15 In Women Now

Birthday art, stories, and wishes for a vibrant chapter

Birthday Cake
My Birthday Cake birthday present to myself

Just three days before leaving for Minnesota to visit Dad and my family, I had a birthday. Well, we had a birthday. I have a twin brother, Brent, and we gloat over the fact that our birthday is on the longest day of the year, the summer solstice.

Because of this upcoming trip back to the Midwest, birthday plans didn’t get much attention. There was laundry to do, packing, checking weather, making plans for getting to and from the airport. You know, those lists that go on forever.

Carving out some ‘me time’ on my birthday

I decided to spend some time with myself that birthday Friday and go down to 12A, a space I’ve been putting together for myself in San Anselmo. Is it a writing space? A place to teach classes? My “Research and Development” conference room? My “she shed”? A place to take care of Baby Viv while her mommy is working? I really don’t know yet. I guess I’ll find out once I’m done decorating it.

Viv wears a birthday bow
Baby Viv joined me for brunch on my birthday
Birthday brunch with Viv
A great way to start my birthday

This studio space is right near my daughters’ consignment store in San Anselmo. After hanging some pictures and trying to figure out seating in my studio space, I took a break. I popped in and said hi to Erin who works at SAX on Fridays, then headed down to the Farmer’s Market in front of City Hall, picked up cherries and apricots, and headed back. I popped my head into Artist Within. This is a gallery space that shows and sells original art by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Sales help support them to lead productive and joyous lives.

I spotted the vibrant piece called Birthday Cake right away. I fell for the art and I also feel for the title: It’s the title of a short story I wrote many years ago. If a writer can have favorites, Birthday Cake is mine. It’s a mostly true story with some childhood fantasy thrown in. It recounts the birthday when we were young and Mom made two birthday cakes—one for each twin.

Birthday Cake
“Birthday Cake”

I wanted a second opinion on Birthday Cake, the painting, so I rushed back to the store. “Erin, I just saw a piece of art that I’d like to buy for 12A. Will you go check it out? I want to be sure I’m not being impulsive just because it’s my birthday. It’s called Birthday Cake.” I watched the store for her and recalled parts of the story I’d written.

Recalling a birthday long ago

A smile always comes to me when I think about the characters: my pretend Barbie with wavy, ebony hair, and Charles Aagenes, a handsome older student at Hastings School. That one school served all grades. Grades 1-3 were in one room, 4-6 in another room and 7-12 had their own big room. Both Mom and Dad graduated from that school. Brent and I went there through sixth grade before we moved to Valley City from the farm.

All the students would be together during lunch hour. That’s when I’d notice high schooler, Charles Aagenes. Sparks flew…

Erin came back and said, “Go for it, buy the painting. It’s your birthday!” I did go for it. I walked it back to 12A and knew right where I’d put it. Right when you open the front door, you’ll see it hanging over the sink.

The next morning between loads of laundry and straightening out my office before leaving for Minnesota, I dug out that story and read it. I’d like to share it with you.

“Birthday Cake” short story by BK

The birthday I remember as a child was the year—maybe I was six or seven—when Mother made two cakes—angel food with open centers for Brent and me, the twins.

Brent’s cake was covered in chocolate frosting and out of the center, standing at attention, was a blond-haired GI Joe doll. My cake was swathed in pink frosting and had a fake Barbie doll sticking out of the center. I pulled her out—licking the frosting off her slim legs, being careful not to get any goo on her beautiful, long, black, full head of hair.

I could tell right away that she wasn’t a real Barbie—just one pretending to be Barbie—but she was beautiful none-the-less, an exotic kind of beauty.

Mother had made a big fuss about us not coming into the kitchen while she was fixing it all up for the party. So I hung out in the corner of the living room by the piano and the bookshelf that held my father’s Dale Carnegie books, the ones I learned to read from while waiting to get into first grade.

