Celebrating Birthdays by Tasha Halpert

Celebrating Birthdays

When I was little I looked forward to my birthday. Rarely there was a party with friends, more often it was celebrated quietly within the family. This was probably just as well. I clearly remember the embarrassment I suffered at my twelfth birthday party. There were two small nude statues displayed on our living room bookcase. They were by my mother who was an artist and sculptor. These created a small sensation among my invited classmates who pointed and giggled, looking at me strangely. To me they were simply statues.

My dear parents were more sophisticated than my friends’ parents. My mother played in a civic symphony; my father was in a local theater group. They didn’t talk about sports, discuss politics, or participate in the kinds of activities my classmates’ parents did. My days were spent either by myself or with adults. I welcomed the idea of growing up. Every birthday was a step in that direction.

My husband Stephen celebrates his birthday the day before the 4th of July, and we celebrate our anniversary the day afterward. This makes for a grand celebration for us, taking place over all three days. We will have enjoyed doing this now for thirty five years of marriage. Born so close to the birthday of the USA, and being an independent person himself, Stephen feels connected to the celebration of independence that it signifies.

For myself I enjoy celebrations of all kinds. Birthdays are a wonderful opportunity for this. Over the years making up for all the parties I never had, we have enjoyed commemorating both his and my birthdays with friends. I also enjoy sending cards and even making telephone calls to sing happy birthday to special people on their day. The internet provides wonderful animated cards that cost little or nothing. Sadly some people either can’t or do not wish to open them. It always makes me happy when they do.

The birthday of our country is an important one to celebrate. Despite our faults we have been generous and supportive to many. While our growing pains have sometimes been severe, we have in the long run achieved much as we have grown. By European standards we are a very young country. There are churches all over Europe that are over a thousand years old. Nothing in this country even comes close to that. Being a young country, like any other gawky adolescent we could perhaps be excused for some of our clumsiest actions.

Whether one is a person or a country, it is impossible to grow without making mistakes. The important things is to learn from one’s mistakes, and also to be forgiving of whatever stumbles have been made in the process. The acknowledgement of oneself as a person who lives and thrives makes a statement concerning oneself. To have a birthday is to have survived another year of ups and downs, of trials and triumphs, and of defeats and victories. This alone is a cause for celebration.

Sydney's Party Blowing out the candles

Conveying Love

Selfi with art 4The stores are filled with red and white decorations, candy and gifts labeled for Valentines’ Day. The newspapers overflow with ads for various ways to express one’s fond affection on this day dedicated to lovers and those who love–whether romantically or otherwise. There are cards galore for any and everyone on your “fond of” list, and the internet also has plenty of humorous to mushy cards to be sent out to anyone with the ability to receive them.

Once it was difficult to convey one’s love on Valentine’s or any day except in person. Several centuries ago, when a loved one set out on a journey, most especially across an ocean, months, possibly years might elapse before they would be reunited. Letters took weeks, even months, if at all to arrive. The postal service was not organized until the 1840s when stamps were first issued.

We take the telephone call for granted. However, universal telephone service only began in the 1880s, and coast to coast long distance was not available until 1915. Not until 1927 could telephone calls be made overseas, though telegraph service was available. Twenty five years ago my daughter living in Africa and I found it necessary correspond for the most part by mail. Phone calls were expensive and unless she was home, pointless as a result of language barriers with those working for her.

Children born in the last decade have absolutely no concept of a time when communication was not instantaneous. Once the Dick Tracy two way wrist radio was a cartoon fantasy. Now there is a wrist radio that acts with your cell phone for two way communication. Until fairly recently, face to face communication on the computer, known as Skype did not exist.

The ubiquitous cell phone, first available 1983, was still fairly rare even in the early nineties. I know I didn’t have one back then, and people who did were considered quite trendy. Camera phones came into use in the last decade. Does it seem that short a time ago? It seems no time at all to me. Once something is present in our lives it is not easy to remember when we didn’t have it.

While Valentines’ day was celebrated in Europe from the 14th century on in a variety of ways, the actual Valentine card began in England at the very end of the 18th century. If you wanted to convey your affection with a card, according to Wikepedia, the first Valentines were generally available in Europe just prior to 1800, and in the USA in 1847.

Today Internet cards are often sent instead of paper ones. However, it really doesn’t matter how our love is conveyed or what method is used to share it. To paraphrase the words of a dear friend of mine, “Miles may separate us, but in our hearts we are no further away than a thought.” There is no postage or fee of any kind for this Valentine expression.

Words and Photo by Tasha Halpert

What Does It Mean To Be How Old?

Young children are very definite about age. Once they know how to tell you they will often say proudly, “I’m four and a half,” or “I’m almost eleven.” They are eager to be as old as they can for however old they are. As we age we tend not to think in terms of fractions of years, and as we get older still we may even begin to fudge about the accumulation. One reason for this might be our expectations of what it is to be how old.

