|Steve Elders, who wasn't born on Valentine's Day, but on 2/22/58|
Happy birthday today to Stephen Paul Elders, who showed up a little late for the birthday party I had planned all those years ago.
“I like very much people telling me about their childhood, but they’ll have to be quick or else I’ll be telling them about mine.” --Dylan Thomas
We both expected our daughter to be born on Valentine’s Day. The obstetrician always had pinpointed the due date in mid-February, so we had no reason not to believe that our little girl would grow up celebrating her birthday on the most romantic of all holidays.
In 1958, long before ultrasound and amniocentesis, my husband, Bob, and I had no guaranteed way to determine our child’s sex. Nonetheless, we blissfully absorbed all the Old Wives’ Tales. At my shower, the wedding ring suspended over my bump swung back and forth rather than in circles, a surefire indication, my girlfriends swore, that we could expect a girl. And because I carried high, Grandma Simmons already had knitted two pairs of pink booties. So though we didn’t entirely rule out spending future Saturdays trudging to Little League games, privately we believed we’d be traipsing instead to ballet recitals and doll exhibitions.
As the big day approached, we settled on a name, Wendy, but just in case, chose Stephen as a backup.
“When Wendy’s five, she can have her kindergarten friends over after school for Valentine games and treats,” Bob offered. My eyes lit up, envisioning heart-shaped balloons and cakes.
Then another picture entered my mind. “Uh, but what if we’re wrong? What if it’s Stephen? Won’t he be embarrassed about a Valentine’s birthday?”
Bob and I gawked at each other. In our cozy fantasy land, we hadn’t even considered that possibility.
He frowned. “Hmmm. Well, at least we’re in Long Beach, California. We could always celebrate at Marineland or Knott’s Berry Farm.” I sighed. My heart was set on tea parties, lace doilies and red
By early February my hospital bag was packed and ready to go, including a paperback copy of Dylan Thomas’ Quite Early One Morning. I’d planned to read those essays and stories during my three-day stay at St. Mary’s.
On February 14 I lolled in the maple rocking chair near the front window, waiting for the labor pains to commence. When Bob came home from work he handed me a pair of cuddly teddies. “One for you and one for Wendy,” he said.
But by midnight I finally accepted that Wendy wouldn’t be blowing out her birthday candles on a heart-shaped cake.
The next few days I dragged around the house, curiously downhearted. I’d slip into the nursery and try to admire how I’d decorated it with Disney cutouts arranged on pale lemon walls. Now, though, when I stared at the crib, I no longer could picture my rosy-cheeked little girl grabbing for the wooly farm animals on the mobile sent by Grandpa Crawford.
Then one midnight, shortly after Bob and I had retired, a pain cut through my lower back and I knew my time finally had arrived. We hustled to the hospital where I remained in labor for the next ten hours before delivering our son, Stephen.
That was the first surprise. The second came when a nurse carried in my lunch tray. Bob, who was seated by my bed, smiled approvingly at a slab of cherry pie topped by an American flag.
“Look,” he said, holding it up for my benefit. I eyed the pie blearily, and then redirected my gaze to the pillow-case-wrapped baby asleep in my arms.
“You go ahead and eat it, honey,” I said. “I’m not very hungry.”
“Don’t you get it?” he asked, plucking up a paper napkin and dangling it in front of my face. It carried a red, white and blue drawing of George Washington. “Stephen’s going to share his birthday with the father of our country. A real manly day to celebrate.”
For the next couple of days I dozed, fed the baby, and read Thomas’ lyrical praises of his childhood in Wales. I gave Grandma’s pink booties to my hospital roommate who had given birth to a girl, just as she’d anticipated. When we got home, I tucked the napkin and flag from the lunch tray into Steve’s baby book.
For the next several years, from Kindergarten to fifth grade, when Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law which switched George Washington’s birthday to the third Monday in February, Steve always had his birthday off from school. And Bob and I always took him and his best buddy, Kevin, to Disneyland to celebrate. Even after the holiday was changed, Steve got his trip to Disneyland on the closest Saturday.
A few years ago, at a memorial service for Bob, I reconnected with Kevin, Steve’s lucky pal. We stood and chatted a bit about the gang of kids who grew up together at Circle Gardens apartments.
“How fortunate that Steve had February 22 for his birthday,” Kevin remarked. “When we get together these days we reminisce a lot about all those wonderful trips to Disneyland back in the ‘60s. We’d liked the old World of Tomorrow and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and we used to get a kick out of riding the monorail.”
I smiled, charmed that at least two men I know, besides Dylan Thomas, have childhood memories worth sharing.
Now as his birthday nears once again, I wonder if Steve really prefers cherry pie to the Valentine-shaped chocolate birthday cakes I’d conjured up in my pre-natal days. I’ll have to ask him. I know that in honor of the man who shares his birthdate, I’ll get an honest answer…since he cannot tell a lie.
As for my mythical daughter, Wendy, she sometimes shows up in my dreams. In the words of another Dylan, she remains forever young…with rosy cheeks smeared with chocolate frosting.