I was born on October 25, exactly one month ahead of schedule. I don't remember the day but I bet my mother does; I was her seventh child, and her body got tired of hauling me around and so out I came. I have not been early since.
I was an adorable baby, with blue eyes and a serious, skeptical expression, and I remained so for the next 20 or 25 years, at which time I learned to laugh and drink beer. This made me possibly less adorable, but more fun to be around.
Guv and Trish were great with birthdays, doing them up big. Trish hung twisted streamers of crepe paper from the ceiling light down to the corners of the long dining room table. She baked a cake: chocolate, always chocolate, which she studded with candles, and while now I realize that the choice of chocolate might have been just a little bit for herself, it was of course also for us. None of us ever had any objection to chocolate.
The birthday child was allowed to choose the dinner menu (within reason), and outside of the tragic year when I asked for peas and she produced mushy canned peas instead of bright green frozen peas (and I wept), it was always a privilege to order up hamburgers (which I think all of us always requested, except for Tommy, who liked her creamed chicken over biscuits) and to know, when they arrived, that those hamburgers were made just for us.
Each sibling was required to produce a birthday present, even if it was only a paperweight (a rock from the yard) or a Hershey bar from Nelson's, and so by dinnertime the mound of gifts was glittering and high. Over the years I learned that anticipation is better than satisfaction and that sometimes gifts are best while they are still wrapped.
Our birthdays were steeped in so much tradition, so much ritual, that they blur together in my mind. Surely the year that my sister Holly knitted me clothes for my Barbie doll wasn't the same year that John Patrick gave me his copy of "Robinson Crusoe" and the same year that my parents gave me a sweater, a skirt, and a "Little House" book? Oh, wait--they gave me a "Little House" book every year until I had them all, and we always got school clothes for birthdays because most of our birthdays were in the autumn, at the beginning of the school year, and so why not kill two birds with one stone?
We often gave each other "surprise balls" that we bought down at the Plaza--balls of crepe paper, with little trinkets that fell out onto the table as you unraveled them. Tiny elves, or little plastic dishes. Surprise balls were actually marketed as party favors, but we thought they made fine birthday presents, and they were affordable on our allowance.
And then there were the gifts from David, which were boxes within boxes, and wrapped and rewrapped until something as small as a tennis ball could be packaged in a carton big enough to hold a small television set. David-wrapping met with my parents' disapproval; such a waste of wrapping paper! But I loved it; opening one of his gifts was hilarious and exciting, and if the gift in the end actually was a tennis ball, by the time I got to it I was laughing too hard to care.
When I grew older we started having theme birthdays. On my 18th birthday everyone dressed formally for dinner (I wore my sister Nancy's wedding dress, which was not white and lacy but navy blue with an embroidered hem) and on Heidi's birthday, which is on Halloween, we all dressed up in costume.
Autumn was particularly busy with birthdays; there were six, starting with Kristin's in late September and ending with Heidi's, which gave us barely a breather before Thanksgiving, Christmas and Holly's birthday two days later.
But with the cake, and the streamers, and the presents, and the special meal, Trish and Guv managed to achieve something remarkable that one day of the year: in a sea of 10 children, every October 25 I was feted and indulged. Every October 25 I felt as special as though I were an only child.