My mother arranged the party for me. It was my eleventh birthday and she’d invited a number of my friends over, via the mother to mother telegraph. She invited an equal number of boys and girls and they began to show up at noon, the time on the invitations sent out after the MTM telegraph had confirmed attendance. All of us were dressed up. The boys were wearing sport coats and ties and the girls wearing poofy party dresses with ribbons tied in a bow on their back. Hair was locked into neatness by handfuls of Brylcreme and clouds of hair spray. The guests each bore a gaily wrapped gift that my mom collected and stashed away for later when it was time for cake.
First came the magician. He spent time pulling nickels from ears and yanking yards of brightly colored hankies tied into a rope. He had a lady assistant who was apparently new because the magician had to keep telling her what to do …to the point that he spent more time doing that than tricks. His big finale was to make the girl disappear. She stepped into a box painted with crescent moons and shooting stars and the magician shouted abra cadabra! and opened the door to show the girl stepping out through a door in the back. He folded up his props quickly and left under the glowering stare of my mom.
We were herded into the sun room where my mom had hung blackout curtains to darken it. We sat there and watched cartoons running on an old projector . Then it was the moment I had been waiting for, time for cake and the presents my guests had brought me. Mom came into the back yard where two picnic tables had been set end to end. She carried a big cake with eleven sparklers sizzling away and set it on the table to be admired. It was a pretty cool cake. It had a drawing of a dog that looked similar to our french poodle and Happy Birthday written with a party hat atop the words.
We were all wilting from the August heat, and the neat spheres of ice cream that topped the carefully cut wedges of cake took little time to melt. The paper plates used to serve the cake and ice cream softened from the wetness of the ice cream and before long, most of our faces and Sunday best clothes made us look like waifs in a UNICEF ad. Virtually everything we touched bore the mark of contact from one or all of chocolate and vanilla ice cream and frosting.
We moved on to the presents and I was the recipient of 3 Scrabble games, four softballs, a paddle ball, a handkerchief, a rubber combat knife and two bags of little toy infantry soldiers. The guests all split up, going off to play scrabble and army, my mother volunteering to bring out a few of my little military toy vehicles. At the end of the day I had enough pieces to have one complete scrabble game, although all of the boards were stuck in the folded position, glued shut by ice cream and frosting. Only three of the fifty little soldiers could be found and even my little vehicles had disappeared. The paddle ball was missing the ball and had only a few inches of rubber band stuck to it. Oddly enough, no one thought to use the handkerchief which survived pristine. If only it hadn’t been pink, I might have considered it a plus.
You’d think that at the end of such a day I would be down in the dumps. The fact was, it was a fun day and I enjoyed myself tremendously. Looking back, I remember the horrified looks of mother who’d come to claim their seedlings and finding them and their finery sticky messes. Four of my male friends came down with poison oak, which provided a clue as to the location of the AWOL toy soldiers. Properly gloved, my father recovered them and my vehicles from their camouflaged outpost. Sadly, a jeep was missing a wheel that was never recovered.
Seeing my guests around in the days following the party brought lots of thanks from my friends; their parents having a different perspective. Somehow they determined that I was a bad influence who’d lured them with evil intent to stain their wearable finery. It all blew over, of course. That kind of stuff always does. It’s just part of what birthdays were all about in 1958.