Have you noticed people celebrate birthdays differently? As a young mother, I usually made a big deal of our children’s birthdays. Inviting relatives and a few kids their age. Unless I could buy them off. I wasn’t above bribing them with cold hard cash. If one of the kids wanted something really expensive, sometimes they could be convinced to give up the party. Take the money and run. Really, birthdays should be a bigger deal in the life of a kid than Christmas. Celebrating their own uniqueness of the special day they came into and made your life so much better.
|Shy, introverted Adam’s 4th birthday, Davenport, 1983…|
When you think about it, it’s precisely why we celebrate Christmas. The day God sent His Son to live and die for us. I wonder when Christmas started leaning towards how many presents we were getting or giving instead of celebrating the birth of Jesus? Recently, much has been argued that December 25th is not the real day that Jesus was born. The exact day doesn’t matter folks. Pick a day and celebrate what God did for us. The sacrifice for us. Ok, now back to regular old birthdays. And Christmas.
|Joshua’s 5th birthday party with Superman, 1980…|
After my brother’s death in 1958, the Gerritson’s stopped celebrating Christmas. Period. Not the religious part, but everything about the commercialized part. Larry had picked out the tree for a couple years before he died. After his tragic death, celebrating Christmas seemed not only trivial, but bordered on blasphemous. The hard part of course was I was not yet 8 when he died. What kid that age says, “no, really, don’t mind me. Never wanted to celebrate and get a bunch of presents anyway.” That part was tough for this little kid.
|Shannon’s 10th birthday, 1980. She still asks for German Chocolate Cake…|
But I think it was about that time in the Life of Neese that Mom did up the ante in celebrating my birthday. Might not have been done consciously by her. And it very well could have had a lot to do with Larry’s death. Mom started making a big deal about a couple of holidays every year. May Day. Bringing homemade baskets to classmates after school. And my birthday. Not always a big party, but always something special. That took time and planning on her part. I really appreciate her efforts, even more that she did this when her heart wasn’t always in it.
|Wearing shorts on Dec. 2nd. My 13th birthday, 1963…|
Sometimes it might just be a shopping trip. Mom, me and my best friend Char. Going to Sioux Falls or Sioux City. Not K-Mart or Lewis Drug either. The good stores. Shriver’s and Younker’s. Buying us matching fuchsia fleece hooded tops (40 years before hoodies became the rage). Standing in line at Bishop’s Cafeteria. Eagerly waiting to choose from their vast array of food choices. This was not such a big deal for me. We actually went out to eat quite often after our family shriveled from 5 to 3. (Larry had died and Mona got married). But in the life of Char, eating out was a very big deal. She came from a big family. They didn’t go out to eat very often.
|Me, Sharla, Char, Lin, Ruth, Gloria…|
On these shopping trips, getting dessert when we finished eating was the highlight. Bishop’s made some spectacular desserts. My favorite was French Silk pie. As I recall, it consisted of regular bottom pie crust, chilled milk chocolate cream filling. Not standard pudding though. The filling was frothier or a whipped texture.Topped with a fancy dollop of whipped cream. And curled chocolate shavings. To die for. Years later in the Quad Cities, a restaurant called The Village Inn made a pie very similar. But for the crust. They used a graham cracker crust instead of pie dough crust. Good, but not quite as special. Holy moly, this story has taken a major detour.
|A special shopping dessert. French Silk Pie…|
Birthdays. Since my birthday fell in December (it still does, duh-Neese) one could never be sure what kind of weather we’d be having on the 2nd. Often there was a lot of snow on the ground already in northwest Iowa. I can vividly remember wearing shorts for one of my birthday parties. Maybe my 13th. A huge surprise on my part. Mom really went all out that year. She planned a scavenger hunt through the town of Rock Valley. Clues were handed out at our house to get the hunt started. After discovering the next item on the scavenger hunt, you got the next clue which would lead us to the next piece of the puzzle. The first team back won a prize. Fabulous party that year. Thanks Mom. She invited a boatload of my friends. How she got the weather to cooperate fully remains a mystery. We had so much fun running around town. On the hunt searching for our next clue. That was so unlike my Mom.
