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Last week I became a septuagenarian. That appears as if I've joined a religious cult or a dramatic arts society, but it was just another birthday that quietly crossed into my seventh decade.

I spent the evening quarantine binge-watching "Bosch" whodunit installments on Amazon Prime while enjoying a pint ... of birthday cake ice cream, a peace-filled prescriptive. Any folderol on birthdays for me faded as children arrived. My calendar pages fleetly flipped by as in a classic film noir time passage segue while the kids took precedence. As it should be.

I shut off the TV. Silence. Words of poet Maya Angelou eased into my mind.

"Listen to yourself and in that quietude, you might hear the voice of God."

In my experience, quietude can become nostalgia that may cross the thin divide into downright melancholy. I chose the latter and listened for the voice of God. He spoke, in a sense, as some happier times, and others bittersweet, arose from birthdays of my youth.

The earliest memory of a birthday was my fifth, with a cake (made from scratch, of course, the only way Evelyn Talley knew how to bake) topped with frothy seven-minute frosting, a thing among mid-century modern homemakers and one Mother had mastered. Plastic cowboys and Indians raced around a bonfire of five candles. Present day, if candles matched my years, the bonfire would be no metaphor. The politically incorrect, plastic cowboy scene surely arose from too much Davy Crockett and Roy Rogers on WDSU, the only New Orleans TV station strong enough to reach us in our woods. In fact, back then it was the ONLY station in New Orleans. Yeah, I'm that old.

My favorite program was not an oat-burner, though, but "Miss Frances' Ding Dong School" on NBC each morning after the Today Show and before the soap operas. My pre-school education, 30 minutes at a time, was top notch: Host Frances Horwich held a Ph.D. in education from Northwestern University. Thusly, fully prepared was I to compete with the "city" kids in elementary school when we moved into town a few years later. And millennials think distance learning is a new thing.

By my 13th birthday I had found my footing in school, community, church and little theater in the only hometown I ever knew, Covington, La. I played the kid brother in Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness" in a converted barn in a pine forest outside town. As O'Neill plays go, it is a family sitcom compared to the darkness of, say, "Long Day's Journey into Night." But the older brother in the play briefly visited a bar where prostitutes plied their trade. My Baptist deacon father had an issue with that scene, but then, one of the whores was played by my sixth-grade English teacher. This was my eclectic hometown populated with farmers, merchants, geologists, artists and novelists. Opening night was my first evening as a teenager. Mother surprised us backstage with a cake. Still in make-up and costume, the cast (all adults save me) offered a boisterous chorus of "Happy Birthday" and toasts with Old Crow and Dixie Beer. Maybe Daddy's concerns were justified.

Senior prom night coincided with my 18th birthday. Before I departed to pick up my date, my parents gave me a gold Gruen 17-jewel wrist watch, a real grown-up timepiece and a cool accessory to my tuxedo. And they allowed me Mother's humongous Oldsmobile for the milestone dance, a fitting end to high school days, as if captured by Marty Robbins or Don McLean lyrics, though my waistcoat was cerulean-blue, not white with a pink carnation. Nor was there a pick-up truck.

During college, my 20th birthday was overshadowed by the Kent State University massacre. Sorrow and disbelief ran across campuses as news spread of four Vietnam War protesters killed by Ohio National guardsmen. We wondered how could the grown-ups have done this to us? That's why many boomers lack patience with millennials demanding campus safe zones for protection from bothersome speech. Some perspective: In 1970 we needed protection from bullets and tear gas, not off-putting ideas.

My parents lived to their early 90s. Each had a parent living mere weeks shy of one-hundred. With these genes, I may be here for many more birthdays. So, youngsters, I promise not to yell "Snowflakes, get off my lawn!" if you won't dismiss me with an "Ok, boomer" eye roll.

For now, I'll imagine future birthdays over my leftover birthday cake ice cream -- a perfect accompaniment for quietude and putting aside the past.

Commentary on 05/14/2020

Print Headline: A quiet birthday

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