September 2013: Birthdays of Future Past

Just like everyone else, I have a birthday.

No surprise, I’m sure.

The way I feel about birthdays probably follows the same cycle as everyone else: in the beginning, I didn’t really care. Then they became important milestones to me. Then in middle age, I’ve tried to not really care about them once more. As I grow older, I expect them to become important milestones once again.

(Some people are lucky enough for their birthdays to reach legendary status. But this requires Lincolnesque levels of notoriety, and I don’t hold those levels of ambition. Nor will I be around to see it if it happens, so why get worked up about it?)

I suppose the earliest birthday I can remember was either my third or fourth. I remember imperialistically commanding each visitor arriving to my party where they could place the gifts they had brought for me, and homemade ice cream was hand-cranked, but the chocolate tasted funny (to this day, I love homemade ice cream, but only vanilla.)

For the most part, my birthday memories, both good and bad, blur together with holidays like Christmas (except for the one Christmas when I got sick and threw up on a sheep. But that is a story for another time.)

(A guy has to keep a few secrets, you know.)

The 18th birthday is one of the “big” milestone birthdays. Mine, however, turned out memorable for so many other reasons …

Things got off to a bad start when I, surly teenager that I was (gasp!), purposefully did not remind my parents of my upcoming birthday just to see if they would remember.

They didn’t. My mother didn’t realize it was my birthday until we were milking the cows at 5 a.m. and the date was mentioned on the radio. She came over and apologized and started crying because she had forgotten.

Clever woman. She managed to make me feel worse than she did.

The rest of the day did not go much better. I’m fairly certain I failed an important test in school that day, and when I mentioned having a possible birthday party to some of my friends, no one seemed to be interested. So, I was even more miserable that evening in the barn.

My mother had picked up a birthday cake from one of the local grocery stores, which we planned to eat after the evening milking. Unfortunately, one of the milk cows was showing signs of distress that necessitated a call to the veterinarian. Once he arrived, he quickly determined the cow suffered from twisted stomach, and he’d need to operate.

Surgery on a cow is a lot different than what many may think- it’s usually done right at the barn, and once the cow is given a local anesthesia, she usually stands placidly while her innards are mucked about with.

This was no different. The entire family gathered around the cow to assist as necessary while the vet made an incision on the cow’s side towards the back, reached in his arm and dug around for awhile, then pulled the distorted stomach out through the incision to hang while he twisted it back into its proper shape.

It was a surprisingly bright pink color. I didn’t throw up, but the sound his scalpel made as it cut through the cow’s skin did make me a little light-headed.

Her stomach rotated back into proper place, the vet added a few internal stitches to keep it in place then sutured up the long incision. By the time everything was squared away, it was nearly 10 p.m. before we finally staggered wearily back to the house. We had birthday cake to look forward to, at least.

After a lackluster singing of “Happy birthday to you” (no one was in the mood to add the monkey verse, either) I was served with the first piece of cake.

My first forkful tasted … odd. Not like cake, but sort of like dusty newsprint, with a hint of rotting wood (don’t ask me how I know what these things taste like. Guy needs his secrets, etc.)

The edge of the chocolate cake was home to a healthy, thriving layer of mold. We all discarded our pieces, the cake was set aside to be returned the following day, and we all went to bed. I don’t think I even opened my birthday cards that night.

I’m not even sure I got any.

(At least the cow survived, although she managed to twist her stomach again a year or two later. The vet suggested giving her a zipper.)

I have yet to have a birthday that has topped my 18th for birthday-unlike-behavior, not that this is something I’m trying to accomplish. My birthdays after that quickly reached the not-really-caring-about-and-please-don’t-remind-me stage. Eventually, I expect to reach the milestone stage again, but I’m putting that off as long as I can.

The more birthdays I have, the more likely at least one of them will be a disaster.

Granted, I don’t hang out in a barn around cows any more.

But I’m sure something else will come along.

Just like my birthday.

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