My ten-inch head navigated the four-inch birth canal (who said God doesn’t have a sense of humour). My maternity moment created the calendar celebration of my birthdate on July 29.
Although the ancient Egyptians started celebrating birthdays around 3000 B.C., it was only the queen and male members of the royal family who were honoured. The ancient Greeks expanded the concept to all adult males even after a man had died (must have been hard to blow out the candles, but helped if the birthday boy’s wish was cremation).
The Greeks introduced birthday cakes and candles, which honoured Artemis, Goddess of the Moon and symbolized moonlight.
It was in the Middle Ages that German peasants began celebrating the birthdays of everyone in the family. Children’s birthday celebrations were especially important and were called kinderfests. They were the forerunner to our toddler birthday parties.
Amidst the bratwurst and beer of the Black Forest came the concept of blowing out candles. They represented the light of life. Some people believed the smoke from the extinguished candles carried their birthday wishes up to heaven, hence the encouragement to make a wish while extinguishing this birthday bonfire.
I have never been an inspired birthday boy. The candles, the cake, the hats, the horns and, of course, the song, have not been my favourite party pit stops on the pilgrimage from cradle to crypt.
As a child, I wondered at the health implications of scattering spittle on a Cecutti’s cake. I recall the icing laced with the red goo that spelt my name, the delicious paper roses and the generous slices cut by my mom.
On occasion, coins were embedded in the cake. At the risk of dental damage or a coin-obstructed colon, these buried treasures often realized the birthday wish of wealth for comic books purchases.
We would sit together, a giggling gang of neighbourhood children whose mothers had arranged birthday celebrations. By cake time, our shirt tails had escaped the confines of our pants as we had played the traditional birthday games.
Pin the tail on the donkey never appealed to me. The idea of spinning small blindfolded children to confusion and then giving them a paper tail with a sharp tack seemed senseless and encouraged inappropriate body piercing.
With the games completed, the gifts unwrapped and haute cuisine of hot dogs consumed, the cake would arrive and the song would be sung. Not any song, but the birthday song.
It was written in 1893 by two sisters, Patty and Mildred Hill. They were school teachers. The tune was originally a morning greeting for their kindergarten students. In 1924, an editor changed the lyrics to "Happy Birthday to you” and published it without the Hill sister’s permission.
The new lyrics made it a popular tune, but the Hill family took no action until it appeared in a Broadway play in 1933. Then a third sister, Jessica Hill, sued for copyright infringement. She won.
The copyright is owned by Warner Bros. Communications, which purchased it in 1989 for more than $22 million. As a result, “Happy Birthday,” if sung commercially, a royalty must be paid to Warner Bros. That’s why restaurants have their serving staff sing mutated melodies and alternative lyrics to their birthday diners to avoid a BST (Birthday Song Tax).
Oblivious to the infringement of the birthday song’s copyright, we too would sing alternative versions such as “Happy Birthday to you, you belong in a zoo with the lions and tigers and monkeys like you.” We would all giggle as the birthday wishes for ponies and go-carts would go up in smoke.
Sixty years later, my birthday suit has developed a few wrinkles. It is a bit saggy in the seat. The plumbing leaks. My arms are almost too short to read the newspaper.
I am worried I am becoming that relative whose wit and wisdom is that they read the newspaper every morning. If their name isn’t in the obituary column, it’s a good day. Really! That’s like the man who said to the doctor he had problems with silent gas emission.
“At home, work, at church, I get lots of silent gas emissions. As a matter of fact, I’ve had three sitting here talking to you. What are we going to do?” The doctor replied “The first thing we’re going to do is check your hearing.”
The obituary column is nothing to worry about if you’re reading it. The concern is, you are focused on your expiration and deaf to your inspiration: the people who hug your wrinkled birthday suit; the people who sing the birthday song while carrying a cake whose candle count needs a permit from the fire department; people whose presence in your life is far more precious than presents.
On my approaching 60th birthday July 29, it is these people I told that I didn’t want a birthday bash. Rather, I would like those resources used to help sponsor the Irish Heritage Club’s Michael O’Reilly Walk for a Second Chance.
It’s not a walk for fundraising. It’s a walk to raise awareness about organ donations. Even with my saggy 60-year-old birthday suit, there is something salvageable. I’m sure the famous faces born in the Fifties have outstanding organs.
The Kennedy family jewels have been legendary and supposedly shone brightly when Marilyn Munro sang the birthday song. Oprah Winfrey’s heart brings sharing and caring. Jerry Seinfeld’s brain is brilliant. Vital Gerulaitis’ lungs terrorized tennis tournaments.
I’m hoping my kidneys will be considered worthy when I’m no longer able to write and read that obituary column. My kidney commitment is because a Canadian dies daily on that waiting list.
Interestingly, it was in 1954 doctors Hartwell Harrison and Joseph Murray performed the world’s first kidney transplant. When I consider my pressure and flow, I’m sure 1954 was a good year for kidneys.
Please join us on July 27 at Bell Park. Registration is at 11:30 a.m. with the walk to follow at 1 p.m.
It will be a great day for a great cause, with great entertainment (Joey Niceforo and the Bluez Brotherz), free food and T-shirts.
It doesn’t get much better than that – oh, yes it does! It gets better when you register at beadonor.ca and give the gift of life to someone on a waiting list – because the best gift card is a signed organ donation card.
Gerry Lougheed Jr. is the vice-president of Lougheed’s Ltd and an active community volunteer.