Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Astronaut Birthday Cake

At eight years old, my favorite sound was the school bell ringing at 3 P.M., which signaled the end of the school day!. Once outside the school, I would run to the corner and meet with my friends, my older Sister and her friends. We would begin our walk home in a large group, taking turns in exchanging the classroom happenings.

With each passing street the group shrunk in size as our friends went into their homes. The last two blocks was just my Sister and me. We always took a brief pause in our walk to check out the corner bakery and would marvel at the front window displaying the most sumptuous desserts,.

It was fifty years ago, yet the sight of this one particular cake is forever engraved in my mind. It was one week from my 8th birthday, “Look at that birthday cake!” I exclaimed to my Sister. The cake was a half dome, smothered with white icing and three astronauts planted on the top. “Oh man, my birthday is coming up and I hope I get that cake!” I said excitedly to my Sister. My Sister, had inherited the disciplinary side of my Mom replied, “Forget about it, it’s probably too expensive, Mommy can’t afford it and if you eat it, you’ll get fat!” I was pulled away from the window with my wishes falling to the concrete. My parents had recently divorced and even my small immature mind sensed the dire circumstances.

The week passed quickly and my birthday came. It was on a Sunday and my Mother took me and my two Sisters to a local amusement park where we spent the afternoon going on rides, eating cotton candy and laughing at the clowns that passed by. A neighbor had joined us for our Sunday dinner, my favorite, roast beef and mashed potatoes. The table was cleared, and as my Mom came out from kitchen, she dimmed the lights and started a chorus of “Happy Birthday to you”. She lowered her homemade birthday cake with nine burning candles. My eyes focused on the candles and the wish I was about make.

The ringing of the telephone interrupted our song. . “Oh honey, please hold on to that wish…I’ll be right back.” I stared at the brightly burning candles reminding myself they had to blown out with one breath. A few seconds had passed when our neighbor suggested that we check up on Mom, as those candles were making their decent into the cake. We walked into her room and could not believe what we were seeing.. My Mother slumped over in her chair, her face in her hands and sobbing. The phone dangled by its cord. Our neighbor picked up the phone, listened, then said “O.K., I’ll tell the children, I am very sorry, she’ll call you back.” The neighbor turned to us and said, “I’m sorry, but your Grandfather has just passed away.” My Sisters shrieked and began crying, I was too confused. I ran back to the cake with the candles burning, drew a deep breath and wished this wasn’t happening, that my Grandfather was still alive and my mother wasn’t crying.
I blew out the candles and ran back into the room to the haunting sobs. It was my turn to cry.

The neighbor escorted us out of the room and cleaned up the table while my sisters and I wept ourselves to sleep.

I woke the next morning and had hoped the night before was a bad dream, but one look at my Mom and I knew this was real. I was always proud that my Mom was a pretty lady, but on this morning, she was a stranger to me. Her face was drawn; the life had been pulled from it. She wore large sunglasses to cover her puffed eyes and her hair completely disheveled. I could not believe that grief and sadness could change the way a person looked. “I will be going to California for the funeral; Lottie will come and stay with you for the week that I am away. Please behave yourself, and listen to everything Lottie says.”

The week passed my young heart was heavy with sadness and despair for what my Mother was going through. I prayed that when she returned she would look like “mom” again.

Our neighbor took us to the airport to meet her. As soon as we spotted her exit, we charged at her, her face seemed to brighten, her eyes still covered by the sunglasses.
We piled into the backseat of the car and she in the front and told us about her trip, how Grandma and our Aunts and Uncles were doing. She asked how we managed during the week and we filled her in. She turned around to me and said, “I know how hard this must be for you, as the news came at the worst possible moment. When we get home give me the names of your friends, I’ll make out invitations, and next week we will have a make-up birthday party for you.” I didn’t understand how someone could have a birthday party on a day that wasn’t their birthday, but I accepted my Moms suggestion feeling that I would never be able to celebrate my birthday on that same day ever again.

The following Sunday arrived and my friends showed up. We played board games, spin the tail on the donkey, ate candy and made noise. My Mom served up some hot dogs and just as we finished eating, the lights went out and she began a chorus of “Happy Birthday to You”, I shut my eyes and prayed that phone would not ring. When I opened them the brightly light cake was positioned in front of me. It was the astronaut cake! “WOW” I exclaimed, “I can’t believe it!” My lungs felt lighter and took a huge gulp of air, made my wish and blew the candles out with a hurricane force wind!

I leaned forward and removed the three astronaut figures from the cake. I licked the icing off their boots and placed them next to my plate. My Mom cut the cake and gave me the largest piece saying that the birthday boy gets the bigger piece. I dug my fork in and scooped up a piece that was larger than my mouth and as I began to stuff it into my mouth I glanced over at my sister who was laughing at the sight. My eyes caught a glimpse of my mom, who was once again smiling and looking like her beautiful self. For the first time in what seemed a dark eternity, my world seemed right again.

A parent knows all too well how confusing this world can be to a child. Grief, disappointment and deceit enter without an introduction or warm up. We are too unprepared to deal with the event but are always left carrying the scars of it.
The sky had fallen on my head, and her sky had fallen on her, yet she had the inner strength to come lift mine first. On that day, with allowing a few friends to celebrate and an astronaut cake she was able to take hold of my hand and walk me through a terrifying pathway of life.

