Happy Birthday To Me by
(35 Stories)

Prompted By Special Birthdays

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Happy birthday to me, next Friday.

I’m scheduled to turn 74, an age beyond my comprehension when I was a kid, an age for doddering old folks, who shuffle and drool, and take their teeth out at night, and emit icky body smells.  “I am a million years away from that,” I thought. “Beyond a million years, because I am young, and that old person is old, and there is no connecting path between us.”

I guess I was wrong.

Somehow, by some trick of time, genes and mirrors, a whole truckload of years snuck up on me from behind, or actually from the future, and infiltrated.  “Let me go.  Let me go back to being young.”

“Sorry, Jonny.  Now that you’re old you can see the inevitability of all this, which you couldn’t  see when you were young.  You are on the brink of your birthday, an annual landmark on your one-way trip to the end of the road.  Let’s party!”

In my opinion, despite the joy of singing the birthday song with my grandchildren, my new birthdays are not so great.

And my old birthdays weren’t so great either.  I remember with particular aversion my 16th birthday, celebrated by the family I was born into, Mom, Dad, and three sisters who occupied the middle bench of the station wagon, while Mom and Dad occupied the front bench which did not have room for a third person because my father shortly before the trip had installed a big and clumsy after-market air conditioner that filled the space from the dashboard to the bench where a third person might have sat, leaving me to sit in the way-back seat facing backwards, as we auto-trekked across these great United States via Interstate 70 (en route to Tucson Arizona), ending the big mileage day of my birthday at a family-style restaurant in Green River, Utah (2020 population 793, on decline from 2010 population of 952, famous for its annual Melon Days Festival, in the middle of nowhere then and now).

In my great unhappiness and boredom with this hapless trip, locked like a prisoner in that third seat, with no one talking to me except my mother because my father was not a talker, and my sisters had their own members-only club, and mom didn’t have too much engaging conversation in her either, I sat and stewed and wanted out.

“Enough is enough,” I said.  I released from the restaurant booth and made a break for it into the night.  I don’t know how the outside space would have looked in daylight, but I recall it as a desert, with crusty sand, cactus, boulders, the whole desert motif. Google Maps seems to support my recollection.

After a while they sent my youngest sister to track me down.  The thought just crossed my mind that it would have been nice if Dad could have figured out how to be useful on this one, but that’s just the sour grapes talking.

My youngest sister found me easily enough, in the penumbra of the restaurant neon, atop a modest boulder. Where was I supposed to go?  How was I supposed to get there?  She duly reported to me that they all were waiting for me to return before eating my birthday cake.

I held out for a while (I recall that the others couldn’t take it, and dug into my birthday cake without me; but that’s probably apocryphal).  Then I slunked back in, my tail dragging, eyes red from crying, and prepared for the next ten hour day on the road, in the wayback, listening to the whir of the tires.

I will end on an upbeat. My 30th birthday party.  My wife threw a great party, in our apartment in Brighton.  Old and new friends, food and drink, camaraderie, a beautiful birthday cake decorated with all the interests of my life (like the Red Sox).  The only negative that I can recall was that we ordered ten pounds too much of potato salad, but even that was happily resolved when my new boss stepped up to the plate and proclaimed that he loved potato salad, and took the leftovers with him.

“Enough is enough,” I said.  I released from the restaurant booth and made a break for it...
Profile photo of jonathancanter jonathancanter
Here is what I said about myself on the back page of my 2020 humor/drama/politico novel "The Debutante (and the Bomb Factory)" (edited here, for clarity):

"Jonathan Canter Is a retIred attorney; widower; devoted father and grandfather (sounds like my obit); lifelong resident of Greater Boston; graduate of Harvard College (where he was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon); fan of waves and wolves; sporadic writer of dry and sometimes dark humor (see "Lucky Leonardo" (Sourcebooks, 2004), funny to the edge of tears); gamesman (see "A Crapshooter’s Companion"(2019), existential thriller and life manual); and part-time student of various ephemeral things."

The Deb and Lucky are available on Amazon. The Crapshooter is available by request to the author in exchange for a dinner invitation.

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Marian says:

    Ah, aging and birthdays, Jon … In this era of COVID, we are the elderly, like it or not. But yikes, what a horrid 16th birthday, a combination of angst and boredom. I am relieved that your 30th was a lot more fun.

