My “baby sister” was born in Caracas on the final day of the year 1956, embarassingly perfect timing that allowed our young parents an additional dependent tax deduction.
As great as that might have been for them, Susie has always had to share her day with New Year’s Eve at the worn out tail end of the Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays. By then, the idea of giving more, and getting more, seems unnecessary. I, on the other hand, landed in mid-November, during the lull between Halloween candy and harvest pumpkins when a wrapped present was a birthday novelty.
Lucky me. Poor Susie.
She was a happy addition to our family. I do look a little shell-shocked here, and swear I wasn’t really trying to do her in with this lollipop. Nonetheless, we celebrated her two first birthdays with Josefina leading us in Feliz Cumpleaños.
By Susie’s third birthday, everything was different: Instead of the eternal spring of Caracas, we had the damp darkness of Milan, and instead of our garden apartment we had just moved into an upper story apartment a short walk from Dad’s office. Dad had managed to get a couple of mattresses out of the moving crates but everything else was still packed away. Mom drew herself up, determined to find a workaround for what was otherwise a pretty sad occasion. She left Dad in charge of us in the empty apartment and went down to the corner pasticceria, returning with a bundle of tramezzini, small multilayered sandwiches wrapped in white waxy paper and special enough for Birthday Dinner. She pulled three candles out from her purse and Dad lit them. We sang Feliz Cumpleaños (in the language we had spoken with Fina barely two months before) and Susie blew her candles.
The next year, when we’d moved to Bologna, we traveled down the Italian boot to Sicily, where we celebrated Susie’s birthday in the shadow of Mount Etna. Candles weren’t the only things smoking.
Rome was home the next year, and both of us enrolled at the the Overseas School of Rome. Susie’s birthday became a little lonelier: while many kids celebrated their special day in their classroom with cupcakes or individual pizzas, school was not in session and families were away for the holidays, making any kind of party doubtful. Things were no better at the English School in Bogotá.
When we moved to DC in 1966, winter break was further complicated by the weather: even if friends were home, the snowy roads in the DC suburbs were too treacherous. Susie had an amazing group of friends, but often found herself sitting alone on the one day that was supposed to be all about her.
Our daughter enjoying the Spanish tradition on New Year’s 2018!
Madrid became home in 1971. That New Year’s Eve, we were emancipated teens in Puerta del Sol, popping 12 grapes into our mouths at the stroke of midnight. The tradition was made challenging by the copious amount of alcohol that the two of us — and our friends from had enjoyed by then. I’d planned on getting us all to our house by one for a belated birthday party for my kid sister. Instead, I stumbled home around three, fell into bed, and awoke with my first hangover. So much for Susie’s birthday.
School breaks became a good thing as time went by. We were both home from college to celebrate the holidays, including Susie’s birthday. When we veered off into our separate adult lives, I lost track of how well year-end celebrations melded with her big day, but she celebrated with a blowout dance party for her 50th. I was there, with bells on.
It is now a dozen years later. I called my sister on New Year’s Eve: she was in Colorado, looking forward to a cross-country skii that afternoon; I was in Florida, and had cross-country skiied in a warm pool that morning. I guess it all averages out. It was a Happy Birthday.