The Bible tells us it rains on the just and the unjust. The Good Book doesn’t explain, though, what that has to do with my birthday. It rained on my birthday last month. It often does. Yes, I know the childhood adage, “April showers bring May flowers” yada yada yada. So it’s going to rain in April. But it shouldn’t rain on your birthday. What I really mean is, it shouldn’t rain on my birthday. On any given day, there are at least 15 million people celebrating birthdays, so it’s got to rain on somebody’s birthday; otherwise, the planet would dry up and we’d all be dead.
That would be bad for the birthday business. In the U.S., people spend $2 billion just on birthday cards. The average person receives seven cards, according to the greeting card industry.
Then, there are the cakes. The biggest birthday cake in history was in the shape of the state of Alabama and weighed 128,238 pounds, with more than 16,000 pounds of icing. That was in 1989, for the 100th birthday of Fort Payne (home of the country-rock group called Alabama).
Despite my best research, I could not determine how many people were taken to the ER following that birthday bash.
But I can tell you the world’s most expensive birthday party came to $27 million for the Sultan of Brunei’s 50th birthday in July 1996. I assume the Sultan’s people checked my schedule and learned I was already booked working the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta that summer; otherwise I might have received an invitation.
Did you know the song “Happy Birthday” is copyrighted! It was written by two sisters in 1893. It still generates about $2 million a year in licensing fees, which I suppose makes the descendants of Mildred and Patty Hill quite happy. And that’s why you seldom hear TV or radio news hosts sing it on air to one another. They would have to pay royalties!
More people have birthdays in August than in any other month. I’ll leave it to you to do the arithmetic and figure out which month is thus when couples are most amorous.
I have had some memorable birthday parties. When I was 5 or 6 years old, my mother took me and some friends on a train trip from Covington to Conyers, Ga., probably about a 45-minute trip. This was when train travel was still utilitarian in the rural South. The railroad didn’t host children’s birthday parties, but my mother bought tickets (maybe a dime apiece) for my friends, and we had a comparatively simple birthday party, with cake and presents, but I was, by golly, riding on a train! At that time, trains held me in a childhood enthrallment, and I thought if I could ever ride on one, it would be the grandest moment I could ever have.
Flash forward several decades. A friend who knew of my love for baseball realized that Opening Day that particular year happened to fall on my birthday, and so she bought tickets for me and my young children to watch the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. The matrix board behind left field flashed my name during the seventh-inning stretch. That was quite a thoughtful birthday present. I also have had four surprise birthday parties thrown for me over the years, which is probably a lot for just one guy.
But my favorite birthday was my recent one, despite the rain. I heard from my now-grown children, who live on the wrong side of the Mississippi River, and the day began and ended with the woman I love like no other. I’ll gladly reprise that one next April (minus the rain).
Like any parent, I tried to create memorable birthdays for my children. I actually secured Spi-derman for my son’s fourth birthday party. Did you know Spiderman only costs $100? And that he also makes balloon animals, in addition to fighting bad guys?
But the enduring character for us in those days was Miss Teacup, a fixture at my daughter’s birthday parties for several years. She was a natural with children, and even the parents would hang around to enjoy her antics.
Now, in a sympathy/empathy contest, my daughter would have given Mother Theresa a close race. When Katy Beth was 9, she asked me one evening, “Daddy, do think Miss Teacup’s feelings would be hurt if I don’t invite her to my birthday party this year?” I had to fight back a tear. She was so young and so sweet, she didn’t realize Miss Teacup was a paid clown, and what would be hurt was her pocketbook, not her feelings. So, I didn’t call Miss Teacup to arrange a performance. Several days later I got home from work, and there was a message on the answering machine.
“Hello, Katy Beth, this is Miss Teacup. Well, I guess you’ve outgrown me, girl. I hope you have a very happy birthday, and that you’ll always re-member me and the fun we had.”
There was this one birthday party that worried me for a few days beforehand. Katy Beth came home from school crying because some of the classmates she’d invited told her they wouldn’t attend her party because she’d invited Jasmine. Now, Jasmine was this dear little black girl, but I’m not sure skin color was the overriding reason for the rejection because the school my children attended was almost equally white and black. But Jasmine also had a glass eye, came from a low-in-come family, was a slow learner, and was painfully shy. At recess, Jasmine would just sit by herself, rather than hop on a swing or try to find a see-saw partner. So my daughter, naturally, befriended her.
Well, Jasmine came to that birthday party. As did all the pretentious middle-class white girls. Miss Teacup was in usual form. I’ve never seen a smile bigger than Jasmine wore all day.
So, my wish for each of you is that your next birthday always be your best. It might help if you think of Jasmine, whoever Jasmine is for you.
The demolition of the perfectly fine Georgia Dome will be delayed because it is still needed as its successor, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, runs into structural problems. The lesson here is that we’ve got serious issues in this world, and building endlessly more supercalifragilisticexpialidocious palaces to indulge our guilty pleasures isn’t the solution.
J. Bryant Steele has won awards for business reporting, feature writing and opinion columns, and is based in Rome.
*The views expressed in this column are those of the writer, and do not represent the opinions of V3 Magazine.