    • My sweet 16th. Ugh. But I suppose that there are few roads without bumps in them, often big potholes, occasionally a sinkhole. So we learn from the obstacles, one hopes. I am looking forward to my 74th, and to singing the birthday song with my grandchildren, and I’m hoping I’ll get some good presents 🎁.

  2. Jon, certainly not how a red-blooded 16 year-old kid would choose to spend his birthday.
    But at 16 I remember running away a few times too – and also not too far.

  3. Dave Ventre says:

    Great story, except that I am not sure that “too much potato salad” is actually possible.

    • Yes, I think your analysis re potato salad if very astute, although in some cases such as this one, truth is stranger than fiction and we did have extra and the guy did take it. I do sort of regret all that potato salad just walking out my door without remembering who brought it to the dance.

  4. Suzy says:

    Beautifully written, but such a sad story about your 16th birthday. My heart aches for your teenage self, stuck in the wayback of the station wagon and ignored by your sisters and father. Thank goodness for your 30th birthday, half a lifetime later, even with the too much potato salad.

    I know what you mean about turning an age beyond your comprehension when you were a kid. Hope you have a happy day on Friday despite the number.

    • Suzy,
      Thank you for liking the writing, and the story. My 16th birthday just slept quietly in the back of my memory bin until the prompt woke it up, and it started raging. That was one tough trip to Tucson, via Green River. As to my 30th, I was glad the excess potato salad found a good home.

  5. Ah, birthdays. Can’t live with them and certainly won’t be living without them. Thank you for sharing your story with this fellow searcher for a “good” birthday. I enjoyed it.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I totally get your feelings about birthdays going forward, even when surrounded by grandkids that you love to pieces. You (or I) also know they are thinking you are incredibly old. I remember the way-back on those big, old station wagons. I don’t remember which of our kids drew your seating assignment, but I do remember traveling with another family with a combined 5 kids when my husband and sat there. It was terrifying.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    Ah, Jon, I keep saying that I’m “middle-aged”, but my husband corrects me, since I’ve been on Medicare for several years now. I guess it depends on our outlook. Age creeps up on us, that’s for sure! My brother turned 74 last February and he is still vital, working as a college professor and truly beloved by students, current and former. So there’s hope!

    Your 16th sounds truly awful (as described to us with great writing; I can visualize the whole scene). I offer sympathy, even after all these years. How ghastly to be in the way-back for that long ride and have only the road-house meal as a celebration. No wonder you “ran away”. Better to contemplate your future on that boulder.

    Your 30th sounds like much more fun; we all love potato salad and I’m thrilled that the excess made a good doggie bag for a true lover!

    • Yes, definitely a happy ending for the potato salad (assuming the guy ate it in a timely fashion and it didn’t languor in the back of his fridge until it became…less of a treat).
      As to “age,” it comes and goes, like the sun.

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    You did a masterful job at capturing the kid’s view of old people, and the 16th birthday from hell. Great writing. Fortunately “it gets better”, at least up to a point. May you have many happy birthdays to come.

    • Khati,
      Thank you for liking the story (including its angst, and including its childhood perspective on time and aging. And thank you for your birthday wishes, including your prediction that it gets better.

  9. John Shutkin says:

    Great story of the ups and downs of birthdays, Jon. Sorry that the upcoming one is likely a downer but, as is constantly pointed out to us similarly-aged types, it’s still better than the alternative.

    As to the birthday on your family vacation, I think the concept of “sweet sixteen” is/was an oxymoron for many of us angst-ridden teens. Though the one unmistakeable benefit to that birthday is that you can get your driver’s license soon after (it was six weeks in Connecticut, and I had it figured out down to the day) and then not be confined to the back seat of the family car.

  10. Susan Bennet says:

    Happy Birthday to you (today). I hope it has been wonderful.

    A heartwarming and funny story at the same time. I would bet that everyone here has a hilarious story about a “retro” family car trip. What did Neil Diamond sing? “Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone go!” Because of your story I can revisited a c. 1961 station wagon packed with three kids, one big dog, one grandmother, one bird in a cage, lotsa luggage and parents in the front. We remember because it WAS all so absurd, like your car seat situation. Ah, the good old (birth)days.

    Thanks for another great story.

    • Susan, I am glad you liked my story, and thank you for your birthday wishes. I had a rolling birthday celebration, running from Friday the 17th thru Sunday the 19th (a co-celebration w Father’s Day, w my son and his family and a giant birthday 🎂 cake). Your station wagon ride sounds more uncomfortable than mine, which is sort of like a Guinness World Record competition for most uncomfortable station wagon ride.

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