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.