My 43rd Birthday Party

July 21, 2003

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    Forty-three. It's not really a special number.

     As far as birthdays go, it's about as un-special as it gets, and doesn't seem to warrant any type of celebration. During the weeks preceding my 43rd birthday, I thought about whether or not I wanted a party, but I didn't make any plans.

     In the Trachtengruppe - the folk dancing group I belong to - there's a tradition of inviting everyone to your home for an 'open house' party. Some are invitations to drop by anytime during the day to drink coffee, eat cakes and wish a happy birthday to the special person. Some are spaghetti dinners that go late into the night - or the next morning. I had thought about doing something like that for my 43rd, the first birthday I was celebrating where I was part of the group and actually in Oberwil. Because we had been gone for so long in Asia and because I hadn't actually been to dance on Wednesday evenings for a long time, I thought it would seem more like I was saying, "Hey! Remember me? I'm still a part of the group and I want you to come and bring me gifts." I decided that wasn't a good idea.

     The afternoon before my birthday, Herbert and I were on a hike along the river with our friends Elisabeth and Fredu. It was so unbearably hot that we were barely even talking to each other. We just trudged along in silence, heading towards a make-shift bar on the river that Fredu wanted to show us. He wasn't exactly sure where it was, which made for a long walk and gave me a lot of time to think. I tried to picture the next day and what my birthday would be like.

     A little voice in the back of my mind told me that it had better be special. I tried to respond to that voice by rationalizing that I’d be 43, not really an age that required balloons, cakes, candles, or any other type of silliness. It’s not that I felt ‘old’ at 43. On the contrary, I’m very proud of may age. Some women get stuck on 29 or 39 and never claim to be any older. Not me. When asked my age, I normally start giving the next year’s age long before I’m even half way there. The ‘silliness’ I thought the little voice was talking about was the need to feel special.

     As a child, my parents made a big deal out of our birthdays. It was one of the few times during the year where we received new clothes or toys. We always got to pick what we wanted to have for dinner that night and there was always a cake and singing. We truly felt special. But at 42 and a matter of hours away from 43, I was mature enough and wise enough to know that I alone make myself feel special. I shouldn’t need anyone else to do that for me.

     But the little voice won. I kicked a small rock along the dusty path and turned to Herbert. “I want a party tomorrow,” I told him. “For my birthday.” Being the sweet, accommodating man that he is, he agreed – with the restriction that I keep it small, no more than 15-16 people. We decided to have a barbeque and that evening, we quickly invited 16 people.

     The next day was hectic. We had lunch at Herbert’s parents house, about an hour away and did our grocery shopping on the way home. We had decided to have a crab-cheese dip as an appetizer, a salad buffet, rosemary oven potatoes and a variety of meat that everyone could choose from to grill. We had pork chops, sausages, assorted hot dogs and Fredu and Elisabeth had offered to bring ostrich filets. When everyone arrived, we hadn’t even set up the tables in the backyard. Typical for Oberwil, people pitched in and helped.

     One of the things that impressed me the most about the evening was that everyone we invited came. Back in Minnesota, it seemed like you could never get people to commit to any event, and when they did, they didn’t necessarily show up. Throughout the evening, I had phone calls from the States and told each person about how my birthday was reminding me of what a friendly place I was living in.

     Later in the evening, I had to call my mom back. I wanted her to hear René playing his Schwizerörgili - the Swiss accordion.  I had asked him to play as a gift to me and he did.

     The only thing I missed on my birthday was a birthday cake. I had learned on my 41st birthday, my first in Oberwil, that cakes are not necessarily associated with birthdays in Switzerland. I had baked my own that year. This year, I hadn’t had time. Herbert put out a platter of assorted cheese and bread as a dessert. A few people asked where the cake was, because they had come to know that I like to bake, especially those ‘American kind of cakes’. I wanted to compensate them somehow. Then I remembered the Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies I had bought from my niece Emma the previous Spring. I hadn’t thought about them since unpacking them from the package my sister had sent. I ran down to the cellar and grabbed two boxes. I didn’t try to stick any candles on top of them, but felt they were closer to a birthday desert than cheese.

     The party lasted until one in the morning and we heard later that week that people on the other side of the village could hear us and René’s Music.

     It turned out to be a wonderful birthday and I went to sleep feeling very special.


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1 - Herbert, trying to finish the preparations.   2 - The party in the backyard.   3 - Elisabeth, Mädi, and Regina at the table that ended up being all women. It's the table I sat at when I wasn't running around.
4 - The 'other' table. Americans may notice the all the wine and beer, more common in Switzerland than soda and, in my opinion, more fun.   5 - Fredu making up his plate.   6 - Food on the grill.

7 - René and his Schwizerörgili .


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