DUBLIN - My brother Paul and I were winter babies. Paul was born on Christmas Day in 1956, and I followed him two years and 10 days later.
As a result, in our childhood we often suffered the indignity of having our birthday parties combined. Plus, in Paul’s case there was the additional misery of the dual-purpose gift, which, admittedly, was always handed over with the best of intentions. In the end, though, he still got just the one toy or cash-laden card, meant as both a Christmas and a birthday present. Some years I shared his pain, a victim of the same gifting scam.
(On the scale of childhood grievances, I realize this rates fairly low. That’s what happens when your formative years are pretty much complaint-free. You reach for anything even remotely distressing with which to guilt-trip your parents.)
Still, when your birthday falls in the dead of winter, it’s hard not to envy those fortunate souls who over the years have enjoyed the bliss of a summer birthday.
For one thing, there are the different rules that apply when you’re snapping party photos or shooting home movies. In the summer the whole world is your stage. In the winter you’re confined to a cramped studio with bad lighting and uncooperative extras.
Take my word for it. In the reels of film documenting various childhood events around our family’s Medford home, certain birthday scenes remain memorable. Even now, decades later, I can see my brother Paul and myself gathered with our friends around the kitchen table, all of us hovering over a slice of cake and squinting into the solar flares required to illuminate an indoor setting in those early days of personal video recording. I’m sure it was safer to gaze directly at an eclipse than to look into those lights.
Of course, there was never the possibility of an outdoor party, for the simple reason that our Corey Street backyard was probably buried under a foot of snow. I know this because open-air winter frolics also feature prominently in our family’s home movies.
In Paul’s case, there was the additional misery of the dual-purpose gift, which, admittedly, was always handed over with the best of intentions. . . . Just the one toy or cash-laden card, meant as both a Christmas and a birthday present.
As a father now myself, I can appreciate that these winter birthday parties were no picnic for our parents. Trying to keep neighborhood rascals like Charlie Reid, Steve Kingston, and Johnny Kelley contained for even a fraction of an afternoon must have been hard work indeed. Once the dazzling effect of the movie lights wore off, I’m sure we fled the kitchen in a kind of destructive whirlwind, looking for entertainment elsewhere in the house. It’s also a good bet that I was leading these search-and-destroy missions.
As evidence, I offer another memorable home movie scene, this one staged during a summer vacation in Rye, N.H. Paul and my two sisters, Susan and Tracy, are lined up in orderly fashion beneath a tree in the front yard of our rental cottage. At the same time, on an upper limb, I can be seen bouncing like a deranged chimp. One possible explanation for my excitement is that we may have been celebrating Susan’s July birthday.
These days in Dublin, there’s no one who understands my birthday moan. My son Brian was born in June and my wife’s birthday falls in the middle of July, making for two warm and sometimes sunlit occasions . . . when I manage to remember either of them. (As some of you may know, the seasons aren’t represented in a traditional sense in this part of the world, but June and July are at least technically summer months in Ireland.)
Now, before you fire off a hostile e-mail criticizing me for my ingratitude, let me just say that I continue to look forward each year to my January birthday. There could be a New England blizzard or an Irish-style typhoon raging outside, but that doesn’t matter. It’s always a joy to discover that another 12 months have passed and I still have a full head of hair.