Happy Birthday to Me. Maybe.

When you write about something that hasn’t happened yet as though it has happened, you’re taking a chance. Maybe a big one.

I’ve decided to do it anyway. I’m settling in to write the first draft of this column three days before Christmas. I’ll tweak and polish it until December 27, when I’ll send it on its way. My column appears on the opinion page of this newspaper—in print and online—every Saturday. To make that happen, I must email it to my editors on Wednesday so they can get the weekend paper out to readers in plenty of time.

But timing around the holidays can be tricky. I’ll fly to Denver tomorrow to visit family. Though I’ll take my computer with me, I won’t have much time to write while I’m there. That’s a good thing. I’m not going to Colorado to write. But deadlines are deadlines, holidays or not. And the topic I’ve chosen for this column is time-sensitive: My 69th birthday, which happens December 29.

Folks who don’t have December birthdays sometimes ask if it’s a bummer to have been born so close to Christmas. My answer is no.

I wasn’t due until early January, so when I showed up at the tail end of 1954, my daddy was elated. To celebrate the income tax deduction he hadn’t counted out, rumor has it that he bought lots of IT’S A GIRL cigars–and perhaps some J&B Scotch whisky, too–to share with his friends. Mother often said he spent the whole deduction celebrating my early birthday, though I don’t know if that’s true.

She always made a point to separate my birthday from Christmas. The tree and all other holiday decorations came down on December 26. Birthday streamers and balloons soon went up. On the morning of my birthday, Mother baked a white layer cake, usually lopsided, with cooked caramel icing. It’s still my favorite. Birthday presents were never, ever wrapped in Christmas paper.

And speaking of presents, my parents never played the “This is your Christmas AND birthday present” card, except if I asked them to. I can remember only two times when I did. Both were presents that would have strained the gift budget if they hadn’t been combined. The first was a matching set of dusty blue Samsonite luggage—a big suitcase, an overnight bag and a “train case,” which was my favorite part of the set, though I never took it on a train.

The second was what I still believe to be the best present in the whole wide world—a portable electric typewriter, received when I turned seventeen. With that typewriter I wrote my first and only high school term paper, comparing and contrasting the literary significance of “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn,” and also what seemed like a million college papers. I put that little typewriter to such good use that I finally wore it out.

All of which circles back to this birthday, which I celebrated yesterday. You’re reading about it today, if all went as planned. By this I mean if I finished the column, polished it up and sent it in without incident. But there was no way to be sure that would happen. I could have become unable to write or even to think straight. My plane could have been diverted and stuck in some God-forsaken place where there’s no internet. My computer could have gone bonkers, or been lost or stolen. The possibilities, especially for someone with too vivid an imagination, go on and on.

Then there’s the almost-unmentionable possibility that I wouldn’t even make it to age 69. The older I get, the stronger grows my awareness of my own frailty–though I’m blessedly far from frail just yet–and my own mortality.

But, hey, I’m probably not going to write about any of that for at least another 51 weeks.

(December 30, 2024)