As soon as I awoke on my birthday, my wife, Won Kum, wished me an enthusiastic & heartfelt Happy Birthday! I admit to being less enthusiastic about my birthdays now than when I was a child or a young adult, but the alternative to growing older isn’t all that pleasant to contemplate about either. I acknowledge openly that If my wife, family and friends completely ignored my birthday by saying and doing nothing, I would be a man most miserable for some time. It is one thing to contemplate a distasteful event, and another thing for it to actually happen. “Talk is cheap,” as the old saying goes.
Fortunately, I have never missed a birthday celebration yet. Even in Vietnam’s dense jungle located in the Hue/Phu Bai area of I CORPS, my resourceful mother sent me a double-layer, German chocolate cake wrapped in aluminum foil and sealed in a cake tin. With it she sent a can of coconut-pecan frosting to top off a perfect birthday cake. It’s the one cake I always ask for if given the opportunity. I’ll never forget how much I enjoyed eating and sharing that cake with other Delta Grunts of the 1/502d, 101st Infantry Division (Airmobile). There I was, 10,000 miles from home, in the middle of a jungle eating German chocolate cake and celebrating my birthday. Love goes a long way.
We are all aware that we have literally one birthday, and that all the rest of our birthdays are anniversaries of our first & only birthday. I leaned that fact from my Aunt Connie, who is now a retired school teacher living in the State of Virginia. I am more than willing to accept the teaching of my Aunt Connie as 100% correct, but I choose the vernacular expression that I learned as a boy from my family: Happy Birthday!
By Korean counting we celebrated my 67th birthday. I will not try to educate anyone who is not already familiar with how Koreans count birthdays. As my mother always said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Since I am in South Korea, I will do as the Koreans do and claim to be 67-years-old. (I’ll be back later to finish this story. My wife has spoken and called me to breakfast).
Finishing the last of my fresh apple slices, I handed my plate to my wife standing at the sink. As usual she complained about me taking so long to eat. She pontificated loudly, “You do this everyday; I’ve washed all the dishes, and when I’m finished, you hand me another plate to wash.”
I responded, “I’m several feet away from you, and you don’t know I’ve not yet finished eating. How can that be? You speak as if your surprised when I’m right here several feet away from you chewing on the sliced apples you prepared for me. Don’t slice so many apples if you want me to finish sooner.”
It’s a game we play, and a game we’ve played for years. The best I can surmise is that she is letting me know how much she sacrifices for me & puts up with me. Furthermore, I believe she complains regularly to reinforce her script, or cognition, that the home is her domain to rule, and she proves it to herself and me by exercising regularly her right to criticize and supervise me whenever she finds an opportunity to do so. In some ways it’s a mother-child dialogue. I reminded her it was my birthday & I expected more tolerance on my special day.
Her last words to me were, “You talk to much.”
At 9:00 a.m. Seoul time I turned on the World Series game between the Yankees & Phillies. IPSN (Internet Protocol Sports Network) broadcasted the game for Mega Pass, my Internet provider for my TV & laptop computer. I’m not sure what my wife did during that time other than wash a load of clothes. I think she watched some of the game with me. At 11:00 a.m. she walked to Jay’s D ‘n’ B., where she is a part-time, short-order cook. The D stands for dogs, and the B for burgers. I continued to watch the game as the Yankee hitters blasted a couple of homers off the Phillies pitcher, Pedro Martinez. A.J. Burnett and the Yankee bullpen allowed the Phillies only 1-run in their 6-1 win. I couldn’t help but notice how lively Burnett’s baseball looked on TV as he cut loose his repertoire of pitches, so I figured it moved & jumped a whole lot more in real life as it approached the batter up to 95 mph. After the game I turned on my computer and goofed around until around 2:30 p.m. After turning off the computer, I went to the Smile Fitness Center for my workout & sauna. My energy level was low, but I had a good 1 1/2 hour workout.
Around 6:00 p.m. my wife’s two sisters, one brother-in-law, my wife and I met at a noodle restaurant close to our apartment for supper. For our main dish we chose a pot of Chinese (Korean) noodles added with bits of a small octopus, mushrooms, oysters, & clams; seasoned with onions & garlic; and boiled for about 5-minutes in a light anchovy broth on a gas burner at our table. Side orders consisted of mandu, cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi, & a special sauce for the mandu. For drinks Insam Makgeolli & water was served. We ate at a traditional Korean restaurant where one sits cross-legged on a floor cushion & eats from a small, floor table. In Korea it is customary for the birthday celebrant to pay for the supper and drinks of his guests as they are there at his/her invitation. I appreciated that fact, and followed the Korean custom without flattening my billfold too much, which fits my conservative nature to a tee. Some may be tempted to use the description tightwad to describe my budgetary proclivities.
Everyone enjoyed the meal, and we all retired to our small studio apartment for a game of Hwat’u. As the rest of the family played the traditional card game, I entertained myself on the Internet. After a time I turned off the computer and joined the others on the floor at the card game. Korean family members don’t mind other family member joining the card game as spectators, even if they give advice to one of the more inexperienced members of the game. I watched the action without giving any advice and listened to the jubilant sounds of victory made by those upon whom lady luck smiled, and I witnessed the groans of disappointment from those who lady luck frowned upon. Despite the fall of the cards, all laughed when a game member said something amusing or uttered a wise crack worthy of guffaws. The game ended when the time came; we said our goodbyes; and my wife and I prepared for bed.
I made it through one more year. I cannot say whether or not I’ll still be around next year; or what state of health I might be in, for it is all unknown & a mystery yet to be determined. It is much like the World Series, for the outcome between the Phillies and the Yankees cannot be determine until it is finished. Next year, If I am around & able, I plan to celebrate my birthday again with family & friends. Birthdays are not as exciting as they use to be when I was a pup, but they are still worth celebrating. Maybe next year at this time the St. Louis Cardinals will be in the World Series; & if so, my birthday celebration will be even more fun. Blogger: garland dale