When I was kid, I never really paid attention to birthdays. I mean, yes, I remember the Sesame Street cakes, kid parties at McDonald’s (those were the days, eh?) and cards from relatives (that I would squeeze before opening in case there was a $10 dollar bill or check enclosed). But, for the most part, I was more interested in having “my day” as an excuse to see my elementary school chums and, perhaps, be able to make a request to my mother for some French toast (with real maple syrup) for breakfast.
Truth be told, I kind of dreaded my birthday. Where I grew up (Canadian border), early February was pretty much a crapshoot for weather. Subzero temperatures with howling winds, blizzards and the occasional freezing rainstorm. It was the worst, to say the least. And those atmospheric conditions tended to hinder on “my day.” Feb. 5 would coincidentally fall on a day of a huge snowstorm and, one-by-one, the house phone would ring with voices saying, “The roads are so horrible, we won’t be able to the make the party. Sorry.”
And with that, I kind of envied those kids with summer birthdays, those buddies of mine who always seemed to get a bluebird day to celebrate, one filled with sunshine, shady trees to sit under and a refreshing backyard pool to do cannonballs into. Ok, it was awesome to be invited to these shindigs, but it felt, at least to me, like “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.”
It wasn’t until I was 16 that I got excited for my birthday. Finally, I could get my driver’s license. Ah, what a day that was. I shot right out of bed and demanded my father take me down to the Department of Motor Vehicles to take my written and driver’s test. For my 18th year on the planet, I was now legal to drink in Canada (a mile from my house). My cronies and I packed into our rusty Chevy Lumina and crossed into the great beyond that is Quebec — a land of ice, Montreal and cold Labatt Blue lager — for a night of debauchery.
My 21st birthday fell on Super Bowl Sunday 2006. So, granted, many of my friends already had plans or didn’t want to go out because, “It’s Sunday and I have an 8 a.m. class bright and early tomorrow.” I bet those damn summer birthdays never had to receive that phone call.
But, a handful of beloved folks were around to go out. We decided to head for a bar that was notorious for being hard-asses about underage drinkers, so I was excited to finally be able to get in, legally. I sat down at the counter and ordered a beer, ready to whip out my license. The bartender popped the top off the bottle, placed it in front of me, grabbed my cash and walked away, never once ID’ing me. Dammit.
I hate receiving gifts, always have, and always will (even on Christmas). A conversation with an old friend or dinner with a loved one means more to me than a new phone or pair of jeans ever will. And throughout the rest of my 20s there were plenty of memorable birthdays, many of which either spent with family or a femme fatale that had reeled me in that particular year.
With the good ole “29” only a week or so away, I find myself in more of a reflective state than in previous celebrations. Is where I am today, physically and emotionally, where I wanted to be by this juncture in my life? When I was 19, I figured by the time I was 29, I’d perhaps be married, maybe with kids, or at the very least with a significant other I could see myself pursuing life with together. I had this whole John Mellencamp image in my head, where “her” and I were sitting on a tailgate at the Tasty Freeze like in the melody “Jack and Diane.”
Yet, here I am, on the verge of 29. No wife, no kids, no significant other I could see myself pursing life with together, no tailgate, and no Tasty Freeze. And you know what, I don’t care. I’m happy, with my career as a writer, living in beautiful Southern Appalachia, surrounded by friendly faces and good intentions.
Life has a funny way of panning out. It truly isn’t what you had planned, for good or ill (but mostly good). As they say, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” We all have our own victories in our own time, and to that, I wish all of you the happiest of birthdays this year. To 2014 — cheers, y’all.