On May 27th, my late husband would have been 94. Automatically, I sang “Happy Birthday” to him and just as reflexively I included the tag line, “And Many More.”
Does it make sense to sing “And Many More” to someone who is deceased? I laughed at the irony. What does that mean? Do I want him to continue being dead?
My parents always made a big deal out of birthdays. I remember a children’s radio show called, “Uncle Whoa Bill.” Without my knowledge, my parents sent Whoa Bill a message that he read over the radio. “If Norine Shapiro looks inside the washing machine, she will find her birthday present.” Thrilled, I ran to the back porch and excitedly opened the washing machine lid to discover my gift.
I tried to pass along the tradition of fussing over our children’s birthdays, but that didn’t always work out successfully. When Mark turned four, I made arrangements to take him and his nursery school pals to visit the television show, “Chuck-o, the Clown.” When Chuck-o popped into the room with his brightly painted face and flaming orange wig, a startled Mark burst into tears.
When Andrea wanted a “Pink Party” for her fourth birthday, I complied by asking her girlfriends to wear pink and in the dining room filled with pink balloons, I served pink cream cheese sandwiches. One of her bossy girlfriends asked, “Is that all we’re having for lunch?” When I responded, “Yes,” she called her mother to complain and requested that Mom immediately pick her up. Mom turned her down, yet her daughter’s reaction threw the proverbial wet blanket on the festivities.
When Amy was 12, she wanted to celebrate her birthday with a slumber party. We agreed and her girlfriends came over. We ordered a variety of pizzas for dinner and didn’t sleep much during the night because of all the giggling. We fed them breakfast in the morning and after all Amy’s friends had left, I asked, “Did you have fun?” Emphatically, she reported, “It was a dud!”
However, I had great success a few decades ago while still living in Los Angeles. Harihar Rao, the creator of the Music Circle, an organization dedicated to bringing classical musicians from India to Southern California, called me with a request. At the 75th birthday concert to honor internationally renowned sitar player, Ravi Shankar, would I lead the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to him?
While secretly thinking of Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday song to JFK, I excitedly answered, “Yes!”
At intermission, Ravi was on stage with his fellow musicians, family and me. I stepped forward to the mike and led the audience of several hundred in singing, “Happy Birthday.” Everyone applauded and his devotees then ascended the stage and kissed the bare feet of their musical guru.
Later, an Indian man approached me with a compliment. “You did that very well.” I thanked him and then explained, “I’ve been practicing for years.” He didn’t see the humor of that remark, and I wasn’t about to explain it.
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who loves birthday celebrations and in spite of, or because of the irony will continue to sing “And Many More,” to her deceased husband and parents.