Teri Orr: Finally learning to embrace a Valentine’s Day birthday
In Park City seasonality — this is the time between times. The holidays start with Thanksgiving and then the ski season begins and Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year’s are upon us and then Sundance comes to town, which is part holiday and part circus. And international ski races are thrown in and then, then we arrive on the seasonal midway point with the big red X…
Growing up I was taught everyone celebrated my birthday — all the red decorations in the drug stores and the markets and in the department stores to buy pretty things — was all because it was my birthday. Of course about the time I learned my mother was Santa (and the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny) I also learned weeks later — other people celebrated Feb. 14 and it had nothing at all to with my birthday.
My confusion was understandable — my parents’ best friends didn’t take down their Christmas tree until Feb. 14 and it was A Big Celebration. I was told the celebration was all for me. The friends hung their tree upside from the ceiling in their living room and decorated it that way. On Feb. 14 The Tree Came Down. There would be a procession from our house to theirs, blocks away. In hindsight, I think there were adult beverages aplenty — it was the ’50s and folks made up their own amusement with drinks that all had funny names like Grasshoppers and BeeStings. Think “Mad Men” era and you will have it spot on. Post-war sexuality and prosperity relative to the previous “war years.” And yes, that makes me officially, statistically, a Boomer.
With a holiday birthday — as you folks born on Christmas or St. Paddy’s Day or the Fourth of July know equally — everyone well-intended wants to give you a clever gift related to the holiday. I have all the coffee mugs and scarves and underwear and sheets and bras and socks — oh lord the socks! and a few pairs of earrings, that anyone would ever use/wear in a lifetime.
Because the universe works in strange ways I gave birth to one child hours away from St. Patrick’s Day and another child hours away from the Fourth of July. My mother — who still did not understand the holiday birthday anxiety thing — called my first child “Baby Shamrock” all of my pregnancy. She sent green bibs and socks and tiny blankets. When I went to my last check-up on March 15, the doctor said I was due … any day. I had just turned 20 years old. I was about to be a very young mother. He told me I had been a model patient in my complicated risky pregnancy. I broke down in a puddle and he asked me what was wrong. I told him — in fairly hysterical terms — I COULD NOT have this baby on a holiday. I knew exactly how confusing it was. I think I recited all the red-hearted gifts of my life. As luck would have it — he had been born on Christmas. His mother had called him her “little Messiah.” He said he could make a case for inducing me. And so I sent my husband and my mother out to a leisurely dinner and by the time they returned to the Catholic hospital in Reno, I was already heading into the delivery room — still on March 15. There was no Baby Shamrock birth.
Two years later I was pregnant again, living at Lake Tahoe. These were still the days before we knew the sex of our children. Unless you believed the folks who held a needle on a long string over your belly and tried to hold it still … if it swung to the left you were carrying a boy and to the right — a girl. And we didn’t understand any danger relative to X-rays. I had started my pregnancy at 105 pounds and at six months along they X-rayed me to determine if I was carrying twins. I had gained 40 pounds. Nope, just one giant baby who was due … July 4. As the day approached and my mother bought little onesies in red, white and blue — Baby Firecracker! was the nickname she gave to the child I was carrying. Luckily, I had the same OB/GYN. And because you simply cannot make these things up in life — his name was Harry Huneycutt, with a degree from Duke. It was the ’70s, so we all were getting far more casual. “Harry” I remember saying, “you know I cannot have this child on the Fourth of July.” And he did know that. I was induced the day before. Baby Firecracker was successfully averted.
Of course it didn’t stop other folks from giving my children gifts that tied to their birthdays but they never got those gifts from me. Their birthdays were filled with themes from storybooks or expected stereotypical things — like princesses and teddy bears.
So when I enter a grocery store or drug store this time of year and the fake-satin-covered heart-shaped boxes of tasteless chocolates are on endless shelves, I avert my gaze. And seasonally speaking — Valentine’s rarely falls on a sunny day in the mountain towns I have lived in all my adult life. So this year I decided to embrace the day — I mean it is about time — in my long life — to start embracing those gifts we are given in life. No, I didn’t fill tiny dishes with chalky conversation hearts and place them around the house. But I did buy a bright red jacket I plan to wear with years-old red cowboy boots. If you look carefully at most annoying things in life there are ways to flip them and maybe even honor them. I am gonna own the RED this year, certainly on Friday, but also random Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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