Excitement was in the air! I could feel it. My birthday was Wednesday, but Mom said that everyone was coming to celebrate on Sunday. One more day; I couldn’t wait!
She wiped down the white metal cupboards in the kitchen, then sprinkled the porcelain sink with Old Dutch cleanser. “Can I help?” I asked. She handed me the dust rag from under the sink, and I headed for the living room. Normally, when I dusted I “hit the high spots,” but since it was for my birthday, I did a better job. I even moved the ceramic kitties off their doily and dusted under them. I was still working when Mom brought in the spray can of Pledge and her own rag. Guess she knew my work history. “I’ll just get the places you can’t reach.” She smiled as she worked, and five minutes later lemon clouds hovered over the piano and bookcase.
Once the house was spiffy, Mother stirred up the cake. I requested white with cooked brown sugar icing. As she worked she recited the menu for the next afternoon. Ham salad on homemade buns. Open-face Cheez Whiz on rye bread with olive slices on top. Jell-O with fruit cocktail. Glorified rice. Pickles. I felt pretty special, imagining a whole table of good food prepared just for my birthday.
At last Sunday afternoon arrived. Mom let me wear my pink print Easter dress, but only under the condition that I “take good care of it.” Visions of a royal birthday princess danced in my head. How could anything happen to my dress while I sat primly at the table, surrounded by my noble court?
An aunt and uncle and two of their boys arrived just after 2:00. The boys peeked in the door. Instantly, my brother and older sisters rounded up the bat, ball and gloves and followed the boys back outside. Uncle Oscar walked in, greeted Dad, and they strolled to the living room. Soon a farmer discussion of the need for rain and the price of corn drifted from the next room. Mom greeted Ida warmly. Then Ida leaned on the counter next to Mom, who swished soapy water over the last dishes. Laughter quickly followed as the two chatted away happily.
Mom changed into a clean apron, a purple gingham embellished with cross stitching along the bottom and pocket. At last, Aunt Ida turned away from the counter and spotted me sitting all alone. “Oh, I almost forgot. Happy birthday, DeAnn.”
Just then another vehicle rumbled into the driveway. Aunt Julia and Grandma soon joined us. Mom and Ida swooped in to greet them, and quickly, all the women gathered around the table, sharing events that had happened since their last visit, my uncle’s birthday two months earlier.
I sat at the corner of the table, feeling a bit left out. Julia must have noticed; she motioned for me to move my chair right next to her and rested her hand on my shoulder. “Things were different back when I was seven,” she smiled wistfully, and the conversation turned to my aunts’ growing-up memories. I became engrossed with their stories, and the afternoon flew by.
Mom and her sisters had similar-sounding laughs — giggles, actually. Julia recounted a story of an angry goose that chased Uncle Elmer through the yard and right up the porch steps. He quickly grabbed a broom to protect himself. The women got to laughing so hard at the image of their brother wielding a broom that their shoulders shook and tears streamed down their cheeks.
Still recovering from the giggle marathon, Grandma and the aunts worked together to get lunch on the table. Upon hearing the word “food,” the ball players hurried in, gulped down a glass of Kool Aid, grabbed a sandwich in each hand and headed back out for one more game. The adults filled plates and returned to favorite spots.
After enjoying two refills of coffee cups and slices of moist, caramel-topped cake, Grandma found her purse and produced a card with my name on it. Julia and Ida each set a small package in front of me. “Happy Birthday!”
For a time I had been so absorbed in the stories and laughter I had forgotten. I thanked each of them as I opened their gifts. A crisp dollar bill; a Little Golden Book, “The Pokey Little Puppy”; and a child-size handkerchief, edged with a delicate turquoise lace Julia had crocheted.
All too soon, the guests gathered their belongings and said their goodbyes. Aunt Julia called back as she opened the porch door. “Next month at my house.”
“I’ll bring the birthday cake,” Mom announced, already smiling in anticipation.
I won’t claim to any philosophical enlightenments at the age of seven about family gatherings. At that time I never thought about life on the farm. How families worked hard, stayed home and sometimes went for weeks without seeing anyone else. It has taken me fifty-some years and a dreadful pandemic to come to the profound realization. A birthday was a reason to get together. To laugh and remember. To share treasured time with loved ones.
It was about so much more than just a birthday.
DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, SD, the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow. She attended school at Erwin and De Smet. Married Vicar Robert Kruempel and lived in Benedict, ND, Toeterville, Akron, and Missouri Valley, IA. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan, IA and is employed as Children's Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of five books, "Promises to Keep," which are available at Amazon.com.