A Happy Birthday to Me

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I stole the image here today – he is not in the Pictorama collection, but he seemed to want to wish me a Happy Birthday. It was used for this purpose and sent to someone named Marjorie on August 21 of 1907, sent from Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie Janet, Uncle Allen, Beaumont & I, and signed by Auntie Marion.

Today I draft this post this poised on the threshold of my birthday (for the record, perched also on the edge of a computer chair also, which I am sharing with a less than cooperative kitty who believes he owns it, Mr. Blackie). As I stare down the barrel of the coming year, it is a time I take stock and figure out how I might pull my socks up a bit in the coming year. Like many people I am in fact ambivalent about my birthday, getting older is not all that entertaining after a certain age and being reminded of your mortality more sobering than celebratory certainly. My approach to it is tackling it two-fold – planned celebration and a hard look at the year ahead and behind.

I remember when this approach to birthdays began to formulate. On my 21st birthday I suddenly found I was daunted by the prospect of my birthday for the first time – I had crossed that line between looking forward to the annual march toward adulthood to suddenly realizing I was there, but had no idea where I was going. I was living in London on a year abroad program in college. I had a perfectly splendid time living there, finally realizing that many possibilities were open to me – I could decide to live in an exciting city rather than a small town, and the world was a big place to explore with many possibilities. However, when my birthday arrived on a cold damp day in February (which in all fairness it always is – in New York there is often a foot of snow on the ground and I have canceled endless birthday plans around the weather) I was suddenly overwhelmed and realized that I was far from home and those who loved me. Adulthood was upon my and I had no idea what I was suppose to do with it.

Deciding not to be beaten by the day I attacked it. I kicked it off by walking into the upscale hair dresser of one of my wealthier roommates used and had my shoulder length hair clipped into the shortest of boy bobs. (We had a barely functioning shower in our flat, and I had been considering this for a month or so since moving into this new place, and washing my hair with the meagre hot water was nearly impossible. Kim has clearly expressed a preference for my hair long and I anticipate his shiver of dismay when he reads this.) I called a good friend, Don Bay, and threw myself on his mercy and asked him to take me out. I then went to a favorite antique and junk store located on the King’s Road and purchased a flowered silk dress, cut on the bias, from the 1920’s; a black wool jacket with houndstooth trim; an Egyptian influenced necklace – probably also circa the 1920’s, and a tea pot in its own metal warming sleeve. To me it looked pleasantly like a space ship. I loved that tea pot. The spout chipped, but I never had the heart to throw it out and still have it.

I dolled myself up in my purchases (sans teapot, of course) and Don took me to dinner at a Greek restaurant – somewhat shocked as everyone would be for weeks by the newly shorn hair. We had a long night on the town and I remember coming home very late and calling my mom. I have always spoken with my mother on my birthday figuring she is the only other person to have witnessed them all – and I had not been able to do earlier in the day. The operator, very British, chided me for calling New Jersey at such an ungodly hour – how funny! I can’t imagine an American operator doing that. Mom didn’t care; she was glad to hear from me and we talked a long time.

Meanwhile, my sister Loren had the ritual of calling and waking me up on my birthday which started when she left for college – in order to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday she would say. She announced one year that I should take my birthday off from work as celebration and she agreed to take the day with me. At my behest we went to the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History – it may have been the year of its inception. I had a strong yen to see it and it seemed like the perfect pre-lunch activity for us. What I didn’t realize was that she was actually somewhat horrified by the butterflies which, in a rather insistent way, kept landing on us to gently suck the salt off our skin. Surprising to me because she was not squeamish about many things, but I always loved her for not wanting to spoil my fun and gamely taking the butterflies on.

Sadly, it has been more than a dozen years since Loren died and at first birthdays were an almost unbearable reminder. I still miss the morning calls, but friends have piled in to fill the void in various ways. I have continued the tradition of a day devoted to myself and my endeavors – this year Kim and I have a day of adventure planned poking around some junk stores and bookstores. (In the rain, not snow this year.) In addition to a day to myself, about the same time I also instituted dinner or lunch with my fellow Aquarians, spaced throughout the month, which stretches the birthday spirit out and ensures I see people I don’t always get much time with. Dinner with Eileen (where we also have our fortunes told annually) is on Monday night. Lunch with Ada, who is in her 80’s, is next week at the Met. Whitney was at the end of January to accommodate increasingly difficult schedules to juggle. New Aquarians await meeting and are always welcome to join the club.

Meanwhile, having devoted the past ten months to a new job, I have my work cut out for me in the coming twelve months – and I suspect that it will provide all the adventure I could ask for at the moment, including a trip to London at the end of the month. As I finish this post, it is my actual birthday. A large box containing a rather extraordinary toy (future post) which arrived from Belgium in January, awaits my opening, and the day with Kim stretches ahead like a glowing like a gem, despite the downpour. I am a lucky girl indeed and it is a very happy birthday already I think.

