For my whole life, I’ve shared my birthday week with a family member. And not just any family member. My dad’s was May 31 and he loved his birthday. Every year it meant a full day of family and friends, beer and volleyball on the lawn. Sun, shorts, Styxx blasting through open windows, icy coolers packed with Rainier and my grandpa’s six-pack of “Oly” tucked safely in the fridge.
The party started just before noon. I remember the crunch of gravel every time a new car arrived. Ben and I would race out to see who it was, opening the doors for our guests like extremely small, extremely friendly valets. Family members, neighbors, co-workers, everyone bringing a pasta salad, a case of beer, maybe a present and already laughing and joking as they walked in the door.
Volleyball became a big party thing for us in the 80s. I’m not sure what inspired it but these games were legendary. Young and athletic, my parents, cousins and friends batted a beach ball over, under and through that net all day long. Time outs for drinks, a quick burger and of course cake, were expected. Sometimes, depending on how serious the competition was and how strong each team was playing, the kids got to join in too. But this wasn’t a casual thing. You had to pull your weight and if you missed too many balls or flung them off into the field or something, you’d easily be subbed out. No matter. The sidelines were full of action too. Cheering, booing, trash talking were just as important as the plays.
When it came time to cut the cake and sing the song, it was usually a joint dedication for us both, “happy birthday dear CharityandPat, happy birthday to you”. I’d get to sit with my dad and together blow out the candles.
I miss those parties and I miss my dad. But at least I have someone to share the birthday season with again. Phoebe’s birthday is May 31.