It was my birthday this week.
Those of you with summer birthdays know it’s a little different. In the middle of March, everyone says, “Wow. A birthday party.” You bring treats to school and everyone is happy for an excuse to celebrate.
It’s different for the summer kids. Everyone is already busy with vacations and visitors and then, somewhere in the middle of all that, someone says, “Oh. It’s Carrie’s birthday, isn’t it?”
My birthday was particularly unreliable because it fell when the plant where my father worked as an engineer shut down and he always took that time off. We loaded up our Studebaker or Hornet or Volvo and headed off to California or Wyoming or Canada, to visit aunts and uncles or go camping or, one memorable trip, go backpacking.
We’d drive for what I seem to remember were endless days, my sister and I in the backseat, my mom, dad and dog in the front. This seating arrangement held until my mom poured coffee and our dog, Boots, remembering the one-and-only time mom had spilled hot coffee on her, frantically jumped into the back seat until the lid was safely back on the thermos. This caused my mother fresh guilt every time she had a cup of coffee for every vacation for as long as Boots lived — Boots lived a long time.
Somewhere near the middle of our vacation, usually just after we’d reached our destination, my birthday would arrive. One year we were in Canada and my mother’s sister made a cake with coins wrapped in tinfoil baked inside. This was terrifically exciting. Another year, in California, I had a watermelon cake which I remember as something really special although, as I think back on it, I’m pretty sure my “watermelon cake” was simply a half watermelon with candles stuck into it. (This free tip provided for busy parents of young children.)
But the most memorable year was when we went backpacking. I was turning 13, which meant my sister was only eight and we hiked over the mountains carrying everything we needed for a week. My sister had an enormous pack filled with the huge sleeping bags of the era. It didn’t weigh much, but it made it appear as if there was some pretty serious child endangerment occurring. There is a photo of her lying by the side of the path in which it looks as if she might never rise again.
Then, right in the middle of it, my birthday arrived.
In theory, chocolate pudding should solidify without refrigeration. But my birthday pudding remained liquid. My mother said she honestly forgot the candles but, seriously, with the weight she was carrying, deciding to haul one less box of candles would have been perfectly justified. The waterproof wooden matches were lit and set in the middle of the pudding where they immediately sank and sizzled out. It was, without a doubt, my best birthday ever.
Earlier that day I stepped between two rocks where there was still snow—in July. The snow was much deeper than I thought, and I laughed out loud as, for a moment, I was stuck in a snowdrift on my birthday. That night we camped by a stream and I listened to the water run until I fell asleep.
I’ve had some amazing birthdays since then, but I’ll never forget watching 13 matches descend into chocolate pudding as my mom and dad and sister sang:
Happy Birthday, to you.
Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday, dear Carrie.
Happy Birthday to you.
And it was.