# Lame B-Day

Today is my birthday.  As birthdays go, it hasn’t been in the top 5 all-time.  I’m in NYC, and my flight home has been repeatedly — and incrementally– delayed.  Every half hour or so my phone buzzes and another delay is announced, always with “apologies for the inconvenience.”  I’m now looking at a departure time that is more than three hours after the scheduled time, and I’m wondering whether the next announcement will be an outright cancellation.

All in all, it’s not the best way to celebrate a birthday.  Fortunately, birthdays don’t mean that much to me.

# Base 10 Birthday

Later this week I’ll celebrate another birthday.  It will be one of those “decade” birthdays, where the first digit in your age moves up a notch and the last digit in your age cycles to zero again.

Let’s face it:  decade birthdays are somewhat annoying.  Just because our culture long ago settled on a “base 10” number system — presumably because the ancient Egyptians realized that we’ve got ten fingers on our hands, and chose to build mathematics around the concept of ten as the path of least resistance — doesn’t mean there should be any special significance to celebrating a birthday when your new age divided by ten produces a whole number rather than a fraction.  It’s just another year added to the ledger, and the turn of the calendar page doesn’t mean you should feel or act any different.

And yet, everybody treats the “decade” birthdays as if they are some hugely significant milestones.  Sure, 13 and 18 and 21 have their own special elements, but the decade birthdays can actually define you as a person.  Suddenly you’re “in your twenties” or “in your thirties,” and people expect you to behave in a certain way.  And as those decades creep upward, the age-related expectations tend to become even more fixed.

So I’ve got another decade birthday coming up.  So what?  The decimal system doesn’t define me.  In fact, I’m going to pretend that we’ve got a base 8 culture and ignore it.

# UJ At 60

Today is my brother Jim’s birthday.  He’s now 60.  60!  It’s hard to believe.

60 probably isn’t quite the milestone that it used to be.   Some people — mostly, people who are about 60 — say that 60 is the new 40.  In UJ’s case, that’s actually pretty accurate.  He’s always had that trim, youthful look that causes people to underestimate his true age, and his hair is still, for the most part, as black as it has always been.  He doesn’t seem to have the wrinkles or creases that are the old age giveaways, either.  Even though he’s my older brother, he looks younger than I do, and that’s been true for a while.

Even if 60 is the new 40, though, 60 years is a long time.  UJ is part of my earliest memories.  We shared a bedroom in the first house I can remember living in.  We played together all the time, and when we moved from our modest home in Akron proper to the more wide-open suburbs of Bath, where we again shared a room, we were part of the same roving gang of boys that played football and built dams and forts and caught crayfish in the stream that ran through the woods near our house.  We went bowling and to Cleveland Indians Bat Day doubleheaders and on trips to Washington, D.C. and Ocean City, New Jersey and on Sunday drives to the Blue Hole in Castalia, Ohio with Grandma and Grandpa Neal.

We moved to Columbus, and finally we each got our own room.  Our paths began to veer away from each other in other ways, too.  We ran with different crowds in junior high and high school, and went to different colleges, but Jim came to some of our college parties and got to know Kish and my other college friends.  Our careers went in different directions, too, but the sense of connection is still there, and always will be.  When Kish and I moved back to Columbus, Jim and I decided to get season tickets to the Browns.  After Dad died Jim and I — well, mostly Jim — managed Mom’s finances.  Jim and Richard and Russell and I have taken trips together, to Hen Island and New Orleans and to amusement parks across the land, to get in a little Webner male bonding.

Even though we’ve spent countless hours together, I don’t remember ever getting into a fight with Jim, or even a significant argument.  We’ve disagreed about things from time to time, but he’s always been a good brother.

Now Jim is retired, and he hangs out at the pool at his condo with his friends like those in the picture above.  He likes to plays the slots at the Hollywood Casino from time to time, and enjoys an occasional drink made with Captain Morgan spiced rum, and there’s usually a toothpick in his mouth.  He seems to like his life, and I’m happy for him.  It’s just hard for me to believe that he’s 60.

