Once upon a time, I was one of those people who hid his birthday.
One year in college, my gloomy roomie, Jacque, was feeling depressed and facing some tough times in her immediate future. One of our mutual friends suggested, “Let’s throw her a birthday party!” not realizing my birthday came 3 days before Jacque’s.
I didn’t say anything about it, and we had a great little birthday party that really cheered Jacque up. Somehow, it just seemed right at the time not to mention my birthday so she could enjoy the spotlight alone. I didn’t even mind. I decided to do it again the next year.
That next year, I was working at the Darkroom/Workshop, a photographer’s co-op in Berkeley (in exchange for room and board), when my birthday rolled around. I wasn’t going to mention it to anybody, but another guy on staff asked about me suddenly getting several pieces of mail. When he found out it was my birthday, he pitched a fit and told everybody else, explaining, “Your birthday doesn’t just belong to you — we need every reason we can get to celebrate! And birthdays are perfect for celebrating!”
So, we celebrated.
After that, I started sharing and celebrating each and every birthday — sometimes with a bang, sometimes with, well, not exactly a whimper, but a lot less fanfare. This year looks to be a low-key celebration: just me & Sara…and all of y’all reading this and all of my friends on Facebook and Twitter: a quiet, calm day of reflection and celebration.
That was not how I celebrated my 30th birthday. No, nothing but the best South Austin Bubbaland backyard beer bust would do back in the mid-80s. At the height of the party, my friends insisted we take a group picture of the momentous occasion. I should’ve know something was up, but they set me up beautifully, and snapped the photo on the count of 3 — right as someone put a pie in my face.
Happy Birthday to Me!
My next “big” birthday came 10 years later when I was going to hit 40. Between those birthdays, I’d undergone several life changes: I got married, had a son, went back to grad school and changed jobs. We decided to go out all out, but out of town to accommodate a weekend with all our far-flung friends.
We rented the Recreation Hall at Buescher State Park for the weekend. Several folks brought kids, so there were kiddie bikes and toys as well as the beer and bar-b-cue. A lot of the same friends from the pie incident were there, but we were all a whole lot calmer by then.
All but one, that is.
My friend, Pat, showed up late Saturday afternoon, grinning broadly as he got out of his car. He brandished a small, harmless-looking metal cylinder about the size of a standard flashlight I recognized immediately — as his cannon, small but LOUD.
“I brought the cannon,” he said simply.
“No.” I said.
“Aw, c’mon…” he pleaded.
“I got a deposit down on this place — I want to get it back.”
“Just one time?”
“Once.” I paused. “When you’re leaving. One shot then you go.”
Late that night, after all the kids and all the other adults had drifted off to sleep in their various camps, Pat fired the cannon once and left post-haste, scattering gravel as he raced away from the rec hall. A few minutes later, a park ranger drove through our area quietly, but by then, his car was the only sound other than the noises of the night.
That party for my 40th was my last big birthday blow-out.
Another year — I’ve forgotten which one — we rented out the Lost Pines Lodge in Bastrop State Park. This was a much smaller gathering, only about a dozen friends or so, and rather laid back most of the weekend — except for a fishhook getting embedded in one kid’s eyebrow: a scary looking, but thankfully minor, injury. A quick trip to the ER and the staff clipped the barb off and removed it easily. We kidded Erin about getting her first piercing without her parents’ permission and enjoyed the rest of the weekend.
After everyone else took off, I lingered long enough to clean up and lock the cabin. Just before leaving myself, I shot this quick little video.
Yes, both 30 and 40 loomed large and required attention and fanfare, but after that, the yearly celebrations grew smaller. The years stack up, you get busy with other things, and suddenly another birthday pops up. Dinner with a couple of friends, or sometimes, just me, Sara and Lucas, became much more enjoyable than making a big fuss.
Here’s a shot from birthday #49, celebrated at our favorite neighborhood restaurant, Casa Garcia’s (lamentably gone now), complete with a mariachi serenade while I wore this seriously silly sombrero, and of course, a complimentary photo to commemorate the event.
By the time I hit #50, we did cook up a low-key celebration with my brother and his wife and my buddy, Paul, out at his family’s sprawling ranch. I remember jeep rides in the mist and quiet conversations listening to a broad range of great music, thanks to Paul’s eclectic music collection. So that “big” birthday saw me celebrating with a small gathering, but a huge backdrop.
These days, it seems, we share our birthdays against a much broader “social backdrop,” as it were, due to social media, especially Facebook, with its birthday reminders and emphasis on sharing with friends.
The first time that really hit was back in 2010, when I was on the road for my birthday, making another Red Rocks run with my buddy Albert to see Furthur (one of the post-Garcia incarnations of the Gratfeul Dead’s surviving members). As great as it felt to be catching those shows with my old friend, being so far away from home on my birthday had me a little blue — until all the Facebook greetings came rolling in.
And rolling in. And rolling in. They just kept rolling in all day long, from friends near and far, everyone from people I knew since childhood to people I’ve never met anywhere but online. Hokey as it sounds, that avalanche of online birthday greetings sure felt genuine and my spirits soared to the heavens hearing from so many people who took the time to wish me happy birthday.
That may have been my first deep appreciation of the power of social media.
A couple of years ago, I joined in the fun with another video, this one from my home office.
I am definitely still enjoying each and every one of my birthdays — although, in truth, last year’s birthday (#60), was celebrated in decidedly low-key fashion, as today’s will be.
Thanks to Facebook’s notifications, people started sending me birthday greetings late last night from around the globe, and I’d heard from over a dozen friends before I even awoke. There’s already even more friends wishing me well, so I gotta go get busy responding to them. That could take all day!
I can’t think of a better birthday present than spending the day thanking friends.