why i do my best to remember birthdays

My Mom used to tell me that the one thing they cannot take away from you is your birthday. And while there weren’t always parties or fancy presents, your birthday was acknowledged with something special in my house. Even the year I turned nine, and we were just days in Southern California after escaping from my father, my Mom got me a kite. She hid it under the couch. My sister got it stuck in a tree within a week.

There were some years when I would get to pick a special dish for my Mom to make for my birthday dinner. Most years I picked veal scallopini – I didn’t know what veal was, and stopped eating it as soon as I learned. And of course there was always cake.

My cake was usually green, because of St. Patrick’s Day. I was born a day early, and I guess paid for it annually with green food coloring. To this day, I despise green cakes, although I probably wouldn’t turn you down if you offered me a piece.

It is hard for some people to grasp, but my Mom won’t be sending a card, or calling and singing happy birthday on my voice mail. Dead people cannot do that. I remember waiting by the phone that first year, hoping – that’s what grief does.

Of course as far as I know, my father is still breathing, and he won’t/didn’t do those things either. It’s been almost three decades since he has acknowledged my birthday to me, any way. I don’t think he forgets.

And of course there is also my sister, who is also off the hook. The last time she acknowledged my birthday, she sent me a bear in surgical scrubs and other in a wedding dress. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, honestly. But I accepted it in the spirit it was given.

I think all of us take these things for granted. I did it too, so I am not blaming anyone. It is human nature. We scoff when our grandmothers and aunts tucked a five dollar bill into a card all those years ago, but then miss them when they stop. And it isn’t about the money.

Of course I did have one aunt who liked to send bad checks tucked inside birthday cards. I was dumb enough to cash the last one she sent when I was in college. I got dinged a $20 service charge by my bank, but was able to get it reversed when I called and explained (the check was for half that).

For all those reasons, and many many more, I try to send cards to my friends on their birthdays. I am not always perfect, and sometimes they are late, but I try. I especially try hard for those friends who have also lost a parent, either by death or estrangement. I know it won’t make up for what is missing in the mailbox, but I hope it does lighten the blow.

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