I was recently reminded of the grudging relationship I have with my birthday. As I have written more than once in this very space, I am more than happy to annually ignore the date of my birth – especially when the age in question ends in a zero.
Certain years are referred to as milestones, but I have long called them “round” birthdays. Along with life’s landmark occasions of 16, 18, and 21, we often single out round birthdays for special recognition and, by extension, celebration.
A couple of factors may have contributed to the cringe reflex I experience whenever a round birthday turns up on my calendar. Part of my birthday reluctance stems from the mathematics of our family’s birth order.
As the oldest of five stairstep daughters, I am always the first to arrive in the uncharted waters of a new decade. When my youngest sister celebrated the big 5-0, my age odometer was almost ready to flip to the bigger 6-0. And to add another insulting zero to the mix, I have been and will always be twenty years older than my brother!
As for the celebratory part of any birthday, I belong to a family that traditionally observed such occasions in a low-key sort of way, with the birthday child’s choice of cake and ice cream the order of the day. It could, however, be tricky with the sister who is 368 days younger than I. With our February birthdays just three days apart, we sometimes shared a cake: her candles on one half, mine on the other. In the Scott household there were no themed birthday parties or gifts of any kind.
Interestingly enough, my parents’ birthdays enjoyed, or suffered from, unusual calendar placement. My father’s early August birthday routinely occurred during the county fair, which meant his cake was often part of our fairgrounds picnic. And Mother’s birthday on December 26 was often lost in Christmas hustle and bustle – which she never really minded.
I was probably as happy as the next person to reach driving age in 1964 and the age of majority two years later. Back then, the voting age was 21 – the year before I began teaching.
And then round birthdays rolled into my life. I laid low at 30 and 40, although I did attend a couple of surprise parties for friends turning 40 and 50. The over-the-hill theme of these gatherings did nothing to convince me to celebrate those ages when they finally arrived in my life.
In recent years, however, it seems that adult milestone birthdays have morphed into something of an art form. Card showers and memory books are popular, and artistically-designed cakes topped with a blaze of candles are all the rage.
Destination celebrations are also in vogue. Spa days, cruises, and weekend trips to amusement parks and places like Gatlinburg are great fun. Last year a close friend’s entire family planned a super celebration for the 100th birthday of their matriarch by clearing a calendar weekend and renting a house with accommodations for every cousin, in-law, and grandchild. When her Heavenly Father called her home shortly before the special gathering, they all partied anyway in honor of their dear mother/grandmother.
With increasing frequency, a nice round birthday also offers the opportunity to cross an item off the bucket list. Five years ago, a quartet of former GHS friends accomplished just that.
I met the four of them when I returned to Graham to teach. In the years leading to the celebration of their sixth decade of life, I took a couple of them to Europe, watched them all graduate and marry, had their kids in class, saw them become grandmothers.
Infected with woman power and birthday spirit, Susan Traylor, Becky Jackson, Jane Lynott, and Jessie Barker headed south to zipline in Hocking Hills. Thoroughly inspired, they are not waiting a whole decade to celebrate again, planning a new adventure for the very unround halfway point before their next milestone.
However, in the circle of my family and friends, the undisputed mistress of round birthday extravaganzas is my friend Ingrid. It all began innocently enough when she was a new teacher at the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium. To become better acquainted with the staff, she invited 30 of her colleagues to celebrate her 30th birthday in a restaurant known for its inexpensive prices for large portions of yummy food.
Ingrid celebrated 40 with an elegant gathering in Springe’s hunting castle where she and her guests enjoyed chamber music, ballet performances, and a potluck smorgasbord. Her 50th milestone found Ingrid in her backyard under tents specially arranged for a delightful garden party.
I flew to Germany for Ingrid’s 60th celebration, an unbelievable gala by her former choirs, musical casts, and musicians who performed for their beloved and revered teacher. What a night!
Her 70th party was smaller and quieter, although no less lovely, as she and eight high school classmates enjoyed a restaurant meal before touring a local castle. Ingrid embodies the concept that age is an attitude rather than a number. She is already pondering 80 with gusto and panache.
And who knows? In the nine years until I turn 80, perhaps I will decide to invite 80 of my closest friends to help me blow out 80 candles – just before the flame sets off the smoke alarm. It could happen…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.