8/26/2005

Birthday Parties

With five kids it's hard to finance big birthday parties every year for all of them. We were a 10, 13, 16 celebration division family. You still had cake and ice cream but only with family. For a party with outside guests you had to hit a magic number. First double digit, first teen and sixteen were sort of standard with us for parties.

I have always had a problem with my birthday. I never have managed to celebrate it the way I would like to. When I was younger that meant a party where everyone came that I invited. As I got older it was the traditional drinking free drinks at the same number of bars as I was old and passing out singing with the band in the last one. Now it's all of the above only with a willing piano player and a group willing to sing along or listen while I run through the 400 or so songs I know till I pass out.

My 11th birthday I got a beautiful dress and a pair of rollerskates with a case for the rink. My Dad's folks were over, I know because there is a photo. I must have spent that year visiting them in the summer as usual and seeing them at the family reunions and such. I really don't remember.

I was really wound up tight for my 12th birthday. All the kids had been bringing birthday treats to school but they were lame or store bought. I was going to have really yummy chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing and a chocolate star on top! NOT lame, NOT store bought, really good!

I was expecting a really excellent gift that year, too, as I had been really helping out watching the kids for Mom a lot and she and Dad kind of hinted around me about it. You know how kids are, it could have been a portable am/fm or new books or anything but it seemed big to me. I was primed to turn twelve!

Now my uncle, the drunken astronaut, had gone and got himself a girl friend a couple years earlier. I hated her because he wouldn't play with us anymore and he was always going someplace with her and not taking us, like to the lake swimming and stuff. She ruined our uncle for playing with. They had gotten married and he went in the army.

For the holidays they had leave and were visiting. That would have been Christmas, 1966. We had gotten to visit with them and uncle let us play with his cool toys, like the gyroscope and the real toy typewriter but he wouldn't come and play WITH us. It was kind of a bummer.

They had to go back to base after the new year. So in January, 1967, on the Sunday the 8th, Grampa and Grama with Grampa's sister, my Great Aunt Mary, the uncle, his pregnant wife and the TV they had received for Christmas all managed to get stuffed into Grampa's car and headed south. They spent a night in a motel and started out again on Monday the 9th.

My birthday was going to fall on Thursday. So here I was, all wired up for my birthday in three days. Mom was going to make the cupcakes Tuesday night and ice them the night before. We were cleaning the house because Mom's folks would be coming for dinner and Mom couldn't bear to be caught with her dusting down when her Mom was coming. It was busy busy.

We got home from school on Monday, did our chores, helped get supper around and were sitting around the dinner table enjoying it when the phone rang.

Now I don't know about you guys that grew up with phones as old hat technology but back then when the phone rang you RAN to answer it. If it was long distance you SCREAMED for whoever the call was for and RAN to get them. They RAN back to answer because it was expensive for long distance and it usually meant bad news. Even now I can NOT stand to let a phone ring more than 3 rings and two is annoying.

Mom, closest to the phone, jumped up and stepped lively to answer it. The phone hung on the wall in the kitchen right next to the dining room door. It had a long cord on the handset so Mom could talk to her friends while she did dishes and such. We heard her say "Hello?" and then a second later she poked her head out the door with the phone still on her ear and said, "Arr, it's your Dad, long distance. Come here NOW!" She didn't scream it, but she was commanding. Dad legged over and out of his chair without sliding it back and went through the door. They were out there at least five minutes, then we heard the reciever slammed down and Dad started cussing and Mom started to fuss at him and cry at the same time.

We were round eyed and apprehensive and dead silent around the table. We couldn't hear well with the door shut but they were getting a little loud. It was something to do with rain, a semi-truck and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We knew it was Grampa on the phone and we knew he was taking uncle and aunt back to base. I thought it might be the car broke down or something but didn't voice an opinion.

We were all near tears hearing Mom start up and when Dad started ranting a few ran over our cheeks even though we had no idea what was going on. It got quieter. Dad stopped swearing and Mom was sniffling but not sobbing...the door opened. Now we were ready for anything, we thought. It was long distance, Grampa traveling and Mom crying while Dad cussed. When they told us there had been an accident Grampa, Uncle and Aunt Cry were in the hospital and that Grama and Aunt Mary were dead we all burst into genuine tears of grief.

We had practically lived with Grampa and Grama for every new baby or group illness and when Mom went to work Grama came to stay with us. She was always there. This was a huge loss to the family and we all knew it. And even though we were young, we knew Dad would be sad and so would Mom. This made us even sadder.

Great Aunt Mary was more like a friend. I stayed overnight several times and we played cards, made fudge and cookies and just in general had a great time. She was my Dad's Aunt and Grampa's sister. They had 11 siblings. Even in a group that large she would be missed. She was just nice, not cranky, not out standing, but a really nice person.

Mom called her mom and Grama came right over so Dad and Mom could go to help with the car, the hurt ones and make arrangements for the funerals. They would be gone two days. It would be late before we all got in and out of the tub and settled down to sleep that night.

I was actually on my way to bed when it hit me! Mom wouldn't be home to make my cupcakes! I was all set to panic when I remembered who taught her to make cupcakes - Grama S! And she would be with us so I was ok for bday treats. So Mom and Dad rushed off into the night with what clothes they could grab and what cash they could scrape up and we said our prayers with tears running down our cheeks that night.

Tuesday at school was strange because everyone knew our Grama died. Grama S had told Mom's brothers, Dad and Mom called Grampa's brother, Uncle Star who told the rest of the family who told their friends and before we had tucked in the night before cassaroles were in the oven* Kids were quiet around me and class just kind of flew by. Mom called that night to tell Grama S what was going on and she assured Mom she was ok, we all left at the same time and she got home right after we did by about 15 minutes.

See, Grama worked, too. She was a seamstress and then a cutter at Richardson Mills. It was not quite a sweat shop by definition but is was by lack of fans. So she got us off to school and went to work then came home and fed us, made us do chores and homework then bathe and get to bed early so we would be "fresh" in the morning.

It really wasn't that bad, despite our whining about over work and no time to play. With five of us chores took very little time but it seemed like forever when we were kids.

During dinner I asked Grama S if she would help me make cupcakes for school. She didn't see how she could but didn't want to say so. So she put me off. I was ok, there were still two whole days before my birthday. Mom would be back Wednesday according to Grama S. Plenty of time.

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