Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Do you remember your birthdays of childhood, with cake & candles, party horns & hats, lots of family & friends gathered with you to celebrate? I certainly do. My little brother's birthday followed 3 days later and there are lots of family photos with us both blowing out candles or licking the mixing bowls and spoons during the cake making process.
This is the first year I can remember that the State Fair wasn't already in progress on my actual birthday. Instead it's starting later this week. As a small child I thought the fair came just for my birthday. Seriously. It was as though the merry-go-round and the swings, the ferris wheel and the funhouse were all part of my big celebration. And if that weren't enough, every year the leaves on the trees began to change color just for me. Funny how our view of life changes with age, isn't it?
I can remember the year my mother had a cake made for me with a doll in the center. The entire cake looked like her gown with ruffles and bows, and that pretty doll sticking up in the center. But now I can't remember if the doll had red hair or blonde and it's making me crazy that my memories are fading away. When I was little my hair was a beautiful shade of red called strawberry blonde. Over the years the red pigment turned to blonde and it's now changing over to white. Thank goodness the blonde hairs still outnumber the white ones!! I don't ever plan to color my hair, so when the blonde is gone, it's gone. But there are days I find old photos of my family when I was little and I look in wonder at that gorgeous red hair and remember how I hated it growing up. I couldn't wear pink and all the other little girls wore it constantly. On me it was just frightful. So instead our photo album shows me in lots of yellow while my little sister wore the pink.

I'm thinking that's exactly why I don't use pink in my art. I love yellow, orange & red, or yellow, aqua & teal. But not pink and not true blue. Earlier this year I took at class at Art & Soul with Traci Bautista and loved all the pink she used. So I mixed my white and red acrylic paints and used pink on every single page of the journal I created. And I'll tell you a secret...I love that pink! I never used it before and I haven't used it since, but now I know the possibilities exist.

One year my mother let me have a huge party for my birthday, inviting over about a dozen girlfriends who were staying overnight. I remember my mother brought in a huge washtub filled with water so we could bob for apples. I was wearing a boy's white shirt (probably my big brother's) with the long tails outside my yellow shorts, and mascara, probably for the first time. Everyone was dressed up as a sort of early Halloween/birthday party. Kathy Davis pushed my head right under the water when I went for an apple and I'd never been so furious with anyone in all my life. And the strange thing is, I don't remember another thing about that party. Just lots of decorations strung throughout the house and that big washtub of apples in the purple den. I don't know what my mother was thinking when she painted that room, but I can still see that color on the walls.
My bedroom was on the second and ran almost the full length of the house, from the front going 2/3 of the way to the back. My older brother's room was at the very back of the house overlooking the apple tree. I wanted a yellow room, and my mother painted it the exact shade of yellow I now have in my studio. I can still remember when she dyed all my throw rugs, bedding, etc in the washing machine with Rit Dye in the brightest orange you've ever seen. Again, she was showing me that anything is possible and I believe it to this day.

My second phone call of the day was my mother and step-father, both on the phone, singing Happy Birthday in unison, and carrying quite a lovely tune as I laughed out loud. My third call of the day was to my 87 year old mother-in-law, who shares the same birthday as me. What are the chances of that? I told her we were birthday twins which made her laugh. She went out to lunch yesterday at the country club with some of the "girls" she used to work with at the courthouse. Today she was going out to lunch again and tomorrow it's off to the hairdressers and the doctor for a cortizone shot in her knee. I'm penciled in on her social calendar for Sunday, which means lunch at her favorite restaurant in the Holiday Inn, and back to her apartment to cut her birthday cake, assuming she'll share. I'm not joking when I tell you I've baked many a cake and she's let us start for home without offering to cut them. Forgetful? Or maybe wanting it all for herself? Who knows.

As for me, I have no special plans today. I'd like to watch last night's Dancing with the Stars results show and see who was sent home. And I still haven't watched CSI but I'm pretty sure poor Warrick is dead and gone, so that hardly seems appropriate for birthday viewing. Instead I'll do as I did last night and continue reading my library book by NC author Lee Smith. It's a book of letters written by a young girl born near the turn of the century and I'm intriqued by each and every one of them.

When I think back to my early childhood I remember visiting my mother's parents in a house with no indoor plumbing. We went out in the yard to pump water or to the outhouse to use the bathroom, and I can still see the old wringer washer in an outbuilding where they did the laundry. My mother used to tell us stories of sleeping 3 to a bed, and waking to find frost on the quilts where it had blown through the cracks in the walls during the night. Can you even imagine?

So I read this book and marvel at how the world has changed, and how it continues to do so. We take so much for granted in our lives. Generations come and go, telling their stories, leaving pieces of themselves behind. Will my son remember the funny stories my mother tells? Or the stories that I tell?

If I were going to have cake tonight, which I'm not, there would be another candle on it. But I've lived and experienced so much in the last 12 months that the addition of a single candle couldn't possibly sum it up to my satisfaction. I've got about 5 rubber stamps of birthday candles with stripes and dots and different patterns. I might just stamp a few of those on a page of my journal to mark this occasion and make notes of all the changes I can remember, like using pink in my art for the very first time. It doesn't mean you're going to see me wearing pink EVER, but you might see it on paper or canvas because I feel it marks the turning of a page in my life.

We're all artists and storytellers in our own way, leaving our mark on this earth. Years from now when I'm gone will something from my studio turn up in an antique store? Everytime I buy old photos to use in my art I'm amazed that families let these go with the "junk" of estate sales, as though they have no value. I think of my own mother with one school photo of herself as a child, which she still hasn't found by the way.

If you've never kept a journal, perhaps its time to start one. Write down your funny stories, your secrets, your memories. Go through your boxes of family photos and identify everyone on the back with a photosafe pen or pencil. Future generations will thank you for it. Share your talent with a child, whether one in your family or one living next door. Carry a pad of paper and some crayons in your purse. You never know when you'll have a few minutes to play. Fold paper and cut out a chain of paper dolls. Start saving your scraps of cardstock to make paper chains. Write a letter and send it through the mail. Do something today because you can and consider it a gift to me.

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