Hastings School painted by Dad’s classmate

In our school district, there was no kindergarten, only first grade on up to twelfth; twelve grades divided between four rooms. Lunchroom could be so intimidating. We first graders would go line up at the kitchen counter—our chins just skimming the top—to receive our plates of steaming hot food. Then we’d march over to the sweaty stainless steel vat that contained ice-cold milk, and we’d pour ourselves a glass. Standing there could be Charles Aagenes, a senior who was tall and dark-haired like my almost Barbie doll.

In fact, they would have made a great couple, Barbie and Charles. I looked up to him. He was over six feet tall. He was a guy a young girl could dream about, one who didn’t make fun of first graders.

I took piano lessons from his younger sister, Cheryl, in their home. Sometimes I would know that he was in another room. I could see his dark hair darting through a doorway out of the side of my vision, while I had my hands on those black and white piano keys, playing the easy stuff “with feeling.”

Hastings, North Dakota
The grocery store/post office was the first building on the right when the Aagnes’ had it.

The Aagenes’ lived above their post office/grocery store in the town of Hastings, North Dakota, population seventy-five. I had a girlfriend that lived in town that was also named Brenda. There were six of us in our grade. She was Brenda Jo, and I was Brenda Kay, and her big sister went out with Charles. Can you imagine? Sharon Peterson going out with Charles Aagenes. Sharon had blond, curly hair—a cap of curls that came from getting those smelly permanents.

I think my pretend Barbie would have made a better date. Sharon was too serious. My Barbie was adventurous like Charles. They could have really had some fun. They could’ve gone roller-skating together; he’d have held her real close without their skates hooking together while they rolled around the rink during the moonlight skate. That’s when they bring the lights down low, and it’s couples only.

Main Street of Hastings (Scott Street) last week, not much remains.

And they could’ve gone out in a convertible Mustang and gone for a drive in the country. They’d end up parking in Clauson’s Grove over near our farm where one dirt road leads to another one that’s more grown in with tall grass down the center and on either side of the tracks made from tires. They call it Grove because there’s a corridor of trees lining the drive to the old farmstead, which is deserted and falling down.

That’s where they’d park and look up at the stars and the moon and talk about faraway places—Minneapolis and Winnipeg. They’d find their faces close to each other, so close that a kiss was just a breath between them. His arm would slip around hers, and they’d talk some more; finding it impossible to keep from thinking about how each other’s lips might feel on theirs. He’d nuzzle closer to her, move his face in that quarter-of-an-inch and kiss pretend Barbie right on her warm, red lips. Red hearts would bubble out from their bodies like on Valentine’s cards. They’d melt into each other’s arms.

I can’t see Sharon Peterson melting. Her body’s too stiff, and she wouldn’t want those curls to crush at all. Not like almost Barbie whose long, ebony, wavy hair really looks better mussed up.


Birthday wishes
Thankful for another year

“Make a wish”

The elements of art, creative space, family, and friends are all mixed into my birthday wish for the year. Learning more from you and experiencing this vibrant chapter is wrapped in there too.

Sharing lots of love with you! What’s showing up in your birthday year?


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  • Reply
    cindy hattersley
    July 1, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    Happy Belated Birthday! That baby is adorable!

  • Reply
    July 2, 2019 at 3:33 am

    Wonderful story! Memories…mixed in with imagination make a lovely place to retreat to in our minds. My birthday is July 4th and that starts my calendar year! I see a cake in my future..white with white frosting and yellow roses. Buttercream frosting to be specific! I hope to see my daughter married this year as she just got engaged and watch my granddaughter celebrate her 1st birthday in 6 months! My circle is growing and it’s wonderful!
    Baby Vic is too cute for words! Best…Kathy

  • Reply
    Ramona Puckett
    July 2, 2019 at 5:24 am

    Happy Birthday ❤️! Your granddaughter is beautiful!

  • Reply
    Julie F
    July 2, 2019 at 5:37 am

    Happy Birthday. And Viv looks just like your dad.

  • Reply
    Linda B
    July 2, 2019 at 7:01 am

    Happy belated birthday to you, Brenda! Thank you for sharing those memories–and the story! Also the picture of your granddaughter, Viv. Isn’t being a grandmother the most delicious life experience ever? That is how I am finding it. My wee one will be a month old tomorrow.

