Maybe it was my eighth birthday, perhaps seventh. My older brother and I were born on the same day in May, three years apart. Talk about precision. Always having to share a birthday party, a birthday cake, in particular, got old. Well, it was probably very old for Lucas all along, but second grade is the time I really came into consciousness about it. He was into mechanical things and I was into rainbows and unicorns. You can imagine that the cakes were always decorated with split personalities.
But it was this birthday that my mom decided we would separate, at least for the “kid party” as we called it (the family birthday party would always uphold the single cake tradition). She decided we would embrace a spring birthday with flourish. Having a tea party with petit-fours and freshly cut blooms as centerpieces at the ballpark pavilion around the corner. I didn’t know what petit fours were and definitely didn’t know how to spell the concept. But they sounded like something fancy, something fitting for my first independent birthday party.
My mom drove the station wagon, the one with wood panels on the outside, the mile from our house down Reservoir Road out into the country. She pulled over, and we got out. She brought scissors for us, always thinking ahead. And away we cut. And I cut with abandon, like a budding florist, excited to snip away at all the textures and colors that the early May prairie fields and the shaded, damp, adjacent woods had to offer.
The purple violets – our state flower, so petite and rich, with their elusive fragrance. The Jonquils and Daffodils, early risers, already heading out of the season, tagging in the black-eyed Susans that were the mainstays of later summer. Bluebells hidden in the understory of bushes. Buttercups that my grandpa taught me to eat, the delicate yellow buds no bigger than a pinky nail. “Down the hatch,” he’d say. “Like butter!”
Only later would l learn the names of the flowers that are unique to this part of the world:
False Soloman’s seal
Light blue Woodland phlox
Who even came up with these names, I wonder.
I’d like to say that all of those were in our bouquets, neatly arranged in my grandma’s old mason jars on the picnic tables.
But the only picture I have of that day resides in my mind, nestled in the file of the times I felt special, seen as an important individual in the family, my mother’s daughter, not trailing behind the others, barefoot and still in my nightgown, trying to catch up, get a word in, or get my big brothers’ attention to show them the violet that I found underneath the deck, working its way up through soil, too.