It was harder than I thought. The first birthday without Huckster, that is.
And that’s not to say I didn’t feel loved – I was blessed by text messages, emails, cards, phone calls, serenades (including one by Frannie –who seems to be becoming quite comfortable and confident in her solo performances — that woman can sing!), candles, flowers, well wishes and hugs. But thoughts of Greenlee’s birthday cakes kept rising to the surface.
That was dad’s specialty, or his signature birthday tradition: he always showed up with a Greenlee’s birthday cake. I remember fluffy, perfectly designed pastel flowers, flowing artistic sentiments, rich, creamy, fruity filling – the most beautiful cakes around. And it wasn’t just for birthdays. Whatever the occasion was, there seemed to be a Greenlee’s cake there, courtesy of Huckster, as he’d pick one up after work in San Jose. It’s what Mo and I had on our Wedding Day, too.
So on this birthday, I just couldn’t shake this one particular Greenlee’s memory.
I was probably in my early 20’s and dad showed up at my workplace with a cake. I think he was a little miffed at me –there was just a little coolness to his arrival. But he walked in carrying a giant cake and placed it on the table in the lunchroom for me to share with my coworkers. He didn’t stick around for a piece. He didn’t share in the festivities. He dropped it off and hit the road. I was probably preoccupied with whatever my plans were, or eager to hang out with my friends after work. But here’s why I think this particular memory seems to be standing out: my dad did not miss the opportunity to make me feel special on my birthday. He did not skip delivering a Greenlee’s cake just because I was self-absorbed or wrapped up in my own life. The Greenlee’s cake was there for everyone to enjoy — his bold, familiar statement that he loved me — no matter what the age, no matter what the circumstances.
Yes, it was harder than I thought. But I looked out the car window last Thursday afternoon and, with tears, said a prayer of thanks that I knew such a great man, that he was my dad, and that he made me feel special and loved like nobody else on my birthday.
Since Mo was working the late shift, the evening found me hanging out with the boys eating hot fudge sundaes from McDonald’s, doing somersaults, dancing to the music of Bro’s Valentine’s card and practicing handstands in the living room.
The next day, Mo, the boys and I were driving home after doing some running around. We needed to stop at the store to pick up some noodles for soup.
“Can we get mom a birthday cake since we didn’t get to have one yesterday?” Rass inquired from the back.
I lit up inside.
Instantly, the plan was in motion. The boys would head to the bakery section and I would hide in another part of the store. They would pick it out so it would be a surprise. I steered clear of the check-out line, and the refrigerator when we got home, too, so it would remain a mystery. After dinner, I went upstairs and Rass continued executing the details.
I came downstairs to a dark dining room as a multitude of candles glowed atop a rich, round chocolate cake.
They all sang Happy Birthday, and we licked the candles and sat down to devour the cake. I felt special. I felt remembered.
Like granddad, like grandson.
And so this year, as recollections of Greenlee’s goodness gave way to Safeway scrumptiousness, a long-ago experience sparked present-day gratefulness: that with much love, comes much hurt, when you miss somebody.
I love you, dad. Thanks for continuing to teach me.