By Bruce Stambaugh
Some people cringe when their birthday rolls around. They look at the annual demarcation as making them one year older. Indeed, it does. Conversely, I prefer to think of birthdays as the beginning of another new year of opportunities and wonder.
That approach may have come naturally. Ever since I can remember, birthdays have always been important in our family. My brothers, sisters and I joyfully anticipated our special day.
Our poor, already overworked mother would bake the cake we wanted. Even though chocolate was my favorite, I always asked for pineapple upside down cake. I had my reasons.
I loved pineapple. I also loved maraschino cherries. The citrus and syrupy sweet flavors melted into an irresistible caramelized topping that made the yellow cake extra moist and pleasing.
I have to confess that I also had a secret reason for requesting that cake. My other brothers and sisters didn’t like it as well as I did. You know what that meant? I downed more than my fair share of my cake all by myself.
Though our family was never rich, that didn’t mean we didn’t celebrate. It took love, not money, to make birthdays special. Every once in a while, each of us five kids was allowed to have a real birthday party. That meant a bunch of rapscallions whooping it up until the cake and ice cream were served.
Usually, though the parties were confined to the immediate family. The cake naturally served as dessert for the evening meal. After dinner, came the present.
What should have been an exciting time didn’t always turn out that way. For my 16th birthday, my folks got me a car, a toy car. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
That may have been the consequence of having a birthday sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I always suspected that my parents bought what they could afford and thought I needed, needing to save for Christmas.
On the other hand, having been born in December made the birthday tradition at my elementary school pretty easy. Students were expected to bring a treat on their special day. I often handed out store bought Christmas sugar cookies, stars, wreathes, and candy canes sprinkled with red and green sugar, to the joy of my classmates.
Birthdays were equally greeted with cake and occasional parties in the home in which my wife was raised. One year a neighbor made her a cake so pretty the family froze it instead of eating it.
We tried to make our own children’s birthdays special, too. Neva pulled out all the stops to make or buy special cakes, often in the shapes of baby dolls or baseballs or whatever our son and daughter fancied. Of course, they had parties with friends, neighbors and relatives some years, too.
This year I get to celebrate my birthday, never mind which one, with my three grandchildren. They live in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a place that is lovely any season of the year.
I’m really looking forward to the time with the grandkids since my wife and I don’t get to see them regularly. Our home is west of the Appalachians, and theirs is set on the mountains’ eastern foothills.
I’m sure they will enjoy watching me blow out all those candles. I just have two birthday wishes though.
I hope my array of burning birthday candles doesn’t set off their fire alarm. And I hope they don’t like pineapple upside down cake.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.