Cambrian: Slice of Life

Birthdays still a good reason to celebrate, long after you turn 21

Many birthdays have been celebrated since Aug. 13, 1981, when this photo of Kathe Tanner illustrated a story introducing her new column in The Cambrian. For years, the lifelong writer was a co-owner of The Upper Crust Bakery and Tearoom in Cambria (now the French Corner Bakery), and in that capacity, she decorated thousands of birthday, wedding and other special-occasion cakes.
Many birthdays have been celebrated since Aug. 13, 1981, when this photo of Kathe Tanner illustrated a story introducing her new column in The Cambrian. For years, the lifelong writer was a co-owner of The Upper Crust Bakery and Tearoom in Cambria (now the French Corner Bakery), and in that capacity, she decorated thousands of birthday, wedding and other special-occasion cakes.

I’ve got a strange confession for someone who used to make birthday cakes for a living: My birthday is around the corner, and to tell the truth, I’m having trouble whipping up any real enthusiasm about it.

Once we get to a certain age, it does seem kinda weird to make a big deal about the dates on which we were born, so long ago.

I guess the gifts and balloons, multiple off-key renditions of “Happy Birthday to You,” blowing out the candles and having people pop up from behind the couch to yell “surprise” are all designed to make the birthday person happier about being (let’s face it) old … or at least older.

The jury’s out on how successful that is.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This Scorpio is so glad to have survived another 365 days, and I’m deeply grateful to have shared them all with my beloved Husband Richard.

But it’s not as if I’ll suddenly be an excited little kid again, super jazzed to get presents and making a wish over the cake. Likewise, I won’t be the teen who’s been waiting on pins and needles for the right to drive a car or cast a vote.

No, most of the birthday-celebration thrill was gone for me after I got past the benchmark legal age for drinking and adulthood — not that either of those made all that much difference to me.

I get a hangover about 10 minutes after drinking any alcohol, so I don’t. And, when I actually turned 21, I was a week away from having a baby. At that point, I really didn’t care how old I was, thank you. I just didn’t want to be pregnant anymore.

Since then, I’ve focused my birthday enthusiasm on my kids, my relatives, my friends. Anybody but me.

All that fuss is rather scuff-the-toe-in-the-rug embarrassing, especially if people ask me “What do you want for your birthday?” Because I don’t need anything.

What I treasure most is their time and love, enthusiasm and laughter. Fortunately, we get to share those often, even though most of our family members live far away.

Cambria’s not on the short or easy route to anywhere, you see, but our kids, grands and others frequently make the long treks from there to here to see us. Each visit is very special, as will be this weekend’s time with Oregonians Dylan and Holden.

When family and friends can’t share special days here with us, they usually call, post greetings on social media, or even send cards (remember sending birthday cards? Do you still do it? I don’t so much anymore, although I’m not sure why not.)

However, some birthdays absolutely must be celebrated as a major accomplishment and cause for festivity, no matter how old the honoree is.

For instance, after my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 63, we had to accept that she’d never be the 95-year-old spitfire we’d always expected she would be.

Always stubborn, she survived nearly three years longer than the doctors expected.

During that time, knowing the odds, we expanded our usual efforts to make every day count, every day special.

We took her on motorhome and car trips. We went together to shows, to visit far-flung friends and family, and to celebrations big and small. We helped my writer mom launch her new career as a sculptor. We shared adventures and hilarity, good books, bad movies and lots of gigglefests.

And yes, we made big, big deals out of her birthdays and Christmas, holidays and Tuesdays, with gifts and cards, cakes, flowers and balloons … even knowing that she felt about those celebrations then the way I’m feeling now.

We were determined: My mom was not going to not spend whatever time she had left just sitting around, waiting to die. Not on our watch. Not a chance, Charlie.

Mom was going to have fun. And so she did, lots of it. In the process, so did we, even as we were coming to grips with her impending mortality.

I learned then that birthday festivities aren’t about the day itself. A birthday is the excuse we use to abandon our usual routines and spend the day enjoying and celebrating each other.

If doing so means I’ll also be blowing out candles and opening gifts, then I’ll enjoy it all to the max. Really, I will.

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