This post by L.Leander
What does your birthday mean to you? Is it a special day or just a normal day? Do you like lots of presents, cards and cake or do you prefer to keep it low-key? Each of us has our own way of wanting to celebrate our special day and I’m going to tell you about the most memorable birthday I ever had. By the way, tomorrow is my birthday so that’s why I came up with this remarkable topic!
My family lived in a rural town where everyone pretty much knew everyone else. We lived on a corner about two blocks from the school. I was nine years old and this would be my tenth birthday.
I had lots of friends in school and most of them had bicycles. They rode them to school and in their leisure time after homework. I may have been a mite jealous although I don’t remember feeling that way. I begged and begged my parents for a bike. Most kids had started riding at five or six but my father was certain I would be killed if I had one. He came up with so many reasons he didn’t want me to ride that I finally gave up.
“You’ll run into a tree. A car’ll hit you. You’ll break a bone. You’ll forget to do your homework or your chores and you’ll be late for meals.” Dad had an answer for every thing I thought of to get a ride of my own – I even offered to go to work and pay for part of it myself. Granted, this was in the 50’s and I believe I received a quarter a week allowance.
My father also forbade all of my siblings and me from tree climbing because we would surely fall and break an arm or leg. Although I usually listened very carefully to my father’s warnings I have to say I may have climbed one or two without his knowledge and arrived safely on the ground. Since my siblings were in on the mischief none of us ever told for fear we’d get a spanking.
My Mother made a very big deal of our birthdays. When the day came we didn’t have to do any household chores and she would make whatever we wanted for supper. She always baked and decorated a cake. I had a few birthday parties, too and they were great because Mom was so creative. We became used to being treated as kings or queens on our birthdays.
My tenth birthday dawned bright and sunny, warm for an August summer. I woke lazily and smiled at the sun that streamed in through my window. My sisters and brother were soon in my room screaming “Happy Birthday Linda,” while they jumped up and down on my bed until we heard one of my parents step on the squeaky board in the hall. We settled down pretty fast but I couldn’t wait to see what the day would bring. I had ordered pizza and root beer for supper.
We didn’t have a lot of money with four kids and a stay-at-home mom, but she sewed and painted and created wonderful things for all of us. It was usually a good idea not to get too focused on the latest craze in toys because we knew our parents couldn’t afford them. It didn’t matter. We felt loved and secure and enjoyed anything we received.
My three siblings and I tramped down the back stairs to the dining room where we ate our oatmeal and toast. I was lucky that year because my birthday fell on a Saturday and Dad was home to enjoy the day with us. We were a little boisterous around the table but quickly stopped our antics with a stern look from Dad. I picked my dishes up, took them to the kitchen and started up the stairs to get dressed for the day. I planned to wear a special shorts set Mom had made that I loved but only got to wear on special occasions.
“Linda, come back down here.” I heard my Dad’s firm voice call me.
I came back to the table, where he was still reading the newspaper.
“I want you to dress in some old clothes. There are a lot of papers in the back yard and I want you to clean them up. Take the old pick (a broom handle with a nail) and put everything in the barrel. I’ll burn them later.”
“But Dad,” I whined. “Don’t you remember? It’s my birthday and I don’t have to do anything today.” (Oops, did I really say that?) flashed through my mind.
“I don’t care if it’s your birthday or Christmas. The back yard needs to be cleaned and since I’m off today I can mow later.”
There was no changing Dad’s mind once he had made a decision and I knew better than to argue and was shocked that he hadn’t reprimanded me for the backtalk. I trudged back up the stairs, unhappy and wondering what on earth had changed.
I put on some old clothes, got the pick out of the garage and began the laborious task of picking up every scrap of paper I could find. There seemed to be more than usual so I muttered and stabbed a little harder than I needed to. When I had almost finished (about an hour later) I saw one last thing under the cedar trees. I tried to ignore it but I knew Dad would get after me for not doing a good job.
I walked slowly over to the line of trees. As I neared I could see this was rather a large piece of paper. I got my pick ready, raised it to stab the paper and suddenly a name leapt out at me. It was my name! To Linda on her tenth Birthday Love Mom and Dad. In shock, I put the pick down and retrieved the envelope from the grass.
The envelope was well sealed but I carefully opened it. It wasn’t a card. I looked at the piece of paper inside. I read it twice before I realized what it meant.
“Go to the garage,” the writing commanded.
I was puzzled but hurried to the old garage and opened the creaky wooden doors. There stood a brand new salmon and white bicycle with a big bow tied around it and a warranty hanging from the handlebars. Down the side it proudly displayed the words Montgomery Ward in white lettering.
It took a minute for the whole thing to sink in. I looked at the bicycle and caressed the sleek body. I gripped the handlebars and imagined white streamers flowing in the wind as I rode. I pushed the bike out of the garage and across the back lawn only to see my Mother and Dad beaming with joy and my sisters and brother almost as excited as I.
“I didn’t think you’d ever find that paper,” quipped my dad with a smile. “Enjoy it but be careful, ok?”
I nodded my head, lay the bike in the grass and ran up to hug both of my parents. Then it was time to learn how to ride the thing. I positioned my bike on the sidewalk in front of our house. I got on it and although I was scared I wobbled along – right into a big oak tree in our front yard! I fell down on the body and you can imagine how much that hurt. I climbed off, determined to learn. After two or three days I was my knees and elbows were skinned but I was a master at riding that bicycle and I spent after school time and weekends riding my new bike all over our town, my hair streaming in the wind. Oh the feeling of freedom I felt! My friends oohed and ahhed over my new present and we often rode together, riding some of the back roads through the pine trees and anywhere else we could find new adventure.
It was only later that I realized how much my folks had sacrificed to buy me that bicycle. Money was very tight and we wore hand-me-down clothes our cousins outgrew and all the clothes Mom spent hours making for us. I learned my father had gotten home from work that Friday night and holed up in the garage to assemble the bike. In those days they were shipped disassembled. He spent a good part of his night in the garage making sure it would be ready for me the next day. My Mom had some extra cash she had been saving from the sewing work she took in and my father applied for a credit card (something he swore he’d never do) in order to give their oldest daughter something she had been pining for since she was five.
This was the very best birthday I ever had and I rode that bike until I was in my late teens. By then I was much more interested in boys and driving so the bicycle languished in the garage and we finally sold it when my father was transferred again. I remember going in to look at it one last time and whispering, “Good-bye old friend. We’ve had a lot of good times, haven’t we? I hope you’ll make some other little girl as happy as you’ve made me.” A tear rolled down my cheek as I walked away but I quickly dried it and looked forward to the future, no longer a little girl, but a strong confident woman.
I’d love to hear your favorite birthday stories. I’ve carried on the tradition of making birthdays a special day with my children. How about you?
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