So I have learned, with the love of a parent, a child will be able to defy the gravity of life’s harsh realities.

Peace…Marc J

28 comments:

Ally Lifewithally said...

Marc thankyou for sharing such wonderful memories with us ~ Ally x

Myra said...

What a beautiful story! I felt like I was there with you. That love and compassion you were shown, has surely stayed with you throughout your life because it is in your words. Thank you for sharing a part of yourself!

MariesImages said...

Your mom seemed very special.
You were truly blessed.
Thank you for sharing your birthday memory~
Marie

jiggins said...

Marc- I am new to your blog, and quite happily I am now a follower. I read this passage and it really touched me.. I could see the child I was with every word you wrote and I could feel your every motion, even seeing what was going on in the scenario. Thank you fro sharing that - it was a truly special memory that I will take with me as well. See you on the next post!

Martha said...

Marc, it's so good to hear from you. This story was so beautiful. I lost my father two days after my youngest son's 3rd birthday - I know he held on for me - I guess even on their death bed, a parent puts his child and grandchildren first. Your story brought me to tears. I had to walk away from my computer for a bit when the astronaut cake was presented. You're stories are always the best, most heart-warming stories. Thank you for sharing with us.
Hugs, Martha

wildautumn said...

That was amazing, beautiful. Bless your Mom. I wish I could think of more words to say, but I have all these thoughts and memories going through my mind about my parents and children. Left me in tears. Have a good week. Karen

LYN said...

thanks for stopping by my blog..I am in Fl too...

Shadow said...

a time of sadness and of pain, dreams come true, you smile again. what a magical story....

Melissa said...

As always, I didn't read this piece, I experienced it. And having experienced it, it's very plain to see just what has made you the loving and wise man that you are. I will forever be grateful that I have have had the pleasure of knowing you. Write on, my friend, write on.

Hugs,
Melissa

Micky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ivory Rose said...

A wonderful memory you have shared with us. A great reinforcement to the phrase "life goes on". It doesn't skip a beat and even though we lose each other one by one along the way we never lose them in our hearts.

Joann said...

Oh Marc, that was SO beautiful!! I cried the whole time I was reading it!! It kind of reminded me of my own father's passing, we had the funeral the day after my son's middle school graduation ceremony. That was a very hard year for my son, he lost 5 very close souls that year, he was 15, and I was really worried about him. But he's a strong boy, just like you were. You had/have a wonderful mother!! Thanks for sharing that memory with us!!

Joann said...

Oh Marc, that was Beautiful, and I cried the whole time I was reading it!! It made me think about when my own father passed, we had the funeral the day after my son's middle school graduation ceremony. My son lost 5 very close people that year, and I was really worried about him, but he was a strong boy, just like you were. What a wonderful mother you had/have!! And I'm sure you were a wonderful son to her, too!!

~ L said...

Marc - This was written beautifully. So bittersweet. I'm at a loss for words. Such a sad story, but filled with love. Your mom's strength and love for you is obvious.

Linda S. Socha said...

I love the way you write and express. I could feel myself with you in that experience. Thank you for sharing it.

I am new to your blog. When you are out and about, please stop by and say hello.
Linda

Beckie said...

Good to see you still 'got it'! :) I have missed hearing from you lately, hope you are doing well! Wonderful memories albeit bittersweet!

Leon Basin said...

Thanks for sharing!!

FrankandMary said...

Bittersweet but beautiful.
~Mary

NAVAL LANGA said...

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I have read some of your posts and would like to revisit for more reading.

If you like reading short stories from an Indian writer, then a visit to my blogs would be an interesting one for you.

Naval Langa
SHORT STORIES by NAVAL LANGA
PAINTINGS GALLERIES

Another Interesting Blog
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Cathy said...

Such precise detail of memory, my gratitude in being brought along this journey through your past and a very particular time in your life. It may've shaped alot of your inner self, to see your Mother vulnerable, not in control of something that caused grief to be so obvious to a little boy. I have to think that in your incredibly distinct detailed memories, the astronaut cake and the lose of grandma meant more than anyone realized at the time, including the birthday boy himself who's now a man looking back with easy perspective. Wonderful story.

JOHNSWORLD08 said...

Marc Im new to your blog and really enjoy the way you re-live your memories and share them with us. Stop by my blog when you can. P.S. When is your birthday????

Joann said...

Hi Marc, It's time for another post!! We miss you!! Hope all is well!!

DB said...

A agree with Joann. It's time, past time, for another entry.

DB

Rebecca Anne said...

I hope you are well.
And just my humble opinion.........................................................................................................................................You should come BACK and write something for us (smile)

Harnett-Hargrove said...

Great, thoughtful words. Enjoyed the read. -Jayne

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, Marc!

Tom Bailey said...

What a great story! This is my first visit to your blog. I connected through shadow's blog.

This is a great story.

Kindest regards,
Tom Bailey

Melissa said...

Marc,

I think we need to hear from you....please?
Melissa