Birthdays are a funny thing.

Not as in ha, ha funny, but peculiar in the way some people view them.

Many don’t like birthdays.

“I’m not having any more,” an older woman said to me once.

I don’t get that kind of attitude.

As I see it, getting older is a privilege.

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That same woman didn’t want anyone to know her age and said she would never divulge it.

I, on the other hand, am proud to say I just turned 66.

“I’m lucky to be here,” I tell people.

Some don’t like getting presents, exclaiming they already have too much stuff.

I’m not ashamed to say I love them. The more, the better.

What’s more exciting than opening packages, all done up with pretty paper and ribbons, and finding surprises?

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When I was little, the youngest of seven, my mother made cakes on all our birthdays.

We didn’t get presents until we were older, like in high school. We didn’t expect them.

My mother was a tremendous baker and created everything from angel cakes to Boston cream pie, chocolate cake with boiled white frosting, orange sponge cake and vanilla cake with thick chocolate pudding. She also made the best strawberry shortcake ever — the likes of which I’ve never had since.

The candles were lit when the birthday girl or boy wasn’t looking, the lights were turned off, and many voices sang “Happy Birthday” in our best, learned church choir harmony.

The excitement was in the family gathering around and indulging in that sweet cake and ice cream.

When my siblings married and had children of their own, my mother continued to host birthdays, not only for the seven of us, but also for some two-dozen grandchildren. At times it seemed we were having parties every other week. Her delectable cakes, baked to order, were the main fare, but there were also gifts — lots of them because the family had grown so large.

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After my father died in 2010, Mom still hosted birthdays, though fewer of them as family members moved away.

When she died four years later, birthday celebrations stopped, leaving us with only memories of those animated gatherings.

We’ve tried, in some small ways, to continue the tradition.

During the worst of the pandemic, my three sisters and I celebrated our January, February and March birthdays sitting in my snowy back yard donning down coats and fleece blankets, giggling at the strangeness of it.

We celebrated two birthdays this year at my sister’s house with cake and ice cream, as well as espresso, coffee or cappuccino.

For my March birthday, homemade pizza and prosecco were the fare, followed by dark, dense chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting — my request — topped with tiny scoops of vanilla ice cream. I eagerly opened my gifts.

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Which is all to say, the joys of birthdays, for me at least, don’t diminish with age.

For more than two quick-paced hours, we shared stories of childhood, chatted about our ancestors and where they came from, perused old photographs and, most importantly, laughed a lot.

A birthday, to my mind, is a beautiful thing. Besides bestowing the tangible perks of sweet treats, gifts and good company, it marks passage into another year of life on this good earth.

And that is a reason to celebrate.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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