|Wan, Shirlee, Pam…|
Slumber parties were a common occurrence too. Not just for birthdays either. We had them often during junior and senior high. Six, to 10 giggling, screaming, hormonal teenage girls. Most of whom didn’t fall asleep until dawn. Talking, teasing, gossiping, eating. Not a better way to spend a weekend night for a bunch of girls. Miserable night for the parents who got very little sleep. But a great night for girls.
|Slumber less party, Wan, Pam, Diane, Joann, 1967…|
Back to birthdays being a special event. In the life of a kid, their own unique birthday should be much higher on the Richter scale as a very special day in their life than Christmas. Now I send everyone a special birthday card with a check. Bleh. And on Christmas, when they’re already inundated with gifts galore, we add to the stack. Got that one wrong Neese. Should be doing more for their own special day. Celebrating when they were born.
|Birthday party meal, Sharla, Gloria, Mary. Are those rollers in her hair???|
Part of the Christmas versus birthday debate was John’s fault. Christmas was a huge deal at the Van Berkum house. Presents stacked up to the ceiling. Hubs was the youngest in his family. Thus 3 of his 4 sibs were already married when we were dating. Two had kids of their own already. In the mid-60’s everyone bought everyone else a present. John’s sister Elly had 4 children. His brother Jim had 2 for sure. Les and Mary Jane were newlyweds. Arly was single and in the Navy. John’s family went all out for Christmas. Something John wanted and assumed we would continue after we got hitched. Since I hadn’t really celebrated Christmas for a decade, heck I was all for it.
|Joshua, 6 waiting patiently for Santa to come, 1981…|
I don’t ever remember talking about Santa Claus when I was little. I don’t believe Santa was part of Christmas in our house, even before we lost Larry. After I became a mom, I grew to resent Santa. A lot. Doesn’t that sound childish? Yes it does, but I’m not ashamed to say it. What did Hubs do every stinking year? Made all of our most expensive presents the kids really, really wanted from Santa. Made me nuts for years. Not only buying the gifts we couldn’t afford. But then letting some magical, mystical dude get all the credit. What? I needed the credit for scrimping, saving, lay-awaying, running from store to store for the gift that seemed to be sold out everywhere. Hiding them in the attic, trunk of the car, or basement. Buying special wrapping paper so the little smarties wouldn’t come up with, “how come Santa uses the same wrapping paper you have Mom?” Because. We bought the presents. NOT Santa. Even when we couldn’t afford squat, we bought them anyway. Wow! That makes me feel so much better. What a burden to lug around for 40 years. It was about time they learned the truth anyway.
|Yup, some disbelief when learning the truth about Santa…|
When one of our kids was invited to someone’s birthday party, I felt like I was getting a gift too. Drop the little tyke off for a whopping 3 hours. And freedom. Oh I had the other 2 kids with me. But there was still that sense of freedom. The difference between 2 and 3 kids, no matter what their ages, was monumental. Cause for our own celebration. Weird. That’s what we did when one of the rug rats was invited somewhere.
|Maybe birthday number 30 for me, Spencer, 1980…|
Families have different kinds of birthday parties for their kids lately. They’re certainly special. Sometimes big, elaborate affairs. But I never really understood the parents coming along. And not just moms either. The whole family comes for a 3 year olds party. I don’t think there was ever a way I could have worded this to convince John he needed to attend a 4 year old friend of Joshua’s birthday party. Nope, that idea would not have flown at our house. Or him ever going to a bridal or baby shower. That would have been much worse. But I’ve been to parties for my grand children when all their little friend’s families attend. It’s actually kind of fun. Our youngest grandson Graham has his parties in a park near their home. The playground equipment is phenomenonal. Plus a pond with fish and frogs. I do enjoy watching the parents chase after their little ones. And I do mean parents. The dads seem much more involved. They really do. In that respect the “whole family parties” are exactly that. Parties of their birth, celebrated with families…
|Adam flat out refused to believe me, 1980…|