Birthdays come but once a year, which is a drag because on that one day I’m treated like a queen and even get away with not having to cook dinner. Mine was yesterday, and I’m sure by the time this is published I will be basking in the afterglow of a wonderful day. Do not fret, however, if you missed it, because in my house we have birthday week, which allows me to get away with a lot for the week, except preparing dinner. I will graciously continue to accept gifts, and if you need a hint, I’m still waiting for my Rolex watch, preferably in rose gold.
One of my jobs here at The Star is to write the holiday “Relay” columns. Since August is devoid of national holidays and the only ones I could find online were Water Quality Month, Admit You’re Happy Month, and Eye Exam Month, I thought my birthday would present a good excuse to write a column.
And since my license expired on my birthday, I did commemorate Eye Exam Month by having an eye exam at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Riverhead on Monday — a big mistake, as Monday, I learned, is their busiest day of the week. Instead of celebrating and drinking champagne in honor of Eye Exam Month, I sat on those wooden benches waiting for my number to be called for almost two hours! And don’t even get me started on what the traffic was like.
At times I’ve hated having a summer birthday. It meant there were no cupcakes in school or a special crown to wear for the day. I really wanted to be queen for the day at my Catholic school just to see if the nuns would be nicer to me.
When I was in St. Thomas of Aquinas High School in the Bronx I had a nun who absolutely hated me for no reason. She was a mean, nasty old bird who I’m sure is long gone by now, so I can talk about her. I was blond and usually smelled of the cigarettes we all sneaked in the back of the public buses we rode. She was ugly and forced to wear a black-and-white habit every day, which I’m sure was uncomfortable, as she constantly wore a pained, pinched look. We were bad little high school girls and wanted to ask her if her panties were in a pinch but knew we’d get a good smack across the face for it. It still amazes me that they were allowed to hit us.
She told me I was disgusting and made me move to the back of the class so she wouldn’t have to look at me or smell my 15-year-old tobacco-stained fingers. To this day my self-esteem suffers from her cruel remarks. I guess I should be glad my birthday was in summer, as she may have made me sit in the corner wearing a dunce cap to celebrate. Yes, she was that mean, and a dunce cap never would have worked with my naturally frizzy hair.
When we were kids, birthdays were a big event. I got to pick out whatever I wanted for dinner that night and usually chose lobster or spaghetti and meatballs. As we got older, on our big day we wore special corsages that were decorated according to our age with things like bubble gum, Tootsie Rolls, lollipops, or dog biscuits. They were supposed to remain pinned to your shirt for the whole day. But when a line of hungry-looking dogs started following me on my 14th birthday, I gave up and tossed them the corsage and ran like hell all the way home, with two of them following me the whole way.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t a pack, but there were three of them. Okay, maybe two of them were mine and the third my next-door neighbor’s dog, Buffy, but they were gazing longingly at my dog biscuit corsage, and I wanted to make it to my 15th without being torn apart by hungry dogs. Oh, and did I mention I was a bit of a teenage drama queen?
Having an August birthday usually meant good weather. I remember waking up in our beachfront home on City Island and smiling because it was my day and not one I had to share with my three siblings. The sunny, cool days were the best. I could always tell if it was a windy day from the sound of the sailboat riggings clanging against their masts from the boat club next door to us. To this day when I hear a sailboat rig clanging, I smile a little smile, and look over my shoulder for a pack of dogs.
Janis Hewitt is a senior writer at The Star.