Birthdays are kinda like the ancient merry-go-round that once proudly twirled at the Carroll County Fair. The more that whirligig got wound up, the faster it went. The first few turns, you weren’t sure you were moving, but let me tell you, once it got a little centrifugal force going, look out!
It took a million jars of strained Gerber bananas to get me to my first birthday. And I don’t remember one thing about it. I hope and pray Mom didn’t stick one of those silly cone shaped hats with the little rubber tie that went under the neck on me. Ye, gads!
Miss Carolyn made my seventh birthday memorable. She had me stand in front of the whole first grade as she announced it was “Kesley’s Day”. A class full of young people…..who turn out to be life long friends……clapped appropriately. I had never felt so honored! And I got to lead the pledge, eat first and dust the erasers. Every little boy/girl needs to feel “celebrated” at least once at that stage in their life.
It took forever and a half for my tenth birthday to roll around. But I’d had plenty of time to think. “Mom, can I get a pony?” She launched into the cost and care required for such an investment…… Daddy, wasting no time on explanations, answered with a crisp “no”. He wasn’t going to feed something that was too small to plow, didn’t give milk and wouldn’t bring a tinker’s hoot at the Tri-County Stockyard auction. They gave me a Bible with my name on it. Leon quickly pointed out that it contained lots of stories about donkeys, oxen, stables and all sorts of animals.
It took an eon and two eternities for my thirteenth birthday to arrive. Mother made such a big deal about me becoming a “teenager”. I failed to catch any significance here. Oh sure, I was venturing out a little. I was growing taller. I’d hang around Frank’s Dairy Bar for more than the burger and shakes. Pam, Squeaky, Ann Carol, Ricky, Bonnie……we talked about life and what high school would be like. I was surveying my existence with a bit more inquisitive, howbeit, awkward eye. But still, no pony.
By sixteen I had it all figured out. If only I could have retained the intelligence, foresight, knowledge and assuredness that accompanied that birthday! And listen to this, as some type of validation of my brilliance and cosmopolitan persona, they gave me a driver’s license! I no longer had to “hoof it” or “pedal” to town. I could roll the window down, comb my crew cut straight up and cruise into Frank’s with the attention and fanfare that I deserved. Life doesn’t get much better than being sixteen!
If only my parents could have been as insightful, as sharp, as hip as me, life would truly have been like the songs Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee and Elvis were belting out of every radio, jukebox and record player in sight! Dad worked the fool out of us, restricted my driving to almost zero, wouldn’t let me grow a ducktail, made us “be home for supper” and didn’t even notice my new penny loafers.
By my eighteen birthday I wasn’t so sure anymore. Janice, Rollin, Don, Ruth Ann…..the same ole group, would sit in the back booth at Frank’s and discuss the reality that our high school days were nearing an end. You talk about anxieties and uncertainty! I’m not sure what happened between my sixteenth and eighteenth birthday but I felt about six years old all over again! We were talking choices and possibilities that I’m not sure any of us were ready for.
My nineteenth birthday was the absolute worst! I was 212 miles from the house. It was cold. And snowing. I had no pony. No party. I had met several new college friends but studying, ball practice, term papers and pacifying demanding professors took way more precedent over a trifling birthday. I had never been so alone!
Nothing makes you appreciate a birthday more……than when you spend one by yourself.
Twenty-one was supposedly the “coming of age” party. Except, it didn’t work that way for me! There was no celebration of manhood. No conscious passage of some type of rites from boy to adult. Shucks, I was still fighting those college wars. Maybe I had grown…….a little. It could be that it just takes a lot of birthdays for the lights to come on. And you talk about interesting twists, I was knee deep into “higher education”, but it was my Father who was getting smarter every day.
It was about along here that the birthday carousel ramped up to warp speed. Work, wife, sons, car payments, birthdays went twirling by like high line poles on some super highway. At forty, I didn’t feel “over the hill”. At fifty, I didn’t think “middle aged”. At sixty, I realized there is no way to slow the sled. This January, as I celebrate another birthday, my overriding thought is “How did I get here so fast?” Blur comes to mind…….
But I have not lost hope. Life is what you make of it at any age. This is a story of triumph and joy. And hope. There might just be a pony in the back yard this very morning.