Once and only once, my Mom brought ice cream treats to school for my birthday. That day Jack surreptitiously let the white mice out of their cages. The teacher ran around the classroom after Jack and the mice, thus upstaging my Mom. She never brought birthday treats for my classmates again.
A friend recalls the only time her Mom organized a birthday party for her, inviting other girls to the house. Her Mom told such scary ghost stories that my friend ran to her room and hid.
My husband Sam remembers a birthday gathering of boys one year – a rare occurrence. Nothing untoward happened. They played baseball and ate hot dogs and burgers grilled on the outdoor fireplace. Earlier that day, Sam chose Nootchie as his birthday present from the litter of mongrels across the street. The dog watched the party, tied up on the sidelines….
By today’s standards, my birthdays in the 1950’s and those of my friends were pretty low key. Each year I enjoyed the simple ritual of cake and ice cream at home after supper. I loved blowing out the candles while my parents sang Happy Birthday. I received a present from them each year, but the only one I recall was the pink Schwinn bicycle which I picked out myself….
My 16th birthday memories center around earning my drivers license. My Dad taught me, seeing no reason to pay a drivers ed instructor. One Sunday afternoon we took Mom along for a driving lesson. As I practiced in the large Franconia church parking lot, I hit the accelerator instead of the brakes. I rammed the car smack into the stone wall of that venerable old Mennonite church.
I was sure I was a total failure and would never learn to drive. My Mom hugged me. My Dad quickly inspected the wall of the church. And then – probably to comfort himself – he said, “Don’t worry. We won’t report this. No damage to the church. I’ll take the car in for Bill to fix tomorrow.” [Bill looked after the feed mill fleet.]
Eventually I did learn to drive, and even to park, and we all went up to the testing center near Allentown, where thankfully I passed….
As a younger adult, those singing birthday phone calls from my parents continued to nourish me. And I’ve enjoyed choosing a restaurant each year for my birthday dinner with Sam. I’ve selected venues as various as the Green Frog Tearoom near Aylmer, Golf’s Steakhouse in Kitchener, and Taris on the Water by the old canal in Welland – all with bodies of water in view to nourish my spirit.
For several milestone birthdays, I’ve taken deliberate steps to reflect and look ahead with others. My 40th birthday coincided with our purchase of a new house and the start of my first pastorate. So we marked these events with a house blessing for 40 people. An octet from Conrad Grebel College, where I had recently served as interim chaplain, sang for us. Our cat got into the act by jumping up onto the full buffet table, finding the one and only open spot to pounce….
We marked my 55th birthday and the 15th anniversary of my ordination with a hymn sing at the Detweiler meetinghouse, an historic 19th century Ontario Mennonite church which sings beautifully.
And I organized a Twenty Sisters Lunch for my 60th birthday and the 20th anniversary of my ordination. I had just finished an interim pastoral assignment, and declared myself retired from congregational ministry. So I invited friends to join me, as well as female colleagues I’d been engaged with over the years. They reminisced with me and blessed me for the retirement ministries I anticipated, including clergy coaching, spiritual direction and writing.
Ten years later, on my 70th birthday, I launched this blog as a thanks-be-to-God for the myriad ways my spirit was and is being nourished through 70 years of life. Now, on the cusp of my 71st birthday, I’m pleased that getting to 70 blogs will take me through most of the summer. Maybe I’ll even continue blogging after that. I enjoy writing these blogs, and I’m not finished yet!
Questions for Reflection:
Which birthdays do you especially recall? What has made a birthday memorable for you? How have you taken time for reflection at milestone birthdays?
Next Week: Living in the Glow