Our Bankrupt Birthday Memory Bank

Today is my sister’s birthday. She’s old. 

She’s REALLY old. I suppose if she wants to read this, she’ll need a magnifying glass to see it and someone to poke her every few minutes lest she nods off. They just don’t make strong enough Geritol for someone as old as her. She’s so old she…oh, sorry. Got a little carried away there.

Anyway, since it’s her birthday (did I mention she’s old?), and it was time to whip out a blog entry, I had the brilliant idea that I should dedicate it to our birthdays as kids. 

I had just initiated one of our delightful Messenger group chats on the subject to see what they could share when it occurred to me that I didn’t remember any of my birthdays as a kid off the top of my head. Not one.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my brother and I both have large swathes of nothingness in our childhood memory landscapes. If you’ve followed this blog, that probably doesn’t come as a big surprise, and I’m sure Freud would have a field day with all the reasons why that’s true. But really? 

No memory of birthdays?  

So, the conversation commenced…and these usually go on for some time and are quite hilarious as we remaining three of four remember, laugh, learn, and cringe. But today’s chat was really short because guess what? At first, none of us remembered anything! 

Group think, maybe? Trauma-based delayed hypnosis (OK, I made that up)? A childhood of crappy birthdays not worth remembering, perhaps? Who knows. 

The conversation lulled.

Then I remembered a little thing and a bigger thing…and my brother remembered a couple of things. 

And my sister remembered something; her memory was nicest, so I’ll share it first!

Sandi remembers that our neighbor Anna (this was when we lived in Bonner Springs, Kansas before I even started school) threw a party for her, and she got a little stuffed animal. 

I loved Anna…she also babysat me while everyone else was at school and had a baby duck that followed me around. And she had a Cinderella coloring book just for me. And apparently, I found out from my elder siblings during one of these blog discussions, she also slept with my father. Hopefully, not on anyone’s birthday!  

Anyway, Sandi kicked off the memory chain. My brother, Rick, remembered that when he turned five, his picture was in the newspaper holding a birthday cake he’d won. I hope it was on the front page since he doesn’t remember a single other thing about that or any other birthday until his 17th. That’s when our loving Pops told him to join the “Army,” or he’d send him to a reform school as a ward of the state (a version of this came up in a previous blog), and that he was “done” with him. I remember that day because it was not quite a “discussion,” and things got a little physical on my dad’s part as I recall. And mom and I cried a lot. However, all things considered, I’m pretty sure Rick would chalk it up as the best gift he’d ever gotten from Dad. He got to leave! Happy freakin’ birthday (and that is said with genuine mirth, not sarcasm), Brother! 

If I’d remembered that was an option, I might have asked for the same for my 17th birthday.

I recalled a card I got on my seventh birthday; it had a fishing pole with a cartoon fish on the hook announcing that I was seven years old in nice colorful letters. Now that I think about it, that’s kind of creepy. Maybe that’s why I remember it, although I don’t recall anything else about the day. Who knows, but that’s a pretty paltry memory bank for a childhood of birth celebrations.

Then I suddenly remembered my 16th and can’t believe I’d spaced it initially. Our dog, “Puppy” (you might recall that original and catchy name from a previous entry), died the first morning of my 16th year. That was shattering because we’d had her since I was pretty little, through many moves, and she and I were the only “kids” left by then… in the same house where Rick was off to the Navy (his last act of defiance, I suspect, since Dad told him to join the Army), but he was gone when Puppy died. I was devastated but went to school anyway. My gift was waiting when I got home, you might say. She was still in the back yard, and Dad told me to take her to the Humane Society to have them do what they do with dead animals. I had to roll her up in a blanket and put her in the trunk. It was the first time I’d touched anything dead, and can still remember how stiff she was. Yeah, that sucked. I’m not singing the blues (or “Happy Birthday to Me”) here, just telling the story as it applies to the subject. That’s the one I remember! Woo hoo! 

I don’t remember anything else about the day, but that’s probably good since you might be ready to eat your phone or computer at this point just to escape these stories! In the end analysis, I kind of wish I’d gotten an offer to join the “Army” if I’d refused to dispose of our sweet dog. But that was not in the cards, although maybe it was somehow psychologically tied to my random trip to the Air Force recruiter several years later, resulting in a 30-year career?

Yes!  So, my brother and I did get awesome presents in a round-about-way from the Man himself: military careers, which probably kept us both out of jail and gave us new lives and steady paychecks. Thanks, Dad!

But wait! We did remember some good stuff…just not individual or year specific. We remembered that Mom always let us pick our birthday meal and cake (money allowing). Our late sister, Rhonda, always asked for liver and onions (calm down out there and have the decency to gag quietly…she’s passed away, after all). Sandi’s was fried chicken, every single year. Rick drove the meatloaf train and requested peach cobbler for dessert (pardon me while I drool…Mom’s peach cobbler rocked!). I hang my head because I have no clue what I asked for, and I think that might be because all I really wanted was the cake. Well, mostly, I wanted the frosting. All of it.  

And we always got the traditional spankings, which in a family of six, could be time-consuming if not terrifying, since every family member spanked you for each year of your life. 

As the youngest, I lucked out because I had the fewest years and the others moved out before I was really racking up potential swats.

In closing, Happy Birthday, Sandi! I hope you have someone to read this to you since you will never be able to hold it far enough away to see the words. And I hope they don’t put all those candles on your cake because it will catch your old-lady chin-hair on fire. And don’t let them spank you because with the size of your family and your exorbitant number of years, you’ll still be getting spanked this time next year when you turn 103.

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