Joanne Palmer: Victory at birthday rehab |

Joanne Palmer: Victory at birthday rehab

Hello, my name is Joanne Palmer, and I have a problem with birthdays. Yes, today is my birthday, and I have been admitted into an AARP-sponsored Birthday Rehab program. To keep the paparazzi at bay, I am in an undisclosed location. Yes, there was an intervention, and yes, I put up quite a fight, but after they locked me up, I discovered I got a thick terrycloth robe and three meals a day.

Yippee, I don’t have to cook.

After a few sessions of group therapy, I stood up and admitted this: I am powerless against birthdays, and my life has become unmanageable.

Thank goodness, step one is behind me. Birthdays come along whether I want them to or not. The past year has been, well, not so great. I just lost a job. My financial life is a little shaky, and my beloved mother no longer recognizes me. And then along comes a birthday, and I find myself in rehab, of all places. I wonder if they allow birthday candles in a place like this? OK, on to step two.

Step No. 2. Come to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Somebody better restore me to sanity, because clearly I can’t do it myself. Perhaps a truckload of Reese’s would help.

Wow, what a difference a few Reese’s make. I am so energized, the director said I’m a quick study and lets me skip step No. 3 and fast-forward to step No. 4.

Step No. 4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Birthdays in my family were fantastic. All family members, including our Boston bull terrier, Polly, singing “Happy Birthday,” awakened me. Polly sang only one song. Whenever she heard “happy birthday,” she threw her head back and howled along. After school, my mother invited all my friends over for her signature angel food cake with canned milk chocolate frosting. My mother hid money inside the cake. She neatly wrapped quarters, dimes and nickels in aluminum foil. No pennies. For an extra special birthday, she inserted a JFK half-dollar. After the cake cooled and right before she frosted it she made a dozen small slits all around the cake and deftly inserted the wrapped coins. She spread the frosting in swirls, soundlessly dipping her skinny rubber spatula into the can and applying the frosting with a flick of her wrist. We knew money was hidden inside the cake, but we never discussed it.

After the candles were blown out, wishes made, my mother produced the cake knife with a dramatic flourish. The only sound in the room was the tip of the knife hitting the glass cake platter. As she sliced, we listened intently for the sound of the knife striking the foil. It sounded like a sharp scratch. I learned early on not to give up hope until that piece of cake was centered on my place mat. Because sometimes that coin — twinkling like a star in its aluminum wrapping — would be right in the center of the angel food cake.

Steps No. 5 to 12: Because of my advanced age and the threat of me expiring before birthday rehab is over, the director tried to push me further along on an accelerated course. There was some poppycock about making amends to the big birthday candle in the sky, and I refused.

I flunked.

I packed my bags and left.

To give up on birthdays is to give up on life itself. Life is too hard, especially now, and we need every excuse to celebrate. There’s always a sparkle, there’s always hope and there’s always a wish before the candle is blown out.

I am ready to celebrate.

Let the birthdaying begin!

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