Conversations about Birthdays

As children my mother always organised great birthday parties. She would invite our friends and set the table with food and treats. Cold drink bottles would line up to quench our thirst.  I remember everything being set and then having to wait for my father, who would rush back from his busy schedule at the office to be with us.

I know we were spoilt in those days, but there was not a plethora of cheap electronic toys available as there is now. For instance, I never owned a radio-controlled car. I remember going through a phase where I collected Action Man and all his accoutrements. This was disturbing for most men in the family because they thought this was a sign that I was gay. Even in that conservative town in the sixties it was not an unknown entity. One of the sons of family friends ended up having a gender reassignment operation in the seventies, and the pressure was on already from young for him to come out of the closet.

I remember our childhood birthdays as happy uncomplicated affairs. Aunty Kiki would treat us with wonderful gifts, beautifully wrapped, and she would bake a soft moist chocolate cake for the special day. We always had the correct number of candles and it was a big thing to blow them out and make a wish. I am sure I made many wishes over the years, but a line from a poem comes to mind:

“I got nothing I asked for but everything I hoped for

Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.”

After the singing and cutting of the cake we would drift into the garden. Funny, I do not remember bad weather on any of our childhood birthdays, but that is probably a slant of brightness that comes with age. We would play cricket or soccer, or cowboys and Indians. I think for one year when I had built a puppet theatre and was making paper mache´ puppets whose gowns were supplied by Aunty Kiki, I tortured the audience with a puppet show. The theatre was a made of a wooden frame covered with plywood painted yellow. I always loved mechanisms of any sort, and made a curtain system to open and close both sides simultaneously. The drapes were thick red velvet, probably cut from one of my mother’s old ball gowns.

So the years have moved on to the point where half centuries pass. Children’s birthdays were so innocent and so much fun. Then as we grew they became complicated and a show. We went from a special meal treat at the local steakhouse to meals in other countries, weekends in decadent luxury and sometimes nothing, just a quiet dinner at home.

What made those early birthday parties was an air of simplicity, home backed cakes and my father rushing in like the president from the office for the occasion.

My father at one of my brother’s birthdays.

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