I was born sharing my birthday because I popped into this world on my dad’s birthday. Add to that the occasional swirl or Hanukkah spread over my birthday, and some years it was a triple share. As a kid greedy to get as many gifts and as much attention as possible, this wasn’t always so much fun, especially when gifts counted for both my birthday and Hanukkah. As an adult, it all turned around and keeps twirling.
My birthday wars started dissolving when, in my 20s, my good friend Mike often arranged for me to have breakfast annually with a wild cast of characters with the same birthday: Ed Dutton, a great activist and professor who organized alongside Ceser Chevez ; Dan Wildcat, a native American educator and writer; Nancy Hiebert, a former county commissioner; Arden Booth, one of the late and great Lawrencians, founder of KLWN radio, senator and cattleman (read his self-authored obituary, which he recorded to have broadcast at his funeral too); and a guy named Gib who could pay the shit out of the banjo. We’d meet at the old Paradise (a restaurant many of us miss like crazy) where certain topics related to local development were off the table, but on the table were pots of coffee, piles of pancakes, and yelling at each other, “Thanks, and happy birthday TO you!”
Until my dad died in 2003, I would call him every birthday, and have the identical conversation, starting with “Happy birthday,” and “Happy birthday.” Hannukah-birthday convergences brought me many more candles and a lot more laughter too.
So last night when I kept running into people who shared my birthday, it was old home week for me. First, at the reading Stephen Locke and I did at The Writers Place, I met with a man who shared my birthday and, as luck with have it, loved wild weather. Then, at Bo-Ling’s on the Plaza, where I went for dinner with friends, the birthday wars resurfaced with a lot of singing and a photo op. First, the table to the left of us, packed with a gaggle of beautiful teenage girls, sang “Happy Birthday” to one of their own. Then our table sang me “Happy Birthday,” the birthday table beside us joining us loudly. I thought that was it, but then another table of beautiful teens to the right of us blasted into “Happy Birthday” to someone there. A few minutes later, our waiter came by and said, “We’re going to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ again here to beat all those kids.” So we did, this time all the tables in the restaurant joining in and singing as loud as possible. In hysterical joy, I couldn’t tell if I was laughing or crying.
Afterwards, I ferreted out the other birthday girls, and here we are. One of us is 15, one of us is 18, and one of us in 56, absolutely sure she wouldn’t go back to 15 or 18 for all the riches of the world. One thing I have noticed about December-fourthers is that when it comes to our lives, there’s nothing quiet, and we certainly get better with age. When someone asked Arden Booth what he thought people said about him behind his back, he said, “My God, what’s he going to do next?” I can only hope to aspire to the same reputation.