Beyond the Byline: A lasting birthday celebration

Sawyer –

Bill O’Boyle –

WILKES-BARRE — When you were a kid, birthday parties were not just fun, they were mandatory.

You would ask your parents to invite all your friends, get a big cake and you would sit back and wait for the presents to start rolling through your front door.

And it happened — every single year. Kids, parents, family, all carrying presents, and cards, some filled with money. It was the best of times, or so you thought.

After Christmas, your birthday was the best for receiving. Christmas, of course, included giving. But on your birthday, it was all about you.

And it was OK because everybody had the same opportunity — on their birthday, you would show up all dressed up, carrying a gift and eagerly waiting for a piece of that delicious birthday cake that was made by your mom and all the other moms.

As the years progressed, and you entered your teenage years and eventually adulthood (ugh!), birthdays became somewhat less joyous. Oh, there would be cards and presents and maybe a cake, but now birthdays had become mandatory recognitions of you getting another year older, rather than an all-out cakefest where you walked away with all sorts of neat presents.

So you endured those birthdays, gradually becoming more and more uncomfortable with celebrating another year, especially those “big 3-0, big 4-0, big 5-0” and even higher numbers. And it became more and more obvious that the same enthusiasm for others wanting to celebrate your birthday now became more of an obligatory gesture, rather than a genuine effort. And good luck if you thought a cake was on the way.

Now there were some exceptions to the obligatory rule, like when someone decided it would be a really cool idea to have a surprise party for you. Well, depending on your age, and also the level of crankiness that you had reached at your advanced age, these could be more tragic than fun, but at least somebody cared enough to try.

Now for an advanced-age senior citizen who is not married, has no children and limited family remaining, birthdays can become rather melancholy. In fact, one could even use up one’s birthday wish by not wanting to blow out any candles and treating “the once big day” as a normal, uneventful day.

But then along came Facebook and you blindly filled out your personal information and you actually entered your real birthday for all the Facebook world to see.

Now comes that “big day,” and everybody on Facebook knows it’s your birthday and they feel like they have to send you a birthday wish — some creative, some heartfelt, some, yes, obligatory.

And again, depending on your level of crankiness, you thank those who sent happy wishes, but you also take time to seek out those who chose to not wish you a happy birthday! How dare they?

It’s really a vicious cycle.

But this year I have to say my birthday was one of the best ever. It started out a week before when I decided I would make fun of the Facebook generation by posting pictures of myself through the years — making it appear that I was anticipating my birthday when, in fact, I was making fun of how there are so many silly postings on Facebook. These posts, I thought, were the silliest of all.

Only one person got it — Barry Kurkowski in Florida. Everybody else thought it was a really cool thing to do. A failed experiment.

But it all turned out better than good. My friend Barbara Shevock DiGiovanni made me the best soup ever. It’s a tomato-based red soup with beef and vegetables like California carrots, and thick noodles, similar to those my mom would make on our kitchen table. I once told Barbara about the soup my mom would make and Barbara figured it out. It’s absolutely delicious.

And then there was my little buddy, Sawyer, son of our award-winning photographer Aimee Dilger. Sawyer told his mom he wanted to take me out for a birthday dinner. So we went out for pizza — Sawyer loves pizza. Sawyer is 9 and he is my friend. We sat and chatted about school, sports, events he is involved with and his piano lessons. And Sawyer gave me a birthday card that he made.

A group of high school friends surprised me Saturday night by showing up where they knew I would be watching baseball. We sat and chatted, reminisced and had fun.

Add to all this a really nice card signed by my Times Leader colleagues.

It truly was a happy birthday.

As Sawyer wrote on his card to me:

Happy Birthday Bill

Roses are red, violets are blue

Nothing is sweeter than your birthday too.

And Sawyer drew balloons and a birthday cake.

It was like being back in my kitchen with all my friends around, but this year, the presents were far better.

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Bill O’Boyle

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected]

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