Thursday, October 31, 2013


What to wear?  It was my birthday, a week before Halloween. I'd never given a party before. We were going to celebrate Halloween and my ninth birthday.

I had dropped hints about what I wanted for my birthday -- a makeup kit -- a ring with my birthstone -- a wristwatch, guitar, or a real art easel and a set of oil paints.

Daddy's car was parked temporarily on the street. The party was going to be in the garage. We'd decorated the garage with orange crepe paper scallops. Orange paper plates and cups were stacked on two card tables. A skeleton hung on the garage door. The large pumpkin, which I carved all by myself was on a stool. A candle was in it, ready to be lit.

The pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game was tacked up on a white sheet. A five gallon wash-tub, that was used for soaking clothes, was clean and full of water. We were going to a bob for apples.

My class from school was invited. Kids I liked and also the one's I didn't like -- I'd handed out the invitations that I'd crayoned to everyone -- more people meant more presents.

My sister made me a witch's hat from some stiff black cardboard she'd bought at the art store. We found a piece of black cloth for a cape. I wanted a wand. We used an old black umbrella, tied shoe laces and string around it to keep it flat and pointy.

The morning of the big day I woke early -- excited -- nine-years-old seemed wonderfully grown up, mature, important.

At breakfast my first gift was plunked down in front of me -- no wrapping -- it was a handsome jewelry box, brown, with brass corners. It had three drawers. The inside of the box was lined with a soft green felt. It looked like Mom's jewelry box but smaller.

"Look, it has three keys!" one of my sisters said, as if three keys were very important.

I didn't need three drawers or three keys. I didn't have any real jewelry -- just wooden beads, a tin ring from a Cracker Jack box, a fake watch from Woolworth's. I figured a birthstone ring, and maybe the wristwatch were in the other boxes -- three gift-wrapped boxes were sitting on the buffet near the coffee pot.

One box held a grey-pearl pen and pencil set. The other box contained fancy stationery -- pink and blue paper, pink and blue envelopes. The third box had a red leather diary in it -- small, with a little key and lock.

A pen and pencil, stationery, a diary -- was that all?  I looked around but there were no other gifts or wrapped boxes as my other sister said, "Nice useful things you got today, Emily."

There were things to do -- the usual tidy-upping things one has to do every day. I felt old and sad about the useful things till one of my sisters said "Lots of kids are coming, I'll help you get dressed." 

Both sisters helped me put on my makeup -- zig-zag eyebrows, tons of lipstick, and round rouge spots on my cheeks. My two braids hung on either side of my tall witch's hat. My cape was fastened with a large-sized safety pin. I smiled a big real smile when my sister took a picture. I figured I'd win the prize for the best costume. The prize was a kaleidoscope. I loved kaleidoscopes.

The kids who came to the party came with relatives. The relatives sat on chairs and the bench. I got four handkerchiefs, two coloring books, a book of paper dolls, two comic books, a beach ball, and a rag doll. The gifts seemed to be gifts my classmates had been given when they were younger.

I didn't win the prize for best costume. My sister was the host, and she got the relatives to indicate the winner by applauding. There were two other witches, two gypsies, one fairy, three girls in cooking aprons,  and boys in dumb costumes except the winner -- he wore a top hat, and tap shoes. He came as Fred Astaire.

Shall I go on with this story?  I didn't win pin-the-tail-on-the donkey. Blobbing for apples my hat fell in the water, but I did manage to get an apple.

The not happy, not good ... no, it was more than not good, -- it was a bad birthday -- and this un-happy birthday has stayed somewhere in my mind where one's negativity resides.

Is it why I don't celebrate my birthday?  Has it made me anti-social?

I don't celebrate birthdays because advertising my age at this point in time, turns conversations into "how do you feel?" ... "how's your health?" ... "you mean you're still working?" And I'm not anti-social -- my expectations are minimal, and at the same time HUGE.

Maybe this is why I carry around, mentally, a black umbrella -- to put up in case in rains -- to have just in case I need a magic wand. That night on page one of my new red leather diary, using my new grey pearl pen, I wrote "Being nine, is very different from being eight." 


Carola said...

Presents are always disappointing. That's one of the nice things about growing up; you don't count on presents any more.

Anonymous said...

Hugs, Em. Evidently your first diary spawned your interest in writing, so it turned out well after all. Happy Halloween :)

Linda Phillips said...

I love this sorry. I had a few childhood clunker birthdays myself.

Anonymous said...

I would have loved receiving those type of presents! But the bad experiences always stay with one.

Anonymous said...

Lovely writing.

Anonymous said...

That's a disappointing birthday. It may be that we all start to be disappointed by birthdays at that age. I think I had a non stellar birthday right about my ninth too . It's an age we are coming out of childhood, and we have expectations that usually can't be met. Long after I ceased to celebrate birthdays with more than a cake (around age 10) I experienced the same thing with Christmas. Year after year of gifts that were too big, too small, the wrong colour, or not really for me at all, but for the children. Eventually I became very soured on the whole gift giving thing. Still am. I have few wants these days so birthdays and Christmas are celebrated with a meal and family get together.
Still. Disappointing birthdays must be a rite of passage.
Louise Sorensen
louise3anne twitter