Birthday Sugar

Dear Mom,

When I was with you a few weeks ago, you and I ate cupcakes I’d bought in the bakery section at the grocery store.  You savored each bite, and we laughed as we brushed away crumbs and licked our fingers.  As I wiped your mouth you smiled and asked, “Is it somebody’s birthday?”

I didn’t tell you it was almost my birthday because, actually, it didn’t matter.  I was with my mom, and we were eating cupcakes together and laughing.  When a daughter celebrates like this with her mother, on some level it is a celebration of both their births.

Several days later, two days before Jim and I left to drive back to Colorado, he and Molly planned a special birthday dinner for me at a Japanese restaurant in Salina.  We sat around a big U-shaped table, watching in amazement as our chef flipped vegetables and meats on the sizzling grill in the center.  As a grand finale, in celebration of my birthday he put a big onion (why an onion?) on the center of the grill, squirted it with something very flammable, struck a match, and poof! it flared like a Roman candle.  As everyone sang Happy Birthday, I looked at the precious wide-eyed, amazed faces of my grandchildren (your great-grandchildren, Mom!), and the wonderful, much-loved faces of my husband, our daughter and our son-in-law, and I thought, “It doesn’t get better than this.”  Everyone was together, happy and healthy and hopeful, celebrating life.

It reminded me of the tradition we had for birthdays as I was growing up.  Birthday breakfasts often included something special–maybe Eggs A’la Goldenrod, cinnamon toast, or a donut from the bakery–or it was something simple and fast because it was a school day and we didn’t have time for anything too special.

It was at dinner that night when you fixed our favorite meal.  For David, I remember he liked shrimp for his birthday dinner, which was no small deal in Kansas in the 50s.  My choice was usually your meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and canned mandarin oranges and chunked pineapple, which made it seem like a really big deal.  I always loved your meat loaf, Mom, and while we ate dinner, the dessert waited over on the counter: a birthday cake, my cards and presents.  For a kid growing up in southeast Kansas, having such a birthday celebration on a school day, trimmed with cake and presents and laughter around the table, well, it just didn’t get any better than that.

You started the tradition, Mom.  Birthdays are celebrations of life, and the cake is the sweet reminder to be grateful that we’ve been blessed with another year.

The love and laughter of family and friends around the table, and the memories of others we hold in our hearts, are the icing on the cake, sugary sweet, rich with the reminder that nothing is better than a birthday.

Thanks, Mom, for then and for now.

Love, Marylin


Filed under birthday traditions, Cooking With Mom, memories for grandchildren

8 responses to “Birthday Sugar

  1. Mom…this is a wonderful picture of all the generations of our family! I am so amazed with the way you write, the way you connect different aspects of your life, and the just how wonderful you are. Thank you so much for writing this blog so that I will always have reminders of Grandma, you and the kids will have living history to refer to.

  2. Oh wow, Marylin, this made me tear up. And I really, really want some cake.

    Great story. Keep ’em coming!

    • Thanks, Jaye. For some reason–maybe it’s the flaming onion–this one is making more readers tear up. Cake really is the solution…especially cup cakes with lots of icing. Just ask my mom.

  3. Helen Armstrong

    I used to send a birthday card to my mother on my birthday. You are so right, Marylin. Your birthday is both of your birthdays. She did all the work.
    In fact, you are celebrating every day that your mother is still her by remembering all the gifts of life she provided for you in the past. These gifts made you who you are today, with your own personal seasonings along the way. Keep writing!

  4. What a beautiful idea, sending a card to your mother on YOUR birthday.
    I love all these details, Helen, and I loved your mother. Thank you.

  5. Oh, the memories that come with birthdays and food! When I was growing up, there were five times a year we got either steak or shrimp gumbo. On our birthdays we, too, got to pick our favorite meals. My dad always made the “fancy” meals, while my mom cooked the everyday ones. It’s the everyday meals that bring back the fondest memories. Now we can get steak any time, but beans and cornbread like mom used to make — that’s a rarity.

    Thanks for the memories, Marylin.

    • That’s how I feel about it, too, Mary. Nothing like a mother’s home-cooked birthday meals. Mmm…beans and cornbread sound so good. I think our moms went to the famous
      culinary institutes…called “Mom College for Great Meals.” Thanks for sharing, Mary.

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