Conversations about Birthdays

My father only really celebrated one birthday, his seventieth. All I remember from the other birthdays are the odd dinner with the family, but nothing more. I do not remember any gifts that I gave him, except for his seventieth: six bottles of Champagne. I guess it was a good reason to celebrate, and we opened three of them when he cut his cake.

His birthday on Spring Day in South Africa, 1st September, followed the Dormiton of the Virgin Mary on 15th August, the day on which he celebrated his name day. On that day, two weeks before his birthday, there would be a constant stream of visitors and well wishers passing through the house. Some staying for coffee and cake, and others for dinner. That was his real annual celebration.

So when he turned seventy in 2006 he threw two big parties: One in the village in Greece and one in Alberton. Needless to say, the real party on his birthday was in Greece at his father’s house. A few weeks later on 8th October he celebrated with friends and most of his family at his home in Alberton, where we had moved in when I was born in 1962. I did not attend the party in Greece, although I was there just after 15th August and spent one of my birthdays in the village with my parents and Ines. I do not remember that day other than that we went up to the monastery at the neighbouring village of Kandila.

Back home in South Africa the party was held on a Sunday in the pleasant early summer of the Highveld. The venue was my father’s taverna at the back of the garden, and people sat outside under umbrellas and watched the sheep turn on the spit. Most of them were synchronising their eyes with the rotations and planning when they would be able to grab a piece of the crispy skin to snack on before the feast started.

There was a separate tent with all the drinks. This was the only difference from any previous function, where there was usually just a drinks table on the veranda and wine and whiskey on the tables. There was a good mix of people: immediate family, friends from his days of involvement in the Greek community, his golfing buddies, the neighbours, some old Albertonian friends and his dogs. The two dogs, Lady and Leon, were kept behind the fence although they were such gentle creatures they could have easily joined in the party.

After we cut the cake and drank the Champagne, another group became evident: his five remaining Godsons. The eldest, Basil had flown all the way from Australia for the celebration, and I remember taking a picture of them in the lounge. This was a group of young men my father had mentored and whose families he had been intimately involved with. They have remained close to us even with his passing.

The Sheep on the Spit, Taverna on the left

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