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Altar of the Black Kitty

Pam’s  Pictorama Photo Post:  It was Kim who first said it looked like this little girl was worshiping at the altar of the kitty. I bought it as soon as I spied that lovely black cat and fluffy tail. Lucky girl, quite a birthday gift that would be! Just a few highlights have been touched up with color by hand. There is something of the altar of the Virgin Mary about it, as she looks deeply into the eyes of the toy cat, some religion I could get behind.

This card is British and on the back is, To dear little Joie from Gran with lots of love hoping she will have a happy Birth Day. X ++++, written in a spidery, hard-to-read grandmotherly scrawl. As far as I can tell, it is addressed to Miss Joyce Lucton (?), 2 Glenbroke Place, Upper… Street, Bristol. The postmark is faint, but it appears to be from 5:45 AM, December 1, 1906. The edges of the card are embossed with a fancy flower design that is hard to see in the photo. It probably won’t surprise Pictorama readers that I still enjoy sending and receiving actual cards – although the birthday postcard is something one doesn’t much see these days.

It is well understood that as children we anticipate our birthday all year – not only for the day of cake and toys (although that is very good and I still like that) – but because when you are young of course the idea of being a year older is great too. We want to  be grown up. Somewhere in our twenties the tide seems to turn and a sense of, if not actual dread, ambivalence sets in. My mother would say, beats the alternative (or as an older friend said recently in response to my birthday greetings that her birthday was better than the dirt nap), but we stop being celebratory at a minimum. Suddenly, older is bad.

For me, oddly enough, my twenty-first birthday was the first where I found myself, alone in London on a year abroad, at loose ends and feeling less than celebratory. I decided to rally, went to a high-end hair dresser and cut my hair very short for the first time, followed by a to a vintage clothing store. There I purchased a vintage dress and jacket, a lovely teapot, a strange silver pin of the Sphinx, and an art deco necklace. (I still have the pin and the necklace and somewhere the jacket. The teapot chipped badly in a move a number of years ago, and the dress given to a friend.) A friend rescued me in the evening and took me to a dinner of Greek food. I called my mother when I got home (very late and a bit tipsy) and I remember the operator asking me if I knew what time it was in the United States! Very British. I have called my mother every year on my birthday though, and I am pleased to say she didn’t mind in the least.

A number of years later, in a fit of latter adult birthday ambivalence, I took the matter in hand and declared February my birthday month. I gathered around me a cohort of Aquarian friends, and decided I would celebrate with each of them separately. Like me, they had long-suffered birthdays that were jammed in or around (or in one case on) Valentine’s Day. We had that, and living here on the east coast, snow in common. While over time that group has mostly dwindled (although the unofficial club did take on a new member last year) with out-of-state moves, and in one case sadly with a quite elderly member, death, I have to say it has wrought some of the very nicest memories. Despite increasingly busy schedules time is set aside to spend with each of those people and has resulted in some lovely memories. Sometimes, these days, the date gets pushed to March – sometimes well beyond – but it always happens. More than a decade ago, one friend’s daughter was born, prematurely, on the day we were scheduled for dinner – and that in the midst of a snow storm to boot! February 2018 birthday dinners and lunches are already being considered and scheduled – other Aquarians feel free to raise your hand.

 

 

Master Willie Rowell

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Obviously it was the weird cat toy (at least I think it is a cat) on this oddball card that attracted me – strange, mysterious and sewn toy smile on his face, perched on that very worn ball toy. It must have been quite a day at the old photo studio when they decided to do that photo shoot. But he is perky (if a bit maniacal) and this card was beloved enough to make it down the generations to us today. Not surprising, perhaps, it is British and although I just received it in mail fairly recently I don’t remember it coming from there. I believe it was an American dealer.

The card was never mailed, no postage, but it is fully addressed on the back to Master Willie Rowell, Glendon, Castle Road, Torquay. Also written, To wish dear Willie a very happy day of many happy returns with love from Raymond xxxxxx x one from Phyliss. It is a sweet birthday greeting written in a clear, adult hand. Sadly birthday cards are becoming a bit rare in their own right (let alone thank you notes which, if you aren’t professionally inclined to them as I am, belong almost exclusively to the octogenarian set) as our birthday greetings now most frequently zoom across cyber space. This seems like a kindness to the less organized, who don’t have to time the purchase and mailing of a card. (They have no excuse for missing the date now however.) No less sincere, but far less tangible, the detritus of today’s felicitations will not be available for future perusal and subsequent purchase.

At the bottom is a birthday greeting written in verse,
Happiness be thine
Little lad with eyes so true
This greeting comes to-day
To wish the very best for you
On this they natal day

And, at last, I offer this as a sly advance (cyber) birthday wish to my own beloved guy – xxo and many happy returns of the day!