On turning thirty
Thirty Ain’t Old
(Word count - 1783)
There are probably worse ways to be awakened in the morning than by a blast of “Copa Cabana”, but at that moment I couldn’t think of any. That’s how the morning of my thirtieth birthday began. It was clear and pleasant on that Sunday morning. The golden tones of Barry Manilow rudely gave notice it was time for me to get up and prepare to go to work.
My work at that time was being the pastor of a small Southern Baptist Church in rural Oklahoma. My duties on that morning were to make appearances in a half-dozen Sunday school classes, deliver a Sunday morning message, return in the evening and watch over, what Southern Baptists have labeled as Training Union, and finally deliver an evening message. That was the workload I typically practiced on my” days of rest” in 1978.
I hit the floor running. Having showered, shaved, and groomed, I prepared to make my way to the church to begin business. However, I did not leave the house without first inhaling the breakfast prepared for me by my wife.
“Good morning, Hon,” Linda greeted as I entered the kitchen and sat at the table, which was already laden with eggs, bacon, toast, and jelly.
“Mornin’,” was all I could muster.
“Happy birthday, Hon.”
Linda placed a colorful card in my empty breakfast plate. I smiled. This was the first acknowledgement of my birth for this day. I returned her smile.
“Thank you,” I mumbled.
I was pleased the first person to whom I spoke on that day remembered my birthday. However, Linda always remembers my birthday. I opened the card. Written in playful script was some clever author thought was a very cute saying:
“Happy birthday on this special day.
And just remember what I say,
that thirty ain’t so old, ya see…
No, not at all if you’re a tree!”
“Cute,” I responded back, “just remember your birthday will be here in just four months.” We smiled at each other and finished eating our breakfast. I heard noise coming from the boys' bedroom and knew they would be stirring shortly as they began to prepare for Sunday services. I would be gone before they arrived at the table for their breakfast. But, I was sure, that had I stayed, they would be wishing Daddy, “Happy birthday.” I was content to know they would have their opportunity later. I kissed my wife and made my way to the church. I would be the first one there, as always, and my workday would begin.
I wonder how long it will be before someone from my congregation acknowledges the Pastor’s birthday, I mused to myself. There is ample opportunity for folks to be aware of my birthday. I wonder if they will do anything special.
I walked into the church building and was immediately greeted by the custodian, Elmer Pinkston.
“Good morning, Pastor.” Elmer smiled broadly at me. “This is a very special day; is it not?”
“Why yes, Elmer. It is a very special day. I’m surprised that you remembered it.”
I was pleased that my custodian, a man well into his seventies, was observant enough to remember my birthday.
I can always count on Elmer. He’s so thoughtful, I confirmed to myself.
Elmer’s eyebrow rose slightly and he responded, “No need to be surprised, Pastor. The Pinkston family reunion is always on the last day of September. In fact, this will be the first time my sister Edna will be attending since 1960. Yes, this is a very special day. She’ll be in church this morning. I’m counting on an extra special sermon from you, Pastor.”
I smiled at Elmer. I also chided myself for jumping to conclusions. “I will do the best I can; and I hope you have an eventful reunion with your sister.”
I retreated to my study, with my pride being slightly bruised. The day is young. There are others in the church that constantly keep up with birthdays and announce them with tremendous pleasure as they surprise the birthday member. I will need to act appropriately surprised.
I could hear activity outside my study door. People were greeting each other, and children were running in the halls. Elmer began pulling the ropes which rang the old historic bell in the bell-tower, as the first activity of the morning commenced. Members assembled in their respective Bible study classes for Sunday school, and I made my way to the Adult 5 Class, which was attended by senior couples over sixty-five years of age.
“Welcome, Pastor, we’re glad you’re here.” Jim Kinder motioned me into the classroom. “We can’t do this without you. We want to recognize a special birthday today.”
I must remember to be appropriately surprised.
Jim continued, “John Cole will be celebrating his 100th birthday on Monday. Sixty of those birthdays were celebrated right here in the First Baptist Church.”
John Cole indeed was a special person. At 100 years of age, he still walked down the aisle to his seat each Sunday morning. With the aid of two canes he took his place at the second-from-the-front pew, where he had a cushion permanently saving his place. Visitors and members alike steered clear of moving that cushion. He was truly a living legend in the church.