    My head was in Minnesota on June 21, thinking of my wedding there 38 years ago. How your hometown has changed! I hope your trip home has been lovely!

  • Reply
    Karen H.
    July 2, 2019 at 7:03 am

    Sweet story! Happy belated birthday Brenda! My mother would make me an angel food cake with chocolate frosting every year for my birthday…my request. Baby Vic a a doll!

  • Reply
    Eva Popovich
    July 2, 2019 at 7:42 am

    Happy birthday, and I know you will enjoy this first full year of grandmotherhood. Viv is truly stylish already!
    My mother also made angel food cakes, but for my brothers, whose birthdays all fell in summer. Their cakes always had some fruit involved in the decorations. My birthday was in February, and I can’t even remember what kind of cakes she made for me.
    Anyway, I really enjoyed the story!

  • Reply
    July 2, 2019 at 1:15 pm

    A late HAPPY BIRTHDAY wish & have a wonderful trip!

    • Reply
      July 2, 2019 at 5:03 pm

      Happy belated Birthday Brenda. Looks like you had a wonderful time. How’s your dad doing?

      Little Viv is precious. Enjoy your time with her. They grow up so quickly.

  • Reply
    July 2, 2019 at 4:30 pm

    Love this post as so many similarities to my youth. And our mom made angel food cakes for our birthdays too but wrapped coins in tinfoil and baked them in the cake. Luckily no one choked or broke a tooth. And I have already had a great gift this birthday year. Having you visit me in Fargo was it!

  • Reply
    Kathy H
    July 2, 2019 at 7:47 pm

    I have been reading around your blog for at least 6 weeks now, and I am loving it. Like when you take deep breath and then give a long sigh because you are home at last. Love to play with clothes and get creative with outfits so I am reading back into the archives so I don’t miss a thing. I am a writer, so your story of the two birthday cakes was my favorite this post. The picture of the schoolhouse is precious. And so is your grandbaby!

    My birthday was also last week, and it was such a special day. My favorite birthdays are always spent fishing. Don’t worry too much about outfits for those trips. But if the fish aren’t biting, there is a wonderful little town nearby with lots of shops!

  • Reply
    Trinnie q
    July 3, 2019 at 12:22 am

    Oh happy belated birthday , that painting be is beautiful, as are you, and your adorable baby granddaughter Viv .. Happy days dear Brenda

  • Reply
    July 3, 2019 at 6:39 am

    You took the readers right back to your childhood birthday!
    That painting would be a fabulous set of birthday cards ( with permission from the artist) and would sell like hot cakes to everyone who read your story. Profits right back to the artist!

  • Reply
    Sandra Sallin - Apart From my Art
    July 7, 2019 at 11:38 pm

    Oh, I’m so glad you bought that painting. It is so joyful. I immediately smile when I look at it. Thank you for taking us back to your childhood. Can’t you just see those beautiful Twin Cakes. Angle Food is my husbands favorite cake. I make it for him all the time unless he’s on his diet. Right. I hope you had a joyful birthday and another year filled with health and fun. Your granddaughter is adorable. Styled already.

  • Reply
    Katherine Cramer
    July 18, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    Ah Birthdays…they are so potent and yet pass too quickly. The therapist in me would stay with your story and peel back layers. So beautiful, hopeful and full of richness that may be, forever metaphors or simply innocence.
    As your student and fan, I receive this post as one of the many gifts you share so lovingly. Hugs with gratitude for your continued courage and care. Keep writing to follow all your threads. I know your work takes most all of your muse time. There is lots more–to dig into. I feel that. All in good time. Slow Club and all that!
    Thank you Brenda. I am reading this near my birthday and it was timely and sweet. For some reason this treat arrived at a perfect time. I hold you in my thoughts as we contemplate birthdays and the web of related themes that sing with heartful and resonant voices. Happy Birthday: meaning continued birthing of ideas, observations and creativity. As well as your recent actual birthday.

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