SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Since today is my birthday it brings back a torrent of memories of birthdays past, some good and some not so great. I have a photograph that was taken at my 3rd birthday party, with me standing in front of my house with a bunch of kids who I haven’t seen in about 70 years, all but one that is. The exception is a guy I’ve met a few times since though not within the past 40, but we still do correspond via e-Mail on occasion. While you might think the identity of the others is a mystery you’d be wrong since I still remember their names, and that’s what’s nice about photos in that the faces always remain the same. The clothes are a little outdated, especially the high-top shoes that I’m wearing in the picture, but otherwise it could have been taken yesterday including the house which is still standing after all these years.
A lot of great and famous people have been born on the 21st of July; Ernest Hemingway, Robin Williams, Isaac Stern, just to name a few, and in fact I had a cousin who was also born on this date. In 1969, the 21st was the day of mankind’s first step on the Moon, very appropriate since those of us who are born in July are called Moon Children. My first grandson was born on the 11th, I had an uncle and have a niece whose birthday was and is on the 4th, and my childhood hero Pee Wee Reese was born on the 23rd. When the heat of the summer ends, October obviously gets a lot of action.
Growing up in Brooklyn New York my parents and I usually went to the country to escape the city heat during the last two weeks in July so my birthday was celebrated there, though with kids I hardly knew. I really don’t remember having any parties and by the time we went back to the sweltering pavement it was already August. Just because we left the concrete inferno for a while, don’t get the idea we were well off since the thing that’s forever stuck in my mind is that one particular aunt always sent me a birthday card which invariably contained two or three dollars, money that my mother immediately confiscated to buy me socks or underwear. That’s what happens when you’re poor, you get essentials like underwear instead of frivolous gifts such as toys. Because of those experiences, my own children were never allowed to get clothing for their birthdays but rather received the most impractical and amusing presents imaginable. You can’t play with socks, while shorts and t-shirts are no fun at all.
In my teen years our family finances must have improved since one year I got not just one but two chemistry sets, one from my parents and one from another aunt. I kept them both and spent many happy hours cooking up all kinds of weird concoctions, none of which ever blew up or burned down the house however. My one bad experience was the time I tried to make synthetic rubber and stunk up the apartment. Burning sulfur really smells awful.
I’ve had some very good birthday presents over the years, one in particular being a hot-air balloon ride from my wife, but the best present of all was the one I received in 1999, a ticket to the All-Star Game at Fenway Park that I attended with my July 11th grandson and my son-in-law. Seeing so many of my childhood idols, guys like Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron, Roger Clemens, and many others all circumferencing the infield from 1st to 3rd, and then having Ted Williams ride out in a golf cart was an emotional overload, causing tears of awe-inspired joy to run down my cheeks.
The game itself was anti-climactic except that Pedro Martinez struck out the 1st five of six National League batters, including the likes of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. That was one heck of a birthday present, even though it did involve Sox.