I was thinking of Mother three weeks ago when we were planning my brother Kirk’s birthday party. Mother loved birthdays and she loved celebrating them. Three years ago when Kirk turned 60 she planned a big surprise party for him. It was at Mom and Dad’s home on Dead Lake near Dent, MN. It was top secret all the way! The theme was race cars because Kirk’s crazy about NASCAR races.
Mom had ordered a sheet cake with a race car on it and frosting in racing colors. On the day of the party it was my job to go to town to pick it up. When I brought it back to the house and laid it out on the kitchen counter I kept looking at it. Something didn’t look right.
“Come here, Mother,” I said. “Is this what you ordered? A cake that says Happy Birthday Krik on it?”
“Oh, it must be a mistake,” she said.
But I looked at the order form and there it was in ink: Happy Birthday Krik. Panic ensued.
“Do you think anyone else will notice?” she said.
“Ah, pretty hard not to,” I said.
But then Jessie, Kirk’s daughter saved the day. “Wait a minute. It’s funny! Just leave it!” Perfect! We all snickered behind his back until the big reveal. He thought it was pretty funny too. Kirk was Krik all day long and then some.
Kirk’s birthday three years later
I couldn’t help remembering how much fun we had that day in 2014. I wanted to replicate it somehow but that would be impossible. There have been deep losses.
About three weeks after that 60th birthday party the same family and friends would come together again but for a funeral this time. My youngest brother Todd died suddenly at the end of that month, two days before my mother’s birthday which is on August 31st. Everything about it was a nightmare. I knew how much her birthday meant to her. It broke my heart to hear her say amid all the grief, “Oh Brenda, I can never celebrate my birthday again.” And she didn’t. She died seven months later. Kirk’s longtime friend, Paul, would pass months after that.
There was no way of replicating that 60th birthday party vibe but our family did all get together and celebrate, this time at the farm of Kirk’s daughter, Carly, in Fergus Falls. I had the feeling Mom would be so delighted to see that we made sure to misspell Kirk’s name on his birthday cake this year.
Another birthday party created by Mother, circa the late ’50s
This week I came across a story I’d written years ago about one of the birthday parties Mom created for my twin brother and I when we lived on the farm near Hastings, ND. I love this story. It brings back memories of Mother, homemade birthday cakes, and the town where I grew up. It also has a little girl’s fantasy about a tall, dark, and handsome boy making out with my pretend Barbie. I read it out loud to Russ and he encouraged me to share it with you.
The timing seems just right. Today is Mother’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Precious!
Birthday Cake by Brenda Kinsel
The birthday I remember most as a child was the year when I was six or seven and Mother made two cakes; angel food cakes 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 nonetheless—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 books I taught myself to read before I went to first grade.
In our school district there was no kindergarten, only first grade on up to seniors, twelve grades divided between four rooms. The lunchroom where we all ate could be so intimidating. We first graders would go line up at the kitchen counter, our chins just skimming the gray Formica, eager to get our plates of steaming hot food. Then we’d march over to the sweaty stainless steel vat that contained ice cold milk, lift the bulbous spigot handle and pour ourselves a glass. Standing next in line could be Charles Augnes, a senior who was tall and dark haired like my almost Barbie doll.
In fact, they would have been a great couple, Barbie and Charles. He was so cute. I looked up to him because he was six feet tall, but he was a guy a young girl could dream about who didn’t make fun of first graders.
I took piano lessons from his younger sister, Cheryl, and sometimes I would know that he was in another room. I could see his dark hair darting quietly through another 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 Augneses lived above their post office/grocery store in Hastings, North Dakota, a town of seventy-five people, just a block away from school.
I had a girlfriend who lived in town named Brenda. There were six of us in our grade and two of us were Brendas. She was Brenda Jo and I was Brenda Kay. Her big sister went out with Charles. Can you imagine Sharon Peterson going out with Charles Augnes? She had blond, curly hair, like 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 on Thursday night at the Town Hall. He’d have held her real close without their skates hooking together while they glided around the rink during the moonlight skate. That’s when they bring the lights down low and it’s for couples only.
They could have gone out in a convertible Mustang and for a drive out of town and turned into Clauson’s Grove, a dirt road that has tall grass growing in the center right near our farm. They call it Grove because of the corridor of trees that line the drive to the old deserted, falling down farmstead.
That’s where they’d park and look up at the stars and the moon and talk about faraway places…Minneapolis and Winnipeg. Their faces would be close to each other, so close that a kiss would be 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 when he’d nestle her closer with his arm and move his face in that quarter of an inch and kiss pretend Barbie right on her warm, red lips. 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 only looks better mussed up.