Read more journal entries in Andi’s Attic >>
May 26, 1887
Many people during the 1800s don’t celebrate birthdays. Just being alive is a celebration in itself. In fact, did you know that for many centuries after Christ, many Christians felt a “birthday” celebration was part of pagan worship? That finally blew over, and the Germans first invented the birthday cake in the late 1700s for “Kinderfest.” It’s just like the birthday cake Mother bakes for me. The only difference is the German kids had a candle on their cake for each year, plus an extra one for the hope of living ONE MORE YEAR. (Children died quite easily back then.) But still, a lot of my friends can’t afford the sugar and white flour to make those birthday cake. Usually only wealthy families can afford them. (By the way, the song, “Happy Birthday,” was not written until the early 1900s. So, nobody sang “happy birthday” to me until my 40th birthday in 1908.
My Sixth Birthday
May 26, 1874
Someone asked me a long time ago how my family celebrates my birthday. Well, it is never the same way on any given year. My family is very tricky! They like to surprise me! My best and biggest surprise was when I turned six years old. That was a very hard birthday for me. Father had been thrown from his horse and killed just a couple of months before during spring roundup. He’d been winking at me a lot before his accident, like he had a very special birthday surprise lined up.
“But Father!” I begged. “Please just give me a hint. Is it an animal? Something good to eat?” I sucked in my breath. “Do I get a locket like Melinda?” Father shook his head. “No locket until you are ten years old.” But he wouldn’t tell me anything else.
Then on May 26, the day I turned six, Chad ripped me from my bed and hauled me out to the barn. A foal had been born that night, and she was for me. Chad told me later that it was Father’s idea. He had timed the breeding of Snowflake so the foal would be born as close to my birthday as possible. It was a special surprise for Taffy to appear on my birthday! Knowing Father had planned my birthday so far ahead of time helped me wipe my tears away and enjoy my new foal.
My Ninth Birthday
May 26, 1877
When I turned nine I got a brand-new saddle for Taffy! I had been hoping for one, but I couldn’t see it anywhere! The lumpy packages on the breakfast table were a hoof pick, a bandana, a new set of reins and a bridle. Plus birthday waffles! Then I went outside and there was Taffy! She had a star-studded saddle on her back! I was so excited! Then Chad took me up into the foothills and showed me his old special spot, which he “gave” to me.
My Tenth Birthday
May 26, 1878
I was really worried when my tenth birthday was drawing near. I had been stuck in San Francisco because of a scarlet fever epidemic. Mother wanted me safe, and what was safer than going to be with Aunt Rebecca? I was sure I’d be stuck there. Aunt Rebecca wanted to plan a huge party, with my new friend Brody, who lived next door, and about a dozen other children of Aunt Rebecca’s high-placed friends. She couldn’t stop talking about it. I just wanted to cover my ears and run away.
So, you can imagine my joy and relief when Mitch appeared the day of the earthquake. (It was just a small one, they said.) He had recovered from scarlet fever and was in San Francisco to fetch me home. Aunt Rebecca was disappointed that I would rather go back to the ranch for my birthday than attend a highfalutin party she’d planned in my honor. Melinda stayed in the city to finish the school year, but she slipped a small package with a blue ribbon into my hand when we left. It was a fine silver bracelet, which I still have today.
The next day at breakfast, I sat down and didn’t see any presents. My heart gave a flip cuz I thought Mother and Justin had forgotten about it, what with scarlet fever and me coming home and all of that. But then I saw an envelope. A plain, boring-looking envelope with one word on it: ANDI. I opened it, and inside was a mystery clue as to where I could find a hidden treasure (present). Everybody tagged along while I went on my scavenger hunt. Each clue was a little gift, like a new brush for Taffy or–from Mitch–a new dime novel (yeah, the kind teachers don’t let you read because they think we kids shouldn’t read made-up stories).
From there, the clues went all over the house and barn. The last clue led to Taffy’s saddlebag, where Justin had hidden a real gold locket! On the back he had engraved the words, “May you grow in wisdom and God’s grace, little sister.” Inside were tiny pictures of Mother and Father. I squealed and threw my arms around Justin. Father had given Melinda her locket, and I was pretty sure there would be no locket for me since Father was in heaven and not here. It was right then that Justin really became my substitute father, sealed with that sweet gift.