Happy birthday, Jim!

# Mom’s Birthday

Today is Mom’s birthday, the first one since she left us almost a year ago.  She would have been 86 today.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year since Mom’s death, but time has a way of moving on.  We’ve all moved on, too, which is how Mom would have wanted it.  I think of her when one of her sayings or deliberate word choices suddenly pops into my head, or when I remember an incident from when the five little Webners were growing up.  It just demonstrates the many ways in which a mother can touch one of her children and leave a lasting imprint, and the memories are all good ones.

I’d rather think of Mom on her birthday than mark the day she died.  Birthdays are days to celebrate.  In the Webner household of days gone by, birthday were always celebrated with a light, airy angel food cake baked by Gramma Webner and ice cream.  The angel food cake never left the baking pan quite level on top, so when Gramma Webner iced the cake with her trademark frosting she would try to use extra frosting in the tilted down area to make the cake look perfectly level.  That meant one or two slices of the cake got more frosting than the rest.  As kids, we always hoped we would get one of the pieces with the extra icing.  Today, I’m hoping that Mom gets that special slice.

# Happy Birthday, UJ!

UJ celebrates another birthday today, which means that he is now officially a year old than me again.  The picture is of UJ and me on our recent trip to New Orleans.  We decided to take a picture at this Bourbon Street location because Lucky Pierre was Dad’s nickname.

# Happy Birthday, Richard!

Richard’s here to celebrate his birthday, which brings back a lot of memories.  Posting this classic birthday party photo from the early ’90s, with little kids galore, seems like a good way to celebrate the occasion.  Little kids know that a birthday is a big deal!

Richard is third from the left in the bottom row, with Russell in the striped shirt next to him.

# Once More Into The Same Age Interlude

As of today, for the next two months, I am the same age as my older brother. Of course, when I saw him this afternoon he taunted me about it, as brothers must. It’s an annual rite.

We were born 10 months apart, back in the ’50s during the Baby Boom, when hospitals were overloaded with newborns and every family was growing like crazy. He was the spindly one and I was the beefy porker. He was the well-behaved one who would pose politely for a photo with a smelly goat at a cheap petting zoo, and I was the Curly-lookalike who wrinkled my nose at the odor and wandered away as fast as I could waddle.

Having a brother so close in age has its good points and its bad points. The principal good point is that he went through everything right before I did, and if there were barriers to be broken he did the breaking so I could sail through clear. And, of course, we spent a lot of time together and both grew up cursed with loyalty to Cleveland sports teams, so I had someone to commiserate with when the inevitable sports disasters occurred. The principal bad point is that now virtually everyone thinks that I’m the older brother — and its not even a close question — while skinny, black-haired UJ is the youngster.

So it will be, again, until June 19 when UJ celebrates number 58. I’ll kid him about it when it happens, as brothers must.

# The Biggest Tree In The ‘Hood

When we moved to New Albany in 1996, we planted a small pine tree in our back yard.  At that time, our neighborhood was basically a bare expanse with some houses here and there, and the little conifer was part of an effort to add some texture and definition to our neck of North of Woods.

Every year since then, without fail, the little pine tree has grown a few feet.  Now it is a little tree no longer.  I’m not sure exactly how tall it has grown — 40 feet?  50 feet? — but it is the tallest tree in the ‘hood, and towers over our back yard.  It’s hard to believe it once was little, but time has a way of having that kind of effect on things.

It works with birthdays, too — you remember the little sapling, and the next thing you know it is fully developed, mature, and holding its own in the forest of life.

# 83

Happy Birthday was sung with gusto, JT’s pizza and chicken wings were gobbled, white cake with white frosting was consumed, birthday presents were opened, Andrew struck his album cover pose, and a good time was had by all.  Happy birthday, Mom!

# A Birthday, And A New Beginning

On March 20, 1930, Agnes Catherine Neal, the matriarch of our Columbus Webner clan, made her squalling debut into the world in Akron, Ohio.  Today, she celebrates her 83rd birthday — and also a new chapter in a long life well lived.

The last year has not been easy for her.  Several months ago, Mom had a severe stroke.  Fortunately, my sister was present when it happened, recognized that a stroke was occurring, and got Mom to the hospital for immediate care and treatment.  Still, the stroke had devastating consequences, leaving Mom’s left side weak and non-responsive.

Since she left the hospital, Mom has been in a rehabilitation facility, following that winding road to recovery that is different for every person who must follow it.  She has worked to reacquire the trunk, leg, and arm strength to sit upright, pivot, put her feet on the floor, and get out of bed, to use a walker, and to do what most of us do without a second thought.  She has made real and encouraging progress, and we will keep following that winding road to see where it leads us.

Earlier this week, Mom moved into a new place where she can live more independently but with plenty of people nearby to help her when she needs it.  It’s a snug little spot that fits her well.  She’s back in her favorite chair, surrounded by her furniture, her family photographs, and other comforts of home.  This afternoon we all will gather there, to sing Happy Birthday and eat some pizza and cake and mark the occasion.

Happy birthday, Mom!  We love you, and we’re proud of you!

# Big Bro B-Day

Today is the birthday of my big brother, UJ.  Born in ’56, he turns 56 today, so there is a certain symmetry to the occasion.

Some of you may wonder how UJ celebrates his birthdays.  After all, how do you properly commemorate a special day like a birthday when you already seem to spend much of your time tanned and shirtless in some exotic warm weather location, gambling and getting kissed on the cheek by a woman in a bikini — and occasionally holding some form of shellfish with your head apparently framed by a halo, besides?

I don’t quite know how to answer that question.  All I can do is wish my big brother a very happy birthday, and invite the other loyal readers of the Webner House blog to join me in conveying heartfelt natal day wishes.

# Hitting The Double-Nickel

Today I turn 55.  I’ve reached the mid-point of my sixth decade on the planet.  As Dad would have said, it beats the alternative.

55 is not a bad number.  It’s a speed limit, sure, but other than that it’s a number I’ve always liked.  It’s a good round number that looks good on a sign.  It has the benefit of alliteration and fricatives. It’s fun to say.

It’s the number Russell wore when he played high school football, and I enjoyed watching number 55 out on the gridiron for the Vikings, making his blocks and leading runners downfield.

It’s also the number that features prominently in Ol’ 55, a song written by Tom Waits that, as performed by the Eagles, is one of my favorites.  And, in fact, the lyrics to that tune are apt today:

Well, my time went so quickly
I went lickety-splitly out to my ol’ fifty-five
As I pulled away slowly, feeling so holy
God knows I was feeling alive

# Who Wrote Happy Birthday?

Spring is the time of birthdays in the Webner family.  Today is the birthday of one very special person, and Happy Birthday will be sung with gusto.

Everyone knows Happy Birthday and has sung it hundreds of times — for family members, schoolmates, co-workers, and friends — but who wrote it?

The melody for Happy Birthday comes from the children’s song Good Morning to All, written in 1893 by American sisters Patty and Mildred Hill.  Patty was a school principal in Kentucky, and the song was designed to be sung by schoolchildren.  The lyrics were:  “Good morning to you, Good morning to you, Good morning, dear Children, Good Morning to All.”  It’s easy to imagine a classroom of rambunctious turn-of-the-century kids singing that song at the start of the school day.

At some point lost in the mists of time — but probably not too long after Good Morning to All was first sung — someone substituted the familiar lyrics of Happy Birthday.  The combination of lyrics and melody apparently first appeared in print in 1912.  Happy Birthday was copyrighted more than two decades later, in 1935.  The validity of its copyright has been the subject of legal commentary and even a mention in the dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court case Eldred v. Ashcroft, but the copyright issue has caused filmmakers whose movies include a birthday scene to either pay a royalty or substitute For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow instead.

Most people consider Happy Birthday to be the best known and most frequently sung song in the world.  It’s fun to belt out, too.