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Syndic Literary Journal

Another Birthday on the Horizon

Easy Essay by LeRoy Chatfield

Here is the truth!  

Without Bonnie organizing me I would not have celebrated any of my fifty-five birthdays during our married life

No doubt my excuse might strike you as lame or selfish or even arrogant, but over these many intervening years I have developed a rationale  to help explain my somewhat irrational feelings about celebrating “my birthday”.

First, I was born soon after the Great Depression and grew up in a (very) small rural town with a population of about 2800 people.  The economic engine that powered this community was rice production.

Colusa County is the largest rice producing county in California and perhaps in the United States. In addition to rice, the county growers farmed seed crops, barley,  raised sheep and cattle,  but rice was king!

My grandparents on my mother’s side –  (Their children: Ernie, Alma, Georgia, Steve, Joe, Matt, Vic, Harold and my mother: Lucille) – were  rice growers in  Colusa County west of Williams, CA   but also raised sheep and cattle. 

There were no “hired hands” –  the children provided the necessary labor to “run the ranch.”  They worked six days a week, including holidays,  took Sundays off to go to church. During the rice harvest they worked seven days a week as necessary.

My mother told me family birthdays were not celebrated, they were just treated like another work day. My own birthday and that of my brother’s, were celebrated with a small gift of some kind but it was not a special day.

 (My cousin Catherine, who now writes volumes of family  genealogies has a saying: “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother!” Isn’t that the truth!)

In terms of my own birthday, it turned out that it was not just my birthday, it was also my brother’s birthday.  I was the oldest but we were both born on the same date, two years apart.

And because of my mother’s understanding of  the importance  of parental fairness towards siblings, whatever gift I received, was exactly the same as my brother’s. And whatever gift he received was the same as mine.  That’s just the way it was.  I have no recollection of ever feeling short changed because of  our sameness treatment and even if I did, I would not dare question or  complain about it.

Believe it or not, children in the 1940s were not considered to be the center of the universe. They were simply children who played a secondary role of growing up in a family whether they celebrated birthdays or not.

Another reason why my birthday never felt special or “just mine” was because I left home at age fourteen to attend a Catholic boarding school in Sacramento, 60 miles away, and then during the summer I entered the Christian Brothers Monastery in Napa Valley and for the next 15 years I never once celebrated my birthday because as a member of a religious order, we were expected to live by the religious principle that we were to live IN the world, but not OF the world. Religious feast days were celebrated, personal birthdays were not.

After marriage I was not surprised to learn that Bonnie grew up celebrating birthdays – each family member’s birthday was a special day.  And for the first time in my life,  Bonnie organized me to celebrate my birthday.  What I mean to say is that Bonnie always planned something  special with our family for my birthday  and regardless of any personal reticence or misgivings I might feel about being the center of attention made no difference, it was going to happen,  whether I liked it or not.

 What I have learned – sometimes a bit unnerving –  during  my married years is that  being made the center of  attention and celebrating  your birthday one day a year,  feels good . . . and yes,  special! 

I have Bonnie to thank for that.  













Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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