday gift to me. All’s well that ends well!


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