The Second Half: Happy birthday, Smarty Pants!
By Kathleen D. Tresemer
Birthdays are a touchy subject for some second-half folks, but for me, they are a blast: three days, three restaurants, three cakes with singing. Not only am I happy to be alive, but so is everyone else!
Birthday celebrations weren’t always so special. Did you know 3,000 years ago hardly anybody commemorated a birthday? According to Charles Panati in his book Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things (Harper & Row, 1987), the early pharaohs had the first birthdays recorded in history. Pretty much only men were honored, but the occasional Queen of Egypt threw herself a party.
Women and kids were barely considered human and didn’t deserve parties, I guess. Dodged that bullet! My book club surprised me with an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen, decorated with a Disneyesque princess: “You deserve a princess cake, Kathleen!” I was so honored. That is, until I heard DQ had a freezer problem and the only cake they had to sell was a pink one with a princess on it.
“Of course, they put a princess on it for you!” exclaimed Hubby. Whatever the reason, I was “Princess for a Day,” even if by default. Besides, there was chocolate in it… so who cares why?
Back to the history book: The oppressed early Christians believed that infants came into the world tainted with sin and were only redeemed at death. Things pretty much sucked back then, if you were only allowed to celebrate the moment your life ended and you moved on to paradise. Waiting for death?! Not me! My reasons to celebrate are as infinite as the number of Facebook friends who sent me birthday greetings (this was the first time I was excited to read every FB e-mail in my box). “OK, Zuckerberg,” I concede to the Facebook King, “the birthday greeting was a great idea.”
The Greeks were a bit more relaxed. Birthdays of Greek gods were celebrated every single month—now, that’s what I’m talking about! We have the Goddess of the Moon, Artemis, to thank for creating the birthday cake, reportedly topped with candles to signify moonlight. That Artie was a creative chick and an international trend-setter.
Back in the years B.C., though, the Romans thought the only guys worthy of annual festivities were politicians—seriously!! They made the birth dates of important Roman statesmen national holidays. Funny how we kept that tradition alive—who voted for that? Occasionally, you will even hear me exclaim, “Everybody knows that the most deserving people on Earth are politicians.” GAD!
Hubby and I are both of German ancestry, and our darling kin were the first to honor their children with birthday parties. Around the 13th century, German peasants in the Middle Ages introduced the Kinderfeste (Child Feast). Here’s how it went:
At dawn, the child was awakened with a cake topped with lighted candles. The candles were kept lit all day, changing them out as necessary to keep the proper number of candles going—that is, the number of years old plus one, the added candle symbolizing the light of life. The kid was given gifts and was allowed to select the menu for the family meal. After dinner, the birthday child made a secret wish, the candles were extinguished in one breath, and everybody ate the cake. Then, Birthday Man, a bearded elf, brought good little birthday children extra presents.
I did spend a minute or two mourning the historical loss of the Birthday Man, worried that Santa and the Easter Bunny might not be too far behind. I do have my own Birthday Man, though, so not to worry. This year, he brought me a smartphone.
“What’s a smartphone?” one of my Second Half friends wanted to know.
Answer: “It is a constant reminder of how technology has passed us by, how the phone is much smarter than I am!”
I made my way to the Verizon store to meet with lovely Alicia, who is roughly 12 years old and a technological wizard. “Your husband told me you are getting into more technology,” she said, “so he wanted to get you something that was exciting for you. It was so sweet!”
An hour and a half later, I left the store, convinced I could operate it well enough to actually send a text message and make a phone call. The rest, I figured, I could learn from the user’s manual and Twenty-Something Son and his lovely bride-to-be.
I picked up the phone to call Hubby and found the screen… blank. “Uh, oh,” I thought. “Did I somehow turn the thing off?”
Tapping on things and pushing buttons finally paid off—the screen lit up with a puzzle piece floating on it and a message: screen locked. Hmmmm.
An advanced degree in both human behavioral science and administration did not prepare me for feeling like a dinosaur. “A decade ago, I never carried a phone with me and was happy enough to get away from the demands of the burgeoning crowd,” I grumbled. “Now, I’m reduced to tears at the thought of not being able to operate a phone from my car.”
Then, it hit me—that puzzle piece must be a game! I put the tip of my finger on the piece and moved it around until it fell into place and my phone unlocked like magic. “Eureka!” I cried, and called Hubby to thank him for his faith in me.
By this time next year, I should have this smarty-pants phone all figured out.
In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the June 22-28 issue
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