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  • Writer's pictureRon Finnigan

Harry's Birthday

Picture of man holding birthday gift and being hugged by a woman.

Harry dreaded birthdays. His three, very competitive kids would always try to outdo each other every year first with the card they gave him, then the gift and finally the “special dessert” they had prepared. Thank God they were starting to have grandkids and their focus was now shifting more to them rather than him on special family gatherings.

Linda, his oldest daughter, held a big fancy party with all the trimmings which included two turkeys, a ham for those who don’t like turkey and vegetarian dishes for those who don’t like meat. Even with 15 ravenous people, most of them rapidly growing giants, there were still plenty of leftovers for all the families to take home for a few more meals.

After the meal came the birthday cards. He always started with Linda’s.

Linda’s 14-year old daughter Becky, the spitting image of her mother at that age with the same long red hair and freckles, handled him the first card. “This is a special card, Grandpa,” she said. “We recorded a special message for you on the card.” Harry accepted the unusually thick envelope and tore it open, removing the card. On the cover was a picture of an old man with a cane walking towards a sunset. Harry had only begun using a cane and he hated being reminded that he now needed the confarned aid to get around. He smiled at Becky and opened the card. It read:

We think about you every day

And love you more than words can say.

But words will have to do to send

Our love to you until the end.

"Happy Birthday, Grandad," Becky added.

Harry smiled politely and turned the page. As he did, a picture of Linda’s family appeared and a tinny recording of “Happy Birthday” began. The voices of Linda, her husband and three children could barely be recognized. At the end, they all added “Happy Birthday Grand—“. The recording ended before the last “pa”. Linda began to fuss about how they had rehearsed for over an hour and tried to get that recording to fit, but they just couldn’t get that last “pa” in. Harry reassured his daughter it was fine and he loved the card, although in reality he meant he loved the family picture.

Next came Lane, his oldest son who constantly boasted he was the number 2 salesperson in Canada, which is why he tried harder. His card was even thicker than Linda’s. He removed the card from its envelope. On the cover was a picture of an older man, dressed as a clown, dancing for a group of children seated around him. Lane was known for his offbeat sense of humor, or at least that’s what his resume said. As Harry opened the card, little paper characters resembling Lane and his five kids popped up displaying a two-dimensional circus scene. Lane’s ex-wife was conspicuously absent. The poem included said:

Now that you are sixty-four

Don’t be afraid to be a bore

The love you feel from all of us

Is more than Barnum’s great circus.

Don’t be afraid to be a clown

When life’s ups turn into downs

Today’s your day, forget the past

Enjoy this one – it might be your last!

Harry’s stiff, forced smile tried to conceal his real feelings. Both cards had reminded him how old he was and about death. What next?

His youngest son, Reginald, was an IT Support something or other. As much as Harry loved his son, his talk often drifted to technical jargon that went right over Harry’s head. Instead of an envelope, Reggie brought over a small box. “This is totally state of the art,” he pronounced after turning all lights off to make the room as dark as possible. Harry was beginning to feel like a judge at the World’s Best Birthday Card Competition. After Reg set the box down and removed the cover, a small swirl of lights appeared above the box creating a 3-D holographic image of Reg and his family. The group sang “Happy Birthday”, while dancing in a circle around a birthday cake. When the song was done, they all turned to where Harry was sitting and said in unison, “Happy Birthday, Grandad”, and the image faded to black.

At that point Harry heard everyone singing “Happy Birthday” and a procession from the kitchen appeared carrying his birthday cake with 64 lit candles. The cake was placed in front of Harry and he waited first for the finish of “Happy Birthday”, followed by “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and finally “If You’re Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands”. Finally he was able to blow out the candle stubs and the cake was whisked back into the kitchen to be cut up and served with ice cream. Everyone followed the cake shouting their orders for “a bigger piece” or "don’t make mine too big”, leaving Harry alone with his youngest grandson, Jeremy.

“Grandpa?” He looked at Jeremy to see the 5-year old clutching a small envelope. “I made a card for you too.” Harry lifted Jeremy on to his good knee as he took the card. On the envelope in Jeremy’s crude hand-writing was the word “Granbad”. Harry smiled – Jeremy always did have trouble with his “d’s”.

He opened the envelope and withdrew Jeremy’s handmade card. On the cover were two stick figures, one bigger than the other, holding hands and tiny sea shells were glued around them. “This is you and me,” Jeremy explained, “when we go down to the beach and you help me look for shells.” Collecting shells was Jeremy’s obsession, even though his parents were not thrilled at the “garbage that he drags into the house”. “Go ahead and open it up,” Jeremy implored. Harry opened the card. Inside was written, “I love you, Granbad” and a small, wallet size school picture of Jeremy had been pasted inside a hand-drawn heart. “Happy birthday, Grandad,” and with that Jeremy gave Harry a hug. Harry returned his grandson’s hug with the same enthusiasm shown by Jeremy.

“Do you guys want birthday cake?” It was Linda carrying two plates with cake and ice cream into the living room. “Yes,” Harry replied, “and we’re going to eat it right here.” Jeremy had a big smile. He knew this was special because his dad never allowed him to eat in the living room at home.

Rondyn Musings Copyright © 2011 - all rights reserved.

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