You know those people who go to great lengths to make sure nobody knows it’s their birthday?
I’m the polar opposite. I even tell strangers, like store clerks for instance, that it’s my birthday. And while I’m at it, I’m careful to speak loudly enough so others can hear me too. That’s how much I love birthdays. (Did I mention it’s today??? My birthday?)
I still smile thinking about the many happy memories from my past birthdays. For example, when I was growing up on the family farm between Napanee and Kingston, Ontario, it was pretty much understood that although a birthday cake is perfectly fine, a birthday PIE is even better.
In my family, the birthday boy or girl was allowed to choose the dessert at dinner. My older sister always chose pumpkin pie. My next brother always chose blueberry cheesecake (not pie; there’s one in every family…) My youngest brother always chose banana cream pie. And for me, it was rhubarb pie–the epitome of birthday happiness.
Since my birthday (May 18th, in case you missed it) arrives near the beginning of the Canadian growing season, it was often questionable whether enough rhubarb would have grown yet to make a complete pie.
My mom was resourceful however and she occasionally made me my own mini rhubarb pie, and for the rest of the family, she made an apple or pumpkin pie. [Read: a lesser species of pie.]
This year, my birthday brushes up against that of a certain queen from England who was famously “not amused.” This is not the first time it has happened. And as a child, can I tell you what I was not amused by?
Getting upstaged by a dead queen on my birthday.
The year that I turned seven, we didn’t celebrate my birthday on our farm as usual; instead, we went to my aunt’s house in nearby Napanee. My grandparents were also coming into town from Hay Bay for the celebration. And needless to say, Mom was bringing a rhubarb pie for dinner.
Even when it wasn’t my birthday, visiting Aunt Lorraine was always wildly fun. Along with my uncle and two cousins, she lived in the funkiest apartment ever above Uncle Doug’s TV and appliance shop. Given the riot of mischief we always got up to with my cousins, I couldn’t possibly have anticipated my birthday celebration more eagerly.
Best of all, their rooftop balcony overlooked the Napanee fairgrounds where, I’d been told, fireworks would be set off once it got dark outside. Birthday presents, rhubarb pie, cousins to get in trouble with–and FIREWORKS too? I could hardly believe my good fortune.
Sure enough, the evening unfolded as expected. The adults ate at their own table. The kids had uncharacteristic freedom at their own “kids’ table” in the kitchen. The cousins all fought. The kids took turns watching around the corner in case any adults decided to “sneak in” on us. We found creative places to hide our food so it looked like we’d eaten enough first course to get dessert. The adults shouted out “What’s going on?” and “Do I need to come in there?” to our angelic replies of “Nothing” and “No, we’re being good.” We spilled fruit punch, flicked food at each other and used words we wouldn’t dare say in front of our parents. In short, it was a glorious celebration.
And then came the fireworks.
I should mention that as a rule, I didn’t (and still don’t) like loud things. I’m afraid of power tools (let’s not ponder a chainsaw or an electric drill severing or impaling one’s limbs), I don’t ride jet-skis or other loud modes of transportation, and I share my dog’s horror with the vacuum cleaner and with the paper shredder in my office.
But that night, as schoolhouses burned, rockets blasted into the heavens, and streaks of colour etch-a-sketched outward in blazing colour, I was the happiest birthday girl ever.
My siblings and my cousins started trickling back into the house before the display was over–presumably to resume fighting and scavenging for seconds on dessert and to play with my birthday toys, but I was held rapt in the chilly outdoors until the last starburst of colour had faded and the final wails and sizzles had dissolved.
Upon re-entering the apartment, one of the adults commented that I must “really like fireworks.”
“It was great,” I’d said. “Napanee did that for my birthday.”
At that point, the know-it-all “olders”–my sister and my oldest cousin–started laughing at me.
“Really? For you? The fireworks were for Victoria Day!”
I was stricken and began scrolling back through my mind. I vaguely remembered hearing something about Victoria Day but I hadn’t paid much attention at school all week because I was too preoccupied by–you guessed it–my birthday.
“I knew that already,” I said, ever eager to shrug off the dumb little sister/cousin persona that I wore like an over-sized dunce cap.
That was the best comeback I could summon up and I’m sure they knew better than to believe me. Oddly though, I don’t remember holding a grudge against those snooty olders for dashing my childhood fantasy about the fireworks. But there was somebody who I definitely blamed.
I’ll leave you to figure out who that person was.
Victoria Karen Day, everyone!