Most of my birthdays come and go without me remembering anything about them. Most of this is due to the lack of want or need I have. Then again, it could be because most of what I want or need is satisfied almost spontaneously these days. For instance, if I say I need a new sweater to go with a pair of pants I have, the next time Hubby and I go to the store, he’s guiding me toward the sweaters and asking me what color I want.
Still, during the years I was growing up, there wasn’t much left over after the monthly bills were paid. I remember playing just outside the kitchen in the living room while Mom was at the kitchen table writing out the monthly checks. My dad would come in through the back door and Mom would tell him that there was twelve dollars left over. Still, I didn’t worry about going without what I needed, and I was under the impression that wants were extras and wasn’t surprised they were scarcely met, even on birthdays or Christmas. It never dawned on me that there were people who lived with more than what we had. I was content with life the way it was.
Birthdays were celebrated within the family back then. What it boiled down to was the parents in the neighborhood, including my own, didn’t want to burden others with the expense of a gift. Incomes were more or less the same no matter which house you visited. At my house, each person would receive three gifts, one from each of the others in the family. (It worked pretty much the same way for Christmas although there were usually an extra few gifts from the grandparents, aunts and uncles.)
Most gifts were practical in nature, ranging from socks/tights to pants/dresses. For a few years, I was giving my brother a Matchbox car or a small box of Lego. My brother gave me color books or books to read.
There was one birthday that sticks out in my mind though. It was the one and only year I received all the things I wanted but didn’t need. I was beside myself with joy as I opened each of the three presents I received for my twelfth birthday
To this day, I still remember what those gifts were: a long blue quilted robe, a transistor radio that had FM as well as AM and a record album of The Beatles, Revolver. I wasn’t just pleased with my gifts. I was ecstatic with happiness.
Although I’m quite sure that it wasn’t quite true, I felt that I must be the luckiest girl in the neighborhood. Even with this feeling bubbling within me, I didn’t make a show of my birthday to my friends. After all, they didn’t parade their gifts in front of me.
Sometimes now, I wonder if I lived in a fantasy world back then. I actually see kids today showing off what they have and even to the point of purposely making other kids feel awful. I see and hear kids whining because they didn’t get what they wanted and refuse to understand that money is often a rare thing in families. Were the kids in that neighborhood from long ago different? Or was it, maybe, the times that were different?