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Birthday Memories

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Age, It’s just a number. Now I’m facing one called 70. Wow! Maybe I can hang on to 69 a bit longer, that was a pretty good year. How did time pass so quickly? Wasn’t I young just the other day?

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Harry Truman was president when I was born. That simply amazes me and makes me feel old! A five-star general named Dwight D. Eisenhower would follow Truman and serve as president from 1953-1961. He even ended the Korean War in 1953. Eisenhower had the distinction of being our last president from the 19th century. He was born in 1890, the third of seven sons to a poor Texas family. He was inaugurated before my 1st birthday, and gave his last presidential speech before my 9th birthday. He was well-liked and admired. I have one memory about him that sticks in my mind. My parents had a sign that read “I like Ike.” It was probably one left over from his 1956 campaign. I grabbed the sign and waved it proudly from my little red wagon!

At this time, we were not the only country in transition. Elizabeth II became queen the year I was born. She acceded to the throne following the death of her father George VI. This unexpected event was a major news headline. Her picture was on the front page of The Tampa Morning Tribune, February 7, 1952. She is still front-page news in 2022. Queen Elizabeth, at the age of 95, is celebrating her Platinum Jubilee. She is the first British monarch to serve 70 years on the throne. A true milestone!

I worked for The Tampa Tribune and one advantage of working for a big newspaper was gaining access to their archives. A simple telephone call netted me a copy of the Tribune front page. I ordered one dated the day I was born. Did you know that The Tampa Tribune gave employees their birthday off? It was a nice perk having your special day as a paid holiday! Time to use it, now or later. Another thing I remember from my Tribune days is all the office birthdays we celebrated. In a small bureau, we were a close group, like “family.” We never missed an opportunity to acknowledge a birthday. We signed cards, had great food, and finished it all off with cake!

I recall many different ways I spent my birthdays. I took long bike rides, attended the theater, ate at restaurants and went shopping. I’ve spent a couple of days at Florida attractions like Sea World or Cypress Gardens and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve spent days at the Florida State Fair in Tampa. One year I went to the fair with my cousin Len. We were 10 or 12, and he persuaded me to ride the Wild Mouse. This frightening roller coaster ran along an elevated track. Two people were allowed per car and Len graciously gave me the front seat. What was I thinking? The track dipped and climbed and went out into space. However, at the last minute, the car would abruptly make a sharp, fast turn! I thought our car was going to fall off the rails! Afterward I was so upset that he tricked me into riding along!

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Did you know that there was once a train running from downtown Brooksville to the Florida State Fair? The fairgrounds were 50 miles away in Tampa, off Cass Street. It would be years later (1977) when the site off Hwy 301 was chosen as a larger and better location. In 1959, my Mom and I rode that train to the fair. We had grandstand seats to watch Roy Rogers perform with his famous horse named Trigger. That was a neat 7th birthday! Years later, my husband and I would visit the fairgrounds with our 7-year-old daughter. She loved everything to do with horses. Her favorite parts of the fair were the livestock exhibits and the inside petting zoo.

Birthdays were never without cakes. My grandfather, a former baker from Illinois, could make the best ones. He got the icing just right. He piped on so many roses and swirls that the end result was almost too pretty to eat! I often think back and wonder how he accomplished this with such a little kitchen and a tiny oven.

I have lost track of all the different gifts I’ve received. When I turned 14, I got a palm-sized transistor radio that I carried absolutely everywhere. I didn’t want to miss my favorite songs! In 1966 I was so excited to get the newest Beatle album, “Help!”

Jewelry was a popular gift for me. Remember those big jewelry boxes for your dresser? Mine was full of necklaces and rings. Many items sparkled with the purple of amethyst, my birthstone. And I loved my Elgin watch, a birthday gift from 1967. Now I am okay with less. Just send me a card instead of jewels. Take the time to write a note or letter.
Flowers are nice too, and I’ve gotten my fair share of birthday bouquets and dish gardens. More often than not, it’s the thought that counts. Some gifts are really special. One birthday my husband had some family artwork cleaned, fixed, and re-framed. It was something I never got around to doing!

Mom and Dad always made a fuss over birthdays; dinners were planned and candles were put on cakes. They would have loved to be here for this recent one! Meanwhile, I wish I had asked more questions of them and prompted more discussions. There are blanks in my family history. Who knew my parents would both be gone before I turned 34? Who knew that they would each be age 69 forever and never reach 70? I also wish my cousin Len was here so we could reminisce one more time about that crazy ride on the Wild Mouse.

I wonder about my younger self, and why did I often hurry those years along? I can recall that I wanted to be 13 so badly–and not just 12. I later wanted to turn 18 and then 21. So now we’re back to the beginning, thinking about this coming birthday. I tell myself age is just a number. I’m a day older than the day before, no big deal. Let’s celebrate it.

Whatever the birthday, I hope you spend some time with family and friends while you have a chance. Collect some stories to share. Time with them is a gift. It’s the best gift of all!

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