People tease us February-born as underdeveloped or incomplete, having been delivered into the world on a month thought freakish, because it is short, as months go, by one day on a regular year and two on leap year.
For some reason, we Filipinos tend to focus on defects, and even remember people by them. Thus we give people names that stick—pandak, kalbo or kulot, payat or taba—we February-born are kulang-kulang, lacking a screw or two up there.
Growing up, I wasn’t bothered as much as being heckled by the song “Chichiritchit.” Besides, there were many brilliant and illustrious personages I had looked up co-celebrating February birthdays with me, so many they can compensate for the entire species. Just to name a few: Galileo, 15th; Charles Darwin, 12th; Thomas Edison, 11th; Gertrude Stein, 3rd; George Washington, 22nd; and, not to forget, my own husband Vergel, 18th (the same date as my dearest mom’s birthday). On my very own birthday, 7th, there’s the author of “Little House on the Prairie,” Laura Ingalls Wilder. That should allow us easily to let that kulang-kulang moniker slide, and not stick.
My first cousin Sylvia’s own birthday happens to fall a week before mine, on the last day of January. She didn’t quite make it to my month, but I don’t reverse-discriminate: In fact, it’s been a tradition with us to co-celebrate with other Aquarians at lunch with our dearest and closest common friends.
I had a bash of my own on my 75th, and I’m planning on doing something special again on my 80th. But my definition of special seems changing as I get older. I have a whole year to think about and plan it. I just hope I don’t lose all my marbles before then—at this age anything could change in an instant. Anyway, I will think positive and avoid falling and overeating and such other dangers aging poses.
This birthday year of mine I had several small lunches with different groups. The month is almost over and I’m not done yet. I had to miss the birthday group lunch of my friends from Maryknoll (where I went for grade school) because it fell on the same day as the one with my college buddies from St. Theresa’s (where I went for high school, too). Lunches with separate groups are more intimate, but, having lived so long, I have become friends with the world, and there are not enough days in short February.
For feng shui reasons, the Chinese don’t like to include number 9 in the count of birthdays. They also skip 4 (their number for death), the way we do 13. By that tradition, I would be 80 now. They live by feng shui for good health, good luck, and prosperity. But I’m not so sure I’d take heed on the 9 in 79. For some reason, of my own, I happen to love those particular years on the edge—19, 29, 39, 49, 59, etc. I don’t remember why, but I didn’t have a debut, but celebrated the following year, on my 19th.
It was my mom who started me off celebrating every birthday I can remember. Perhaps that’s why so many of my old classmates, to this day, remember the date. My dad had his own misgivings about celebrating children’s early birthdays, when they themselves cannot yet enjoy it. He vaguely thought it was a root cause of feelings of entitlement.
When Mom started the same tradition for my brother, born five years after me, Dad asked, “What are we celebrating—his birth? How do we know if that’s something to celebrate? Let’s wait until he grows up a little more, perhaps after graduating from grade school, at least.”
Dad never carried a child inside him for nine months. We moms celebrate birthdays the way dads would never understand. But, when it came to celebrating accomplishments, anniversaries, and milestones, Dad spared no expense; he sent me to Spain after high school.
More than about the mere passing of years, birthdays have become a grand occasion for celebrating life in general, and the preciousness of family and friends. Appreciation for them seems to increase with the years. It’s a fact that lunching with girlfriends, bonding with daughters and sons, even babysitting grandchildren, add years to our lives.
Another thing I celebrate is the company of four uncles left out of the nine. One is celebrating his 97th this March, another his 99th in September. The two youngest are so close to my age I don’t call them Tito. Quitos is a text, e-mail, and Facebook mate; Ding, a painter, lives in Sydney and visits at least once a year, like now, which gives us an excuse for impromptu and informal family reunions.
A cousin, Butch, one of Lola’s five first grandchildren, is also in town. He and his wife, Zeny, have become another reason for feasting on just about every family comfort food. They’ve come to catch Ding’s show at Finale, on Pasong Tamo, now Chino Roces Avenue.
Ding’s exhibit, a rare one hereabouts, comprises 100 still lifes he painted between ages 15 and 86. And that’s not all, I’m looking forward to his next exhibit of portraits, landscapes and seascapes—he has done about three portraits of me!
Indeed, there’s so much of life to celebrate this month, and not just birthdays, but people in my life!