When I was ten, I experienced my first surprise birthday party. Previously, a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and an appropriate number of candles, vanilla ice cream, and a present covered the occassion.
Since it was a surprise party, I expected nothing would change. My house was a good place for nothing ever changing, and there was no reason for me to suspect it would start the day I turned 10.
I'd smelled the cake baking all afternoon. No change there. We'd have dinner as usual at six o'clock. By seven everything would be cleaned up and plates and dishes would be set out for the goodies to come. Happy birthday would be sung and I'd smile, wanting to get a piece of that cake before things went down hill.
Except that was the day we had run out of milk. Well, I'd been living there for a long time and we'd never run out of milk before, but my father told me to go get in the car and I could run in to get a gallon for washing down the goodies. It sounded logical.
Off to the grocery, which took a surprisingly long time to reach. I took the money and went in for the milk, ready for my cake. We headed for home.
Upon arriving, I couldn't help but notice the cars. When I opened the front door, there was a big, "Happy Birthday." As if that wasn't enough, they sang the song.
There was Aunt Liz and Uncle Joe, Aunt Hope and Uncle Carson, Aunt Ann and Uncle Bob, none really being either aunts or uncles, but my family wasn't one to stick to convention.
I stood in the center of the floor, holding a gallon of Vitamin D Milk, and I smiled. I looked around to see if any of my cousins, not really cousins either, had accompanied their parents to my 10th birthday party, but no, just adults, and the center of attention, me.
It was the kind of thing I hated, but I smiled and let the adults do what adults did at a time like this. I was a kid and kids do whatever the adults say, and so I did that.
Next came present opening. I just wanted a piece of cake and some of the milk in my hand. Okay, so someone else got to hold the milk. It had to be getting warm.
The first couple of presents were predictable shirts. I was neutral on shirts and thanked the giver as happily as I could. This was the kind of scene I'd avoid if I could. I didn't enjoy the company of adults. It always ended badly, but something I enjoyed. My 10th birthday was turning out to be a real surprise.
Finally I got to the final gift and I could smell the cake. I ripped off the wrapping and found a bat and ball. It wasn't exactly a bat and ball. It was but it wasn't. There was this four foot long piece of cardboard that had been pressed inside a thick covering of plastic, and on the cardboard in the plastic was the bat and ball. I wondered who thought that up.
So much for cake and milk right away. This didn't look like any ordinary deal. I looked around to see if there were any tools lying about. A blow torch would have been good, but it was me, the plastic, the cardboard, and the ball and the bat.
I sat in the middle of the floor and tackled the one gift I didn't mind getting. It wasn't clothing. That was good.
This was no piece of cake. I grabbed, hung on, twisted, bit, and pulled in every direction. Everyone cheered me on and urged me to get the damn thing open so they could get their cake and eat it too, but it was like trying to push a big beach ball under the surface of the ocean.
I'd get one end partially loose and when I let go to grab the other end, the first end sprang back over the cardboard and the ball and bat imbedded in it. Finally the owner of the gift got down on the floor with me. I should have known this was going to end badly. Adults and I didn't mix well. My cousin Carol could have licked that sucker in a minute, but adults were useless as well as dangerous.
This kind of thing often ended with me getting yelled at for doing it wrong or for embarrassing my parents, because their kid was a dork. Getting laughed at was even worse. That led to me feeling stupid and I didn't need any help with that.
I realized it would go way faster if I let him have at it. Uncle Joe wrestled, pulled, yanked, and did all within his power, except bite it, and still we only had half the plastic off the cardboard.
Finally my father, having surveyed the operation, offered Uncle Joe a kitchen knife. This made me nervous, but finally, with a few artful slashes, the plastic dropped away from the cardboard. Now all that was between me and the bat and ball, and my ice cream and cake, was a few well placed huge copper staples.
The ball, being round, was a cinch. It popped out of the hole it had been sunk into with a quick jerk. Once again I was left to wrestle with a bat that wasn't about to come off that cardboard. It had been put there for a reason and I was starting to think it ought to stay there. A ball was fine without a bat.
So there I sit, failing badly to get the damn birthday present out of its container, and thus ending the ordeal, but the bat was not about to give up.
Uncle Joe, still sitting beside me, once more decides he is going to help. So while I'm holding the cardboard acting like I'm involved in the freeing of my baseball bat, I let him do the work.
Finally he manages to get the first bat staple out of the cardboard and when the second staple refused to give up, Uncle Joe had had enough. With one mighty tug he yanked the bat free.
He did manage to get the bat free of the cardboard and at the same time he K Oed the birthday boy. The lights dimmed and flashed on and off as stars came out in the living room where I landed on my back on the floor.
The knot over my left eye made me look a little like a boxer whose bout had gone badly. There was a lot of commotion, but there was cake to attend to, so my father had the perfect solution.
He said, 'Oh, he'll be fine," and he carried me up to my room, where I felt more like a dork than usual.
How does someone manage to get knocked out at their own birthday party. I couldn't do anything right.
As I laid there in the room in the dark, the celebration down stairs went on without me. There was laughter and I could hear the plates and glasses as everyone ate my ice cream and cake. I stayed put, having had enough of my first birthday party. It was a good thing I hadn't had one before. I might not have made it to ten.
Aunt Mildren, my mother's stepmother, don't try to figure it out. We called everyone aunt or uncle, except our aunts and uncles who we never saw, brought me a piece of cake and a glass of milk and sat with me while I ate it.
"The ice cream was all melted. I didn't think you would want it," she confessed.
"No, this is fine. Thank you," I said.
As she picked up my dirty dishes, and tucked me back into bed, after examining the lump on my forehead, she predicted I'd probably live.
Once she reached the door, she said, "Happy Birthday."
What a birthday!
It was my first and last birthday party. I never even cared about ice cream and cake after that. A lot of my friends have birthdays and birthday parties, but I've never had or wanted a second birthday party.
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