I was not going to trespass on that moment, even though I yearned for the members to say, “Happy birthday to you too, Pastor.”
Feeling a little neglected, I proceeded with my schedule and successfully negotiated my way through the morning message. As the members said their good-byes at the doorway, I shook hands and made small talk as they exited.
Elmer’s sister, Edith Mays, shook my hand and proclaimed, “That was a fine sermon, Preacher. Someday you’re gonna make a right fine preacher.”
“Thank you Ms. Mays. I appreciate that,” I responded, uncertain if I had been complemented or patronized.
I overheard several members striking up invitations to meet for lunch. I waited for an invitation which did not come. Sometimes having the pastor present can be a little inhibiting. With the last member walking to their car, I walked to my mine alone. Linda and the boys had left earlier and were already home. So far, the only recognition of my birthday was a card from Linda which compared me to a tree. I was definitely feeling neglected and forgotten.
Upon arriving home, I walked into the living room and noticed my wife was on the telephone. She motioned to me to come to her and cupped her hand over the phone, “You’re dad’s on the phone. He wants to talk to you.”
Well, I guess now I’ll finally get my second recognition of the day. It’s about time.
“Hi, Dad,” I began expectantly as I took the phone from Linda. “How’s your day?”
“It’s going great. I can’t talk long. Your mom and I are packing the car to go see your grandmother. I wanted to call you before we left town.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you, Dad. How long are you going to be gone?”
“We’ll be back before the weekend. I was wondering if you would kinda check in on the house. You know, make sure it doesn’t burn down or anything. We’d feel better if someone kept an eye on it. Could you do that for us?”
“Sure, Dad, I’d be happy to do that. Is there anything else?" Surely they haven’t forgotten.
“No, I guess that’s it for now. We’re kinda rushed. Thanks for watching the house and we’ll call just as soon as we get back into town. Bye now.”
And, with that the conversation was over. My hurt feelings were perceived easily by Linda. Ten years of marriage results in some degree of ESP between partners. And besides, my brave front was transparent to her.
“They’re just busy Dan. They’ll feel awful when they realize they forgot your birthday.”
Good, they ought to, I thought; however I responded, “I know. It’s not a big deal. I’ve had birthdays before and this one is just like the others.”
Linda gave me a look that said, “Yeah, sure.” But, she said nothing. She simply smiled and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
“The boys and I are going to stay home this evening, if it’s OK with you.”
I responded, “No problem, Hon. It doesn’t appear to be a very memorable day anyway.”
I passed the afternoon waiting for phone calls from folks to wish me a happy birthday. I concealed my expectations with piddling activity around the house, while peaking my attention at every telephone call from a solicitor; car-pool member; or one of the boys’ playmates. Finally, it was time to head to the church for my evening duties.
The evening services were a repetition of the morning, as far as recognition of my birthday was concerned. As usual, the experience was spiritually rewarding and uplifting. And, had I not been smarting from my bruised ego and ruptured feelings, I would have been in a relatively jovial mood for the remainder of the evening. But, my feelings were hurt and my ego was bruised. Even a pastor feels sorry for himself sometimes, and I was proof of that.
I opened the front door to the parsonage resigned to the fact my milestone of thirty birthdays would pass into history uncelebrated and unnoticed—just another day without great significance. The foyer and the living room were dark. Usually the family gathered there after Sunday services to unwind on some inane television program. However, on that particular evening the living room was vacant.
I noticed a light on in the dining room. I made my way in that direction.
“Linda?…Noel?…Chad? Where are you guys?”
As I walked into our little dinning room, there sat my loving family at the table. Blazing before them was a homemade birthday cake alight with candles.
“Happy birthday, Daddy,” chimed Noel and Chad in unison. Linda beamed at me.
It was a beautiful sight. Linda had worked all afternoon planning the little event, baking, and decorating the cake. Wedged into her afternoon was “activity time” with the boys, a necessary effort required to construct the homemade birthday cards, which were colored with fingerpaint and adorned with glitter. Our funds were limited during that time in our life, and there was no extra cash for presents. But Linda had adorned the table with God’s greatest gifts to me: her and the boys. I ate some cake; read the cards out loud; and totally forgot the disappointment of the day.