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How Blue was My Birthday?

by Roberta McReynolds

I’ve been feeling blue and it’s all because of my recent birthday. Before you jump to any conclusions, I need to state that this has nothing to do with a mid-life crisis. Unless you count when I stand in front of the mirror too long trying to figure out, "Who is that plump woman with the graying hair?"

I suppose, on second thought, it has everything to do with how old I feel.

Most of us experience varying degrees of excitement regarding the anticipation of another birthday, frequently related directly to the age of the celebrant. Nothing can match the exuberance of a youngster marking another year closer to an age-related goal, marking a rite of passage. It begins with a toddler learning to hold up three chubby fingers and proudly proclaim, "I’m this many!" In fact, a child regularly places so much importance on the number, that the tag ‘and a half’ gets added as soon as possible.

There was personal worth attached to finally reaching those teen years. Then it was counting time until the teenager could earn that first driver’s license. Next it was reaching voting age, closely followed by that magical number 21.

All too soon time jumps ahead to age 30, leaving us to wonder what happened when we weren’t paying attention. The sooner we make the adjustment to the notion that ‘life begins at 40,’ the less painful that decade will be.

Did I say decades? Counting in ten-year increments is the adult version of, "I’m this many!" (The exclamation is point optional, of course, until you become a centenarian.) Now you can even get away with one birthday candle per decade and spare yourself the humiliation of setting off the smoke alarm.

I’m at that awkward age: retired, but too young for a senior discount. I have to rely on my husband’s white Santa Claus whiskers to rate that coveted 10% off a hamburger and fries. But falling short of qualifying for a fifty-cent savings is not the cause for feeling blue this year.

Reflecting on my earliest birthday memories, I became fixated on a long-ago unfulfilled birthday wish. Actually, it was more like a succession of the same wish year after year. My mother asked the obligatory question of what I wanted for my birthday and all my little four-year-old heart desired was a blue birthday cake: not just the frosting, mind you, but the actual cake, too. I couldn’t imagine any color more delightful than the deepest blue of the sky. The kind of blue you see best when you’re lying on your back across the lawn, watching puffy white clouds drifting overhead.

The person in charge of granting that magical kitchen confection didn’t share my vision. "Blue isn’t even a flavor," my mother stated, obviously believing that was the end of the discussion. And it was . . . until 12 months later.

"I don’t care that it isn’t a flavor. It’s the prettiest color," I explained, having rehearsed the conversation over in my mind for the past year.

"It’s not the color of food. It will look unappetizing," came her reply, accompanied by a look of distaste. I walked away, wondering why those little boxes of food coloring always include a bottle of blue if it was never meant to be used.

The year I was ‘six going on seven,’ my mother patiently explained that in order to make a blue cake she’d have to purchase a white cake mix and throw away the egg yokes or the batter would look green. She could make tossing away egg yokes sound like an unforgivable sin. But apparently green was worse than blue, so maybe there was still hope.

It wasn’t like our family was going to suffer without those three tiny egg yokes. Now would be a good time to mention we lived in the country and had a small flock of Bantam hens providing eggs daily.

The following year I was prepared to negotiate a compromise. I was willing to accept any flavor of cake my mother wanted to bake, complete with egg yokes, as long as the frosting was blue. I really thought it was going to happen that year. Instead, as I listened to my parents sing the annual rendition of Happy Birthday to You, I stared at my cake slathered in pure white frosting with my name written in the palest blue icing possible.

Eventually I totally gave up on the idea, but I never outgrew the disappointment. I believe there is something positive that comes with maturity. We gain the wisdom and power to right some wrongs and change the course of things. We can take matters into our own hands.

This year I baked myself a blue birthday cake. I giggled out loud as I sent those egg yokes through the garbage disposal. I put 53 drops of blue food coloring into the cake batter; one drop for each year. Another 53 drops made the frosting a perfect match. The finished confection was topped with an abundance of tiny blue sprinkles. My inner child was clapping her little hands with absolute joy to finally behold the cake of her dreams.

My husband even surprised me with some blue-tinted daiquiri ice cream to celebrate my day. Joining in the fun was my best friend, who thankfully loves blue. We all toasted to happiness with blue bubble-gum flavored soda.

I could almost hear my mother’s spirit whispering, "I told you so," because the soda and ice cream both tasted terrible. Not that it truly mattered. As my husband so sweetly put it, "That was the best blue cake I ever ate."

After the party I took another look in that mirror I mentioned earlier. What I saw was a more youthful glow, a sparkle in my eyes, and a tongue dyed a curious shade of blue. I liked what I saw looking back at me and recognized a part of me I believed was lost.

Happy Birthday to me! I’m 53 going on five.

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