Averyell A. Kessler
I was born on April 15. What a lucky day! My mother assured me that March 15 was the original Income Tax Day when I was born, it’s been moved to insure happiness and joy in April. Although I don’t remember my first birthday, I have a shiny black and white photo of me leaning over a snowball of a coconut cake with a single lighted candle. I am transfixed. I am standing on a limp sofa cushion in a pair of white lace-up baby shoes and a frothy party dress. I look like an elaborately decorated cupcake. Sadly, there’s no cherry on my head to complete the outfit. Mama’s hand grips my ankle so I won’t fall. Because I was an only child, she held my ankle for many years.
Things got better when more birthdays passed and I entered Belhaven’s festive, pre-school party circuit. We dressed in Sunday School finery and dug into Dixie Cups with wooden spoons. Licking the lid was mandatory. We gathered around birthday cakes from the Jitney or Campbell’s Bakery to sing Happy Birthday, watch someone blow out candles, and beg for an extra-large piece with a rose on top. Sometimes there were jellybeans.
London Bridge was my favorite party game, followed by Drop the Handkerchief. I didn’t like Musical Chairs because I lacked the ability to leap over chair backs and grab a seat before anyone else moved. Spin the Bottle was out of the question but Pin the Tail on the Donkey was the granddaddy of them all. I scored a resounding success when I won an enormous chocolate Easter egg, but was accused of peaking when I placed the tail a scant inch away from the donkey’s rear.
More years passed. Spend the night parties replaced ice cream and cake. These all-nighters must have forced our parents to hide in their bedrooms with a bottle of wine and hope for the best. For entertainment, we slathered make-up on each other. Emerald-green eye shadow was preferred or bright turquoise blue. We curled our eyelashes then stroked on thick black mascara until we looked like blinking Venus fly traps closing in on a tasty victim. Feed me Seymore!* We also made prank phone calls to assorted victims – many to randomly dialed numbers. Do you have Prince Albert in a can? Is your refrigerator running? Lots of laughter!
Then, a blazing adventure occurred on a snowy night. My friends, a group of unrepentant seventh grade gigglers, gathered in Amalia’s newly built basement rec room for an evening of birthday celebration filled with fun and frivolity. Although her house was surrounded by deep snowbanks, we were on a roll, slipping and sliding down her street until we arrived at the home of the superintendent of the Jackson Public School System. We knocked on his door, sang For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, and thanked him for closing the schools that day. He responded by aggressively lecturing us on the importance of keeping schools open. We disappeared into the darkness before he asked our names.
To salvage the evening, we decided to cook. After commandeering an electric skillet from Amalia’s upstairs pantry, we fled into the rec room’s small kitchenette. We’d also gathered a package of Armour hot dogs, a stick of butter, popcorn, and an unopened bag of potato chips. Yum. After turning the skillet on high and tossing in the ingredients, we discovered that this appliance was a product from hell itself. The sizzling hot dogs were bad enough, but the butter scalded, and the potato chips collapsed into soggy grey clumps. When a brown scum rose in the skillet, the popcorn took on a life of its own, showering us with exploding kernels and hissing black smoke.
“We’ve gotta do something,” I said. I was certain Amalia’s mother would appear at any minute. She had a sharp eye and a commanding voice.
“What?” Amalia asked.
“Water! I yelled. “We need water!”
Apparently, the plumbing in the new rec room had not been hooked up. All the faucets ran dry.
More popcorn, more smoke, and the acrid aroma of charred hot dogs.
“I’ve got it,” Amalia said. She opened a cabinet above the kitchenette’s counter and took out a bottle of Jim Beam’s finest. We were young and did know the meaning of the word flambe. The next moment, sparks flew like embers from a girl scout campfire. Snow was our only option. We opened her backdoor and tossed the flaming skillet outside. Victory! I do not know what happened to the skillet or if anyone smelled smoke and found remnants of burnt hot dogs in the driveway. I suspect Belhaven’s cadre of hungry racoons trudged across the snow and dined well. No harm, no foul.
I had another birthday last week. I did not flambe hotdogs or dig into a Dixie cup. No one wants to play party games with a woman who can whack the living daylights out of a snarling dog or anyone who makes fun of her hand carved walking stick. Although I am another year older, 365 days must pass until my birthday comes again. I may follow the lead of a friend who declares a “season of his birth” and extends his celebration for many days. At least, I am still alive and able to walk without swaying in the wind. I still enjoy chocolate Easter eggs and Blue Belle’s version of Dixie cups. (no wooden spoons). For me, every birthday has become the best birthday ever, and I hope to enjoy as Shakespeare said, “A year of sunshine days.”
*Audrey II, Little Shop of Horrors
My post about Sunshine Days is on my website, averyellkessler.com