When a friend of mine moved to New Orleans in the ‘70s, his arrival coincided with the climaxing celebrations of Carnival, and his birthday of that year was on Fat Tuesday itself.
He was excited by the local tribute: “Thousands of folks turned out to say hello to me,” he bragged, “and you should have seen those parades!”
I’ve always felt much the same about my own natal day; it comes three days after the Fourth of July, and I theorize that the big bang shows are but an overture to the main event. If you saved last Saturday’s Lagniappe page detailing what’s planned for July 4 on the river downtown, on the West Bank, in Lafreniere Park in East Jefferson, and on the North Shore and other sites in the metro area, then you’re all ready to celebrate — me!
But my own experience with fireworks is limited — beginning with the year Daddy pointed a Roman candle at the sky and the flash went the wrong way, down into his armpit. After that, Mother banned everything except for sparklers.
My own children had little experience with them, either, except for taking their seats on the sidewalk to watch our neighbor across the street set off $50 to $100 worth semi-annually — on the Fourth and New Year’s Eve. Our son did get hold of some rockets one year, only to attract a cruising police patrol car with the first blast, and be brought home to me — dangling from his shirt collar — with the order “no shooting fireworks here, and no fleeing from police!” (My husband told me that a little buddy of his was brought home like that back in the ‘30s, and when the mother saw the cop standing on the porch with her son, she opened the screen door and started thrashing both of them in the heads and faces with her dish towel. That was in another world!)
I didn’t realize that our daughter, too, had felt fireworks-deprived, until she grew up and started putting on sound-and-light shows for her own sons. One year, we all went to our weekend house on the north shore for the Fourth, and she put a bottle rocket through a window of the house across the road. The neighbors were nice, but we paid for their window pane and new blinds.
This column is about my birthday, though, and how I always get a little discomposed around this time of year. It started when I was 35, the first time I ever mourned being a year older. In my 20s, age didn’t seem to matter, and as a child it was important in reverse: pure joy in the fact that I was getting closer to being grownup and able to do anything I darn well pleased.
At some point you begin to notice that most grownups — no matter how old — don’t have this privilege or at least don’t really exercise it. You also notice when you’re around 35 that a “5” birthday year just means a quick slide into another “0” year.
So this Sunday I’ll be 78, and for the past three years I’ve been sliding into 80. I have to laugh when I remember the last time I wrote a column about my birthday. I was a tender 62, but my words must have been full of angst. A reader sent me a beautiful handmade card on which she had water-colored a poppy. Inside were the words, “You are what you always were.”
I think that’s true, but I hope I’m a little bit better.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.