The UnBirthday

Posted on: April 5, 2016
Tags: Monthly News, Events, midwest, birthdays, Cincinnati, tradition

There were many reasons to celebrate. My sister Maureen had sold her house, my 91 year old Mother had been released from the hospital after 4 months and had moved back to her apartment, and it was Maureen’s birthday. I had sent out email invitations to my brother and his wife, Maureen’s friend Laurel, her son Iain and his 2 sons, her daughter’s husband Dan since her daughter would be inColorado. Everyone responded with enthusiasm and a commitment to celebrate Maureen’s birthday.

The night before, I decided to make her a birthday cake. It would be my Mom’s number cake. I was thinking of how Maureen never really ate dessert, but she would always like to secretly run her finger through the icing around the bottom of the plate of everyone else’s birthday cakes, so I made her cake with extra icing around the bottom (a small pleasure.)Then I got excited about cooking. I looked up recipes in her favorite natural cookbook loaded with organic creative ways to cook vegetables. I hung pale pink crepe paper ribbons around the doorways to my dining room and a bouquet of daffodils from the yard sat in the center of the table. Everyone should have been arriving by 6:30.

My Brother Chuck and his wife Judy arrived with my Mom promptly at 6:30 apologizing for having arrived a bit early. They thought I had said 7. We all sat down on the front porch since it was such a lovely evening and waited for the rest of the party to arrive.

But one by one the regrets came in.First it was Laurel. She was sick. Twenty minutes later I got a call from Iain who was unfortunately in the midst of one of his son’s tummy ache waiting for the other son to become invaded. He said he had better not come. We agreed.

OK, but where was the birthday girl? Texts ran back and forth. We nibbled on cheese and crackers with an occasional glass of wine. Finally, while checking on things cooking in the kitchen, I glanced at my phone and noticed a voicemail from Maureen. I played it to discover that she had been stricken by a similar dastardly stomach affliction and had gone off to bed.

At that point we guiltily decided to begin eating dinner without the guest of honor. As I served each course we decided to toast Maureen. Of course we wished her good and at the least better health and enjoyed eating all her favorite foods.

After dinner was finished we were left with the dilemma of eating or not eating her birthday cake. We did take a vote and decided Maureen would want us to go ahead. So we lit all the candles turned off the lights and sang Happy Birthday to her as if it were Auld Lang Syne on New Years Eve.

We had to choose who would blow out the candles in her honor and my Mother and brother took over the job. I think my Mom was happy to have enough wind to blow them all out.

After dinner we moved into the living room and we shared a game of sorts. First each person was given a special wish paper. Then we each made a wish out loud for Maureen. Each of us followed the instructions to roll this special paper into a ball, unroll it to form a tube, then light it on fire. We watched in amazement as it rose to the ceiling in flames, to burn out and then the ash gently floated down to be caught by the sender for the wish to come true. We saved all the ashes and put them in an envelope with each persons wish for Maureen written on the envelope.

As the night came to a close, we were all so sorry that Maureen and the others had missed her birthday celebration, but knew she would have wanted us to celebrate without her. And we did.

There is a small post script. The next day, I received a message from Dan apologizing for having missed Maureen’s party. He thought it was going to be tonight.  

Maureen, thanks for sharing your unbirthday with of us.


Sharon Butler


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