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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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?