My 12th Birthday
May 26, 1880
My most embarrassing birthday was the year I turned twelve. It had not been a very good spring. I’d gotten “up on my high horse” and felt that everybody was picking on me. When I overheard my family talking about sending me to Aunt Rebecca’s (horror of horrors!) to finish out the school year, I grabbed Taffy and took off. Very bad mistake. I lost Taffy (almost forever) and learned a hard lesson about appreciating my family. They are the best and very forgiving. I sure did not deserve a party a few weeks later. Normally, I don’t like parties, but my new friend Rosa was there, and Cory Blake and Jack Goodwin, and Maggie and Rachel, and everybody from Miss Hall’s class. Even that ol’ Johnny Wilson got invited. With my brothers there, Johnny stayed on his best behavior.
Mother asked the dressmaker to make me a new dress, and I looked like a young lady. Well, everything went well until it was time for the cake and punch. I was carrying my plate and a small punch glass with raspberry cordial across the room. Cory accidentally jiggled my elbow as I passed him, and . . . you guessed it. My cordial splashed down the front of my pink party dress then landed on the floor. I was so embarrassed that I dropped my cake. The glass plate shattered on the floor. You could have heard a pin drop. I wanted to flee to the barn, but I caught Justin’s eye, and he shook his head.
Then Melinda started playing the piano. She is really good at it, while I can only play “Chopsticks.” Everybody forgot about me, and the whole group of party-goers started asking Melinda for their favorite songs. Nila and Luisa cleaned up the mess, and I forgot to be embarrassed. It turned out to be a good birthday, after all.
My 15th Birthday
In Spanish California, this is the highly anticipated quinceañera, which in English means “fifteen years.” You can read about this special birthday here >> Anyway, I did not want anything fancy for that birthday, only to go along on a cattle drive. Yes, a cattle drive. Mother was gracious and let me have a party too, since I changed my mind about cattle drives after surviving the Carter Cattle Drive to Los Angeles. I very happily slipped into the quinceañera dress Melinda helped me pick out. The party was a lot of fun. Our Californio and Mexican ranch hands were overjoyed to hear that Senorita Andrea had at last come to her senses and wanted a proper celebration. Oh, the music! The dancing! Even a pinata for the dozens of children of our ranch hands and neighbors. It was a memorable day.
I’ve had many other happy birthdays, but two stand out, since they have to do with Riley.
My 16th Birthday
May 26, 1884 (but celebrated late)
When I turned 16, I believed my whole life had been shattered by the loss of Taffy. I nearly destroyed myself and my family. If it hadn’t been for Riley, I might have. When all had been made right, we arrived back at the ranch house just in time for a surprise birthday party. But that wasn’t the best part. When the party-goers had left, and I was tired, sore, and overwhelmed and just wanted a hot soak in the tub, Riley quietly handed me a sloppily wrapped flat package. Inside was the photograph of Riley (age 10) and me (age 8) just before he left the ranch. Standing behind us were Taffy and Midnight. I had given Riley that picture to remember me by, and now he was returning it. I think that is the first time I realized I loved him more than just as a friend.
My 18th Birthday
May 26, 1886
The other memorable birthday was the May just a month before Riley and I married. He gave me a wonderful gift! He pulled me into the barn and showed me he had really learned to dance. Just in time for our wedding! Yee-haw! I thought he was going to show me a new saddle or something. And he did . . . a month later.
After we returned from our wedding trip, Riley gave me this beautiful saddle! It wasn’t really a birthday present . . . but it really was. Sort of. My old saddle (the one from my ninth birthday) had been burned to a crisp in a barn fire the year before. “There are no stars on this saddle, my princess,” Riley said. “But these fancy etchings are more your style as a lovely young lady rider than as a little girl.” Riley was right, of course.
Update: A terrible thing happens to this saddle almost a year after we are married (just a month ago). I remember it exactly: April 1887. Read about it in the story “Second Chances” in the new Yosemite at Last: Tales from Memory Creek Ranch
Don’t miss tomorrow’s “Happy Birthday, Andi – Giveaway!”