Sunday, November 17, 2013

Remembering Birthdays Past

Spent the weekend in Massachusetts for Finley’s fourth birthday. Twenty-two kiddies, more than half girls, and about 20 adults entertained by a guitar playing children's singer. Outdoor play followed by the music, birthday cake and then free play in a carpeted basement with more trucks and trains than Ford, GM and Chrysler combined. A fun time for all, but as Gilda presciently noted, probably the last time until Finley’s bar mitzvah there will be so many girls at the annual festivities.

I can't remember all of Dan’s birthday parties though several of them stand out in my memory. There was the one when he was five, in our old house. Dan wasn't the most adventurous of small children when it came to animals beyond our three cats. So I was a little bemused when Gilda booked a visit by a menagerie from the Greenburgh Nature Center. The highlight was when Dan was somehow talked into permitting a snake to slither around his body. 

Before his next birthday we moved to our current home. One year we engaged one of his baby sitters, the son of a United Nations official from either Nigeria or Ghana. Whatever. The point is, the lad was a budding magician. Poor fellow ran into a most unappreciative, even disruptive, audience of boys. Whenever he’d attempt to do a trick, at least one youngster would cry out he knew the trick and its secret. They were so dismissive that we had to stop the performance in midstream.

We had to fill time till the parents came to retrieve their Dennis the Menaces, so Gilda took them outside for a good old-fashioned tug-of-war. As luck would have it, the ground was moist. The losing team was dragged through the mud. Most parents went with the flow when they arrived to find their “darlings” in soiled clothing. One father, however, would not let his son into his new Cadillac unless he was wrapped in towels. 

Dan’s most memorable birthday party was his 11th. He asked if he and six of his friends could have an “all-nighter” on Saturday. We agreed, reasoning to ourselves the boys would surely fall asleep by 2 am. We’d take turns staying awake till then. 

A good plan goes awry when the “party-of-the-second-part” (that is, the boys) do no adhere to your script. They did not fall asleep at 2 am. Nor at 3 am, 4 am, or 5 am. By 6 am, Gilda decided she’d make lemonade out of this lemon of an idea and take the half dozen boys on a trek in nearby Saxon Woods Park. (I, by the way, had gone to sleep at 2 am. Gilda had pity on me and never woke me up for my watch, not even when she took them on the hike.) 

The boys came back shortly before their parents arrived to take them home, exhilarated by their achievement and ready to impolre their respective mothers and fathers for a similar experience. We heard later than one set of parents enforced a 2 am curfew on their son’s “all-nighter.”

Dan’s birthday triumph did not end when his friends went home. An hour later he was to start in goal for the first time for his traveling all-star soccer team. The weekend before, when Dan was a defenseman, the team played a tournament in Yonkers. In each of the four games they had surrendered more than 10 goals. Now they were to play a strong team from Rye, led by the coach’s son whose name (not sure if it was his first or last name) was Winchester. 

I worried how Dan would respond to the new challenge, especially since he had not slept since Saturday morning. The game was tense. Each time Rye controlled the ball, its coach would be screaming for Winchester to make a play. Midway through the second half, Winchester blocked a ball at midfield and took off in pursuit of the sphere as it bounced toward the White Plains goal. There was no one between him and Dan. 

Time for a slight digression. You should know that as a defenseman, Dan had been among the most polite. If he and an opponent contested a ball, he was generally content to allow the other team to come away with it, reasoning, no doubt, that someone else on his team would get the ball back before a goal could be scored. Of course, by the scores of the previous games, that usually did not happen. 

But now, he was the only one standing between Winchester and the goal. He made a decision not to stand his ground. He charged at the ball. Like two knights on horseback charging at each other, Dan and Winchester converged, crunching together. The slightly larger Winchester kept going straight toward the goal, but Dan had succeeded in diverting the ball to the sideline. Though he had been run over, he had saved a goal. 

I don’t recall, seriously, I don’t remember, if Dan’s team won that game, but it was that play that transformed him into an all-star goalie in more than name only. 

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