At an open mic I attended recently a man recited a humorous poem about turning sixty. It got me to thinking about age, and how at different times in my life I have had such different opinions about it. How old I am seems to have an influence on what I think about the number of years a person has lived. Then I recalled a conversation I had with a friend when we were both in our late twenties and had to laugh.

“I hope I look as good as she does when I’m that old,” I said. The person in question was in her very early fifties and at that time in my life she seemed to me to be positively ancient. My friend laughed and said, “You may feel differently one day.” Of course she was correct. I didn’t think much about age at the time except that to me anyone over forty must be getting on in years.

Time went by and the years I was accumulating took on more significance. I also discovered the various prejudices associated with any particular age. When I was in my fifties I thought people in their seventies or eighties were well–old. Now the more years I add on the more find myself revising my opinion of how old is old. It seems to me that judgments concerning one’s years are definitely a relative proposition.

When I was a seventeen year old high school graduate going off to college I thought and felt myself to be “all grown up.” When I married and had two children before I was twenty I felt very mature indeed. Today the idea of my eighteen year old granddaughter getting married and having children seems positively laughable. Yet no one at that time no one thought too much about it. Recently I was watching a movie made in the thirties; a white haired, obviously elderly woman with a cane proudly proclaimed herself in a shaky voice to be, “Eighty three years old.” Today eighty anything often looks nothing like that.

The world has greatly changed in this respect. People live far longer and in much better health than they did eighty years ago. When my grandmother died at what seemed the ripe old age of eighty that seemed quite appropriate. Now I have a friend older than she was and she seems far younger. When people ask me how old I am, I tell them I am ageless. I no longer have expectations concerning age. They interfere both with my own and with others’ observations about me. How old is old? I have no idea.

 

Mama and her birthday cake

Easter is a Feast of Joy

Image         About two months before Easter chocolate bunnies wrapped in gold foil begin to appear in the stores alongside Passover coins and other items relating to these two great annual spring festivals. Slowly but surely a variety of items crowd the shelves: yellow marshmallow baby chicks and rabbits, egg dying kits, and more. As the time grows closer to the holidays, beside the glorious smelling hyacinths in the market, fragrant lilies bloom.

For me as a young child Easter was always more about flowers and the occasional candy treats it would provide. My dad’s corsages for my mother and me were a big part of my joy in the holiday. I also loved it that we got to go to my dad’s church as well as my mom’s because I enjoyed singing the hymns and was given a plant to take home. As I recall it was usually a potted geranium. Hats were important too, and nice clothes–perhaps even new ones.

As the time for celebration approaches, shoppers carry away the flowers displayed on supermarket tables. Parents make up baskets with candy eggs and other tasty treats for their children. Meanwhile, Passover foods go home to pantry shelves. Like Christmas and Hanukah, Easter and Passover are celebrated primarily with special foods that pronounce the symbolism of the season. However, both of these spring feasts are rich with family centered celebrations unrelated to a focus on commercialism or gift giving.

Easter and Passover are different from each other, yet both tell a story that is important to the traditions of Christian and Jewish peoples. Both are joyous and raise the spirits of those who celebrate. This season of joy even blooms in the hearts of those who do not celebrate it religiously. The flowers and the candy, the candles and the rituals call out to the traditions that go back more than two thousand years. There is a kind of memory that is built into our brains and resonates to these symbols, increasing the feast of our celebration.

My mother did not usually cook for us on Easter. Either my great aunt or my grandmother did the honors. I remember roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, or turkey or ham, and all the wonderful foods that went with them. Mostly, though we got to go to the family feasts where I might be given a small Easter basket and was usually the only child present.

Once primitive people rejoiced at the coming of a time when trees blossomed and green herbs provided a variety to the stored, dried foods they had subsisted on through the cold months of winter. Imagine what it must have been like to make a salad or pick wild greens to fill mouths weary of winter fare. Now though we can enjoy fresh vegetables and meats all year round we have special foods to provide a feast that not only rejoices the heart but also reminds us that we honor the great traditions of faith that have for so long fed and sustained us.

Summer Solstice

From high in the sky
sun sinks slowly,
lengthening afternoons and evenings.
Time seems suspended.
Children’s days are long
and full of freedom.
For me, the dwindling has begun.
In ripening fruit
in scent of sun warmed grasses
in insect choruses
the beginning of the end sings

Tasha HalpertImage

Springing Open

Brilliant forsythia fingers

fling their exuberance

into the bright blue air.

Red budding twigs

holler “here I am, shine on me.”

Forsythia sunshine

fills my eyes, Maple flowers

jingle, “Welcome pollinating friends.”

Spring buds open everywhere

blossoming their way into summer.

By Tasha Halpert

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