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I have spent many years and, in fact, multiple decades keeping quiet about one thing: My February birthday. I have never been big on birthdays: No cakes, no candles, no singing except for the occasional Beatles rendition of “Birthday” in my head. I figured that if no one noticed the anniversary of my birth then I simply would not seem to get older. Just stay the yearly course, keep quiet in February, and age will go by silently, I reasoned. Regrettably, that pretense doesn’t work any longer.
Of course, family members, especially those older than me, know the specific date of my birthday, as they were alive when the glorious event happened. But outside of that circle, the date is mum except for temporary notices by people in pharmacies, credit companies, the payroll office, and liquor shops, as well as certain traffic police.
This birthday blackout began in second grade. It was then when our homeroom teacher instructed us to cut stars from yellow construction paper using our little, rounded-edge scissors and then print our names on them. She collected our stars and then stapled them individually to a huge bulletin board calendar in the appropriate square that marked each student’s birthday. I had problems with this. First, I would not cut-out a five-pointed star like the other kids because I knew that in reality stars were balls of fusion and hot gases shaped spherically by their own central gravity. When I gave the teacher a yellow circle with my name on it, she sent me back to my desk to make a five-pointed star like everyone else. This happened at least ten times. I even tried blue and red construction paper to convince her otherwise because, as all enlightened second graders knew, stars came in different colors like red dwarves and blue giants. But, I was stuck in the pre-Copernican world of that elementary school classroom, and by the time the recess bell sounded I hoped that my teacher had forgotten all about my astronomy antagonism.
No such luck. As I was weaving through the desks to leave the room, she stopped me and demanded a pointed star. However, I had developed a distraction protocol in advance in case this would happen. I had noticed that she had posted to the month of February stars with “George Washington” and “Abraham Lincoln” printed on them. These people were not in our homeroom, but they were nonetheless very famous. Enlightened kids knew that these were U.S. Presidents, and we knew that they were born in February because we had to use our crayons to color ditto reproductions of their faces in that month. And ditto papers smelled really good, so we remembered it well. As it turned out, pointed stars weren’t the only calendar problem.
“You forgot William Henry Harrison!” I told my teacher. Harrison was the President who served the fewest days in office, having died in 1841 only 31 days after inauguration. Though unfortunately overlooked for that reason, his birthday is also in February. I knew that starting a discussion on Harrison with my teacher like this would make me tardy for recess, which is the worst kind of tardiness there was because I would not get a seat on the merry-go-round. However, it successfully diffused the issue of pointing out my birthday with a pointed star.
And all this was fine with me because I could not possibly compete for birthday attention with those iconic pillars of American history stapled to the month of my birthday. And so my monogrammed, astronomically-correct construction paper star never appeared on the bulletin board, and my birthday went unnoticed amongst my peers. But, I must have made an impression somewhere to someone because in the very next year Congress passed the Uniform Mondays Holiday Act, combining Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays into a single Presidents Day every third Monday in February in honor of all U.S. Presidents, including Harrison. Thus, in addition to winning the spelling bee that year, I effectively became a Congressional lobbyist.
Yes, this all began in second grade. Back then, there was a book I had bought with my saved candy machine money. I ordered it off of the Scholastic Book sales insert that accompanied the “Weekly Reader” magazine. The book was the now-famous novel by Madeleine L’Engle, titled “A Wrinkle in Time,” in which the characters travel through space and time to rescue good and fight evil. How prophetic that I remember it now in February when the price counter of life flips another digit, when the merry-go-round squeals with rustiness, and when wrinkles due to time and space are in every mirror. At least, I can console myself knowing that without all those ignited birthday cake candles over the years I have reduced my carbon footprint, which is good for the environment. I hope that gains me points on Valentine’s Day. POV