For some unknowable reason, 19 of my good friends have birthdays in February–if you count my old dog, Mayday, who was born on February 20, that would be 20. I can hardly keep up. And so I’ve solved this problem by throwing what I call my February birthday party, inviting all my friends who were born during that month. That way, I can celebrate all of them at once, with one helluva meal and one single cake for all of them, thus eliminating the almost-daily need to send out a card or some other signal of my love for them.
This idea has evolved into a joyous and nearly annual event that we all look forward to, not the least because of the bleak reality that is February. Everyone is itching for a party at that time, especially my friend and neighbor, Annie, who lived down the road and relished a celebration, or “festa,” as she always called them. Her birthday was in the middle of the month, which was usually when I scheduled it, for balance. Sometimes the party fell on her actual birth date, which tickled her. Annie never revealed her age, but she appeared youthful, perhaps because of her joie de vivre.
In 2008, I turned 60. In December. My mother, like Annie, concealed her age, turned fey when the question came up. I don’t remember when she reached 60 because she didn’t allow it to be known. To be fair, she looked a lot younger than she was. No matter, every year I accumulate, I remember that my husband, Paul, who was 39 when he died 20 years ago, had many fewer. And so, the advancement of age doesn’t seem to me to be something to hide or bemoan, but instead something to celebrate and a fact for which to be grateful.
And so I chose December 13 as the date of a big bash and invited all my friends, old and new. I thought it would be significant if I could have 60 friends present for my birthday bash. To my amazement, almost everyone could come! I could hardly wait. But the universe delayed my pleasure: The party was pre-empted by a horrific ice storm, and so it wasn’t until almost February that the gala took place. Most (but not all) of the original 60 joined in, and it was momentous indeed. I could always count on Annie to bring a special touch to any festive event, and she arrived with a crown for me and a hat for Mayday. Many others among us had also turned 60 that year, and so we all wore birthday hats, blatted into noisemakers, and blew bubbles into the wood-heated air. There was a feast to make the gods faint. Three cakes, all decorated, sat in waiting while we worked our way to that end of the evening. Love filled the rooms.
A couple of weeks later, I called Annie to wish her a happy birthday, but she told me she wasn’t feeling well. To my astonishment, she died suddenly the next day. I’m still wondering how it could have been. The write-up in the paper revealed that she was 78, much older than I’d thought. I readjusted my thinking. She’d kept her secret well, and I’m glad of it, admire her skill. As a result of all of this, we celebrated no February birthdays last year. This year, though, for sure.