Kim’s grandfather died more than twenty years ago in his late nineties.
When his birthday rolls around we don’t say, “Grandpa would have been 120 today.”
We were lucky to have him as long as we did. We say, “today is Grandpa’s birthday.”
It’s interesting to me that we say “is” and not “was”. It is still his birthday.
We celebrate by remembering him and the things he used to say and do.
Up until almost the end he kept his garden, walked more than a mile to go grocery shopping, and walked that more than a mile home carrying his groceries.
Although he’d been in the US for more than eighty years, he still had a heavy Italian accent that made the way he pronounced his catch phrase, “What the hell” very distinct.
In a way we celebrate his birthday the way we celebrate the birthdays of Washington, Lincoln, and King.
We mark the date and we tell stories about the person who’s deceased.
Apparently it’s too complicated for many of us.
When I was a kid we knew that Lincoln’s birthday was February 12 and Washington’s was February 22.
In school we noted both of them but we got a day off for Washington’s.
While I was still in elementary school the celebration moved from Washington’s actual birthday to the third Monday in February. It was also rebranded to Presidents’ Day to celebrate the birthday of all presidents.
Like many things, when we make it more, we make it less.
Initially we were taught that Presidents’ Day celebrated Lincoln and Washington which made the stories we tell easy. Now we’re told that it commemorates the births of all presidents.
I couldn’t tell you when Jefferson or Adams were born.
I never think of them on their birthdays.
On the other hand, legend tells us that they both died on July 4 within hours of each other and so they are remembered on a day when we celebrate our country’s independence.
Even though Washington’s Birthday was officially moved, I still remember it each year on February 22.
Washington was my youngest daughter Elena’s favorite president. She may have grown out of that - she was only six.
Anyway, she died on Washington’s birthday.
This year she would have been twenty-three.
You’d think that would be the end of this essay. It probably should be - but it’s not.
Kim always called the month of February “our month of eating cookies”.
Each February Kim would spend the month thinking about Elena.
It’s not like we didn’t think about Elena all the time, but something was different about February.
In our house February had 31 days just like an ordinary month. It ran until Elena’s birthday on March 3.
I’ve continued that tradition. February, for me, is all about Elena.
August, however, is all about Kim.
A batch of dates
Yesterday was Kim and my twenty-ninth wedding anniversary.
I’m not sure why I still count - it’s like I want to make it to thirty though we didn’t make it to twenty-five.
Kim sucked at dates.
I chose our wedding date exactly a month before her birthday.
I chose 08/08 for goodness sakes - she should be able to remember that.
It took her years to remember it - or my birthday for that matter. My birthday was exactly three weeks after hers.
As I’ve noted before, my feelings weren’t hurt by this, but she did manage to remember the dog’s birthday every year.
The month between our wedding anniversary and Kim’s birthday is all about Kim for me.
It’s not like I don’t think about her all the time. I mention her here all the time.
I see her grandfather shrug and say with his heavy Italian accent, “What the hell.”
Kim’s grandfather died during that month. He died just before 9/11. I remember us thinking, if he had to go, better he didn’t live to see that.
And, of course, Kim died during that month. The sixth anniversary of her accident is coming up.
I don’t know why it matters that it’s the sixth. Maybe I’ll stop counting at ten.
Then her death.
Then her funeral.
Then her birthday.
In teaching we call this a “shit sandwich”. I’m sure that term is used in other fields.
You have a kid who is doing something wrong or is having some sort of problem in class so you sandwich that news in between two nice statements about the student.
“x is a pleasure to have in class. They do seem to have a pattern of not turning in assignments on time. When I do get a chance to see their work, the quality is quite good.”
“y is always willing to contribute to the in-class discussions. Unfortunately, their contributions are often inappropriate and are cruel to their class mates. Their work is consistently excellent and they could easily be a leader and a positive influence on the rest of the class.”
“z works harder than any student I’ve had in years. Sadly, they don’t seem to f’ing understand any aspect of what I am trying to teach. I wish I had a class filled with students as committed and motivated as your child.”
For me, the month from August 8 to September 8 is the ultimate shit sandwich.
Sandwiched between the happy memories of our wedding twenty-nine years ago and her birthday, is the day of the car accident and the day of her death.
“Kim was a pleasure to build a marriage and a family with. Sadly, her life was cut short by a selfish driver reaching for his phone. On her birthday we remember all of the ways she touched so many of us.”
Once more, this time perhaps you’ll put on your heaviest Italian accent and say it with me.
“What the hell.”
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 124. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe