It seems like yesterday I was six years old, wearing a red sailor dress, feeling all grown up as my Grandmother handed me a serrated knife and told me I was old enough to cut my own angel food cake, with its powdered sugar glaze and hard candy letters.
I’m sure she didn’t just turn me lose with the knife. I know she said, “Be careful, now. It’s sharp.”
I vaguely remember her or my mother guiding my hand, telling me not to press too hard as I cut down through the spongy delicacy.
Today, as a reminder of that day, though my grandmother is no longer with us, the glass pedestal cake stand upon which the cake stood sits in my china cabinet, and the pan in which the cake was created is in my cupboard.
Really, though, I need no tangible reminders, so etched within me is the memory of that rite of passage.
A few years later – what seemed like eons then, but minutes now – I was eighteen. Somewhere, I’d seen a magnificent birthday cake that looked like a flower basket – multicolored pastel flowers on its top, frosting in a basket-weave pattern on its sides. I described it to my mother, told her I knew one of my older coworkers’ wives could create such a treasure, and – voila – come the eighteenth anniversary of my birth, the cake magically appeared.
That birthday, I celebrated with a party in my parent’s home – with lots of friends from high school and the neighborhood, including one who was born the same day in the same hospital, there to join in the fun. Along with the memory of the cake is the reminiscence of trying to keep a friend, a till-then teetotaler who arrived schnockered, out in the driveway, away from my parents’ eyes, pouring coffee down him in an attempt to sober him.
Today, pastel flowers like those that donned my coming-of-age cake adorn a bedroom in my home, the dainty multi-colored blooms still among my favorite patterns, a reminder of that special day.
There were other birthdays – and celebrations through the years – like my 21st, when I had my first legal taste of champagne, and my 40th, when my husband threw me a surprise party and gave me an original print by my favorite artist, who was then our neighbor.
There were the birthdays I’d rather forget, too – like the day I realized, “OMG (in the days before that was a term thrown lightly in emails, texts and on Facebook pages), I’m a QUARTER OF A CENTURY OLD!” or the day I turned 55, and the double nickel reminded me that I still had many unfilled wishes and unfulfilled goals, causing me to reinvent myself.
But, then, one day I woke up and I was 60 – and I ate cake for breakfast.
It wasn’t angel food, or a cake decorated to look like a basket of flowers. I reached into the freezer, pulled out the last of a four-pack of little chocolate cakes for those who count points.
Old enough, but still not tall enough, to reach the top shelf of the cupboard, I used a long-handled slotted spoon to retrieve a container of candles. Finding no “0” to go with the “6,” I chose instead the question mark, pushed it down into the chocolate, struck a match, touched its wick and looked for a minute at the flame.
Then. blowing every bit as hard as I did as a six-year-old or a new adult, I extinguished the fire, feeling this time not grown up, but six or eighteen – youthful, not old-aged – ready to live, laugh, be a child again, forever young at heart.
Sixty – it’s just a number. And, I’m kind of thinking I’m going to like it. Bring it on!