21 In Women Now

Women Now: Birthdays on my mind and love in my heart

Kirk August 2017

Happy Birthday Kirk circa 2017


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.


Family gathering

Kirk realizes his birthday cake says Krik


Kirk and one of his oldest friends, Paul Pierson, now deceased

Happy times, Kirk with one of his oldest friends, Paul Pierson, who passed away a year later


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.


Maia and Brenda

Maia Willow, Mother’s first great-grandchild was born on Mother’s birthday, August 31st. Happy Birthday, Maia!

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!


Brenda Birthday Girl

Mother, these are for you! Happy Birthday


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.



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  • Reply
    Sandi Mcdougall
    August 31, 2017 at 3:00 am

    Loved the story Brenda as I can relate to so much of it living in ND. And so glad you can be surrounded by love on your mom’s birthday. Bet she’s smiling down on you right now.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 8:40 pm

      I just want to be partying with her in heaven. I’m glad so many more people are getting to know her. HoDo hugs to you!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2017 at 5:45 am

    Love your Birthday cake story! You sure have a way with words & can really paint a picture. Where is Charles now do you know? I really enjoy your life stories, the way you describe people & events, the feelings & emotions, you bring it all to life. Quite a gift.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 8:39 pm

      Holly, I don’t know where Charles is. I did see him at a reunion of everyone who had gone to that school which was held in 1999. My father organized it. Charles’ younger brother was one of the guys that worked on the reunion with Dad. He was hilarious. Cheryl, my piano teacher, grew up, had a beloved son who was killed in a fluke situation. She was of course, forever changed. But I must say, I looked at Charles at that reunion and he was still so very very handsome, kind of the quiet, intellectual, serious type. Although my Barbie probably would have made his life very interesting and unpredictable!

  • Reply
    Maggie Fieger
    August 31, 2017 at 5:59 am

    Your family is so fun! Happy birthday to your mom

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 8:36 pm

      Thanks, Maggie!

  • Reply
    Karin Beamer
    August 31, 2017 at 6:34 am

    Oh my gosh, Brenda, you should write a book…. I almost got into the story and could imagine the entire episode. Since, I have very curly hair, and went to a one room school house. In my school, grades 1 through 6 where in one room, and there were only about 20 students. I went to 2nd grade till Christmas, then moved to 3rd grade till June and then September I moved to 4th grade….since my birthday was also August. I started school early and was always the youngest in my class………Thanks for the memories.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 8:36 pm

      Oh Karin, how very fun! We had three grades per room until you got to high school and then all four grades were in one room. The one thing we shared was the lunchroom. That was also the room where music was taught. I was the accompanist on the piano for the choir class. That’s where I was when we heard President Kennedy had been shot. My teacher, Mrs. Foster, lost her mind and shouted, “The Russians are coming!”
      Thanks for sharing your classroom stories!

  • Reply
    Marsha Galloway
    August 31, 2017 at 6:57 am

    Happy Birthday to your mom! Lovely flowers! And tell “Krik” welcome to the world of 63 year olds, he’s only a few months behind me. We decorate cakes daily at our DQ’s and you would not believe the anger people have when something is misspelled, so it was nice to read of people who don’t get mad but make the best of it! Too funny! From now on, he is Krik in my book too. And enjoyed the blog about Wendy’s possible new career. Go Wendy! BTW, nice to see the barn in the pictures on that one – we still want to get up and see Uncle Don this fall – perhaps when my sister Donna comes to visit.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      Dad would be out of his mind ecstatic with a visit by you this fall. You know that David and Carla now live only about 20 minutes from him at their new lake home. The Reitens are congregating in Minnesota! Maybe that’s where the cousin reunion will have to be. I must admit I was initially quite upset about the misspelling until I saw that Mother had actually looked at the order form and okayed it. I certainly became a legend and a story I’ll never forget! xo

  • Reply
    August 31, 2017 at 7:01 am

    A very warm hug goes out to you Brenda. So much heartbreak for you and your family, and yet you can make the rest of us so uplifted with your stories and fabulous advice. I can relate to the small school situation. In my very small class as well there were 2 of us named Diane. We were seated apart, and just pointed at mostly, you know those long pointers. Anyway, have a great day with your best memories, and thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 8:30 pm

      Oh gosh, Diane! Those long pointers! Oh, I remember them. You’re bringing back memories!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2017 at 7:04 am

    Touched my heart and brought back memories of my life in Hastings Your Dad was the best looking boy in school in my day. We moved to Washington when I was eight.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 8:29 pm

      Wow, Marlys. Isn’t it funny how much that little town molded us? I talked to Dad tonight. Gosh, what a dear he is. I love the idea of him as the the best looking boy in school! I wonder if he ever knew it. xo

  • Reply
    Katherine Cramer
    August 31, 2017 at 8:38 am

    Brenda Dear, you’ve opened my flood gates this morning. Ah well, it was time for a cry and missing Mom. Happy Birthday Brenda’s Mom. I imagine that you love your flowers and that you have somehow connected with my Mom and others who take delight in heavenly fashion discussions…
    How does Barbie, Charles, budding sexuality and a reveal of Dale Carnegie’s early influence–all say so much about Brenda Kinsel? They make a lovely beauty bundle. Thank you for a visit to Hastings, ND where I cried, chuckled, sighed and was filled with the beauty of observation and acceptance. Wonderful post! Keep writing and thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 8:28 pm

      Oh Katherine, I love the way you looked at that story as a Beauty Bundle! Oh indeed! I loved sharing Hastings with you! As always, appreciate your encouragement!

  • Reply
    Sandra Sallin
    August 31, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Happy birthday mom! Love your down home stories.

  • Reply
    September 1, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    THIS WAS JUST A BEAUTIFUL READ…………………………SO SORRY for your losses.
    Every day is a GIFT and we must RUN with it!!!!

    • Reply
      September 5, 2017 at 10:54 am

      Indeed, my love!

  • Reply
    Trinnie Q
    September 17, 2017 at 3:45 am

    oh my goodness, even though this post was back in AUgust, I just wanted to say how beautiful it was, so warm and sad, but lovely! I remember when my mum made a special train cake for my twin and my 7 th birthday !!!! The excitement and anticipation wow !!! No Barbies though, as My Dad thought they were too flouncy and silly ?? My poor twin , who was much more girly, was heartbroken ! Funny the things you remember. Anyway, sending love from Oz.

    • Reply
      September 23, 2017 at 9:49 am

      Wow, Trinnie! What a fun memory you just shared with me. So creative our mothers were! Bless them!

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