Sunday, December 21, 2008

Baby ______

Today is my birthday. The Winter Solstice. When people tease "the shortest day of the year," I riposte "the longest night." For the first 21 years of my life, I didn't have a name, legally. I'll tell the story the way my deceased mother told me, and like all children, I would always ask for the story of my birth. Do we ever tire hearing it?

I was born in Washington, D.C. during a blizzard. Was it truly a blizzard, and not just a snow storm? I don't know. I was always told "blizzard." My parents had taken my name very seriously, even to the point my mother (in a very old-fashioned sensibility) wanted me to have a "pretty" monogram. Early on they thought about naming me after my paternal grandfather, Jesse. I was to be Jessica. I am glad they dropped the idea, not that I didn't love my grandfather, but I don't think the name would suit me. Who knows, maybe if it was mine, I would have accepted it.

At the time of my birth, it was the rule (And still might be. I don't know.) that babies stayed in the nursery, not in their mother's room. Because there was a blizzard, because it was Christmas, for whatever reason, the maternity ward was not crowded, and I was allowed to remain in the room with my mother, and she found great comfort in this. I always liked the image of us in the room together in a snow storm.

In my family, we always celebrated birthdays with a special dinner, and we always seemed to want the same thing year after year. My mother was born during the time of strawberries, and she had told me that growing up there was always strawberry shortcake for her birthday. At some time in my early twenties, I started making sure we always had some type of strawberry cake for her. My father always wanted beef, and he loved banana pudding like you see on the box of vanilla wafers. He also loved fresh grated coconut cake, and he was in charge of cracking the coconut and grating it. For my brother, it was my mother's lasagna. Since we would normally do turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas, my mother liked doing New York strip steaks for my birthday, and she loved serving peaches she had frozen from summer as part of the dessert.

Not my feets. Mine were smaller. Another no name baby.

So it went. When my 21st birthday approached, my mother asked what I would like to do to mark the event, and I said, "I want us to go to D.C. Vital Records and record my birth." Can you imagine trying to establish your legal name when you have no written proof of a legal name? I teased my mother, and upset her, when I said that I could choose any name that I like. "You wouldn't keep the names that I gave you," she plaintively asked?

Many a time I have wondered about this namelessness and how it has affected my personality. It's a rip in the weave of things. We live and die by documents. Try getting a passport with no name. Try burying someone without a death certificate. Seeing that blank hurt for the longest time, because there was something just so fundamentally careless about it. Birth and death are marked by the proper documentation and gravitas of the moment. We are a nation of paper.

This morning, a friend, knowing this story, was calling me "Baby X" and "Baby ______," as in "What is Baby X going to do for her birthday?" Baby _____ went outside and took a picture of a polar sun in a clouded sky while listening to ice crystals hit dead leaves. Baby X continued to write her Christmas cards that needed letters. Little Miss No Name received calls and well wishes from friends far away. She is about to finally decorate for her long delayed Christmas.

After I have dinner tonight, I will light a candle and make a wish. My mother always told me that she could never view my birthday as just "my day," because in truth it was a day we had shared together. She would say, "We will always be bound by that moment." I'll think about our city covered in swirling snow and remember the day and my mother. We remain bound, Mama.

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Blogger I-66 said...

Happy birthday, Cube.

10:15 PM  
Anonymous kob said...

What a beautiful post.

Happy Birthday, Cube.

10:21 PM  
Blogger edward said...

Cube is a very nice name.

i have a sad / bad name story, so i am glad i got my new name eddy when i was 8 weeks old.

12:02 AM  
Blogger edward said...

heppy birthday solstice birthdays are cool.

12:03 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Thank you, well-wishers. I had a perfectly pleasant day looking out a clean window at tree limbs swaying. I worked on my cards (and will be blogging about them.) I watched the Redskins win, and gosh I hate those last second plays. I received calls from Cape Cod, where they had ten inches of snow, ice, then more snow, and Ohio. My girlfriend in Seattle sang Happy Birthday in her own blizzard, and my friend Laura sang Happy Birthday while sneezing and blowing the code in her node. I had Sahi Paneer for dinner with naan. I blogged. I want to blog some more. I love tuxedo cats with names like Edward. They probably wear spats and have a top hat.Being born on the Winter Solstice is very cool. I have always sworn I will drive out to Salisbury Plain on my birthday and go to Stonehenge to see the sun rise over the needle on the day of my birth while white robed Druids toodle their recorders and walk around. Maybe I'll be like Darjeeling Limited and blowing on peacock feathers and making little rock stacks in worship. Maybe I'll be passed out in the coach, boozed out on Creme de Violette and a nasty cocktail I was taught by Bert, Bartender at the Savoy since 1933. I feel the year has potential.

My code word for leaving a message is "boyerure." Is that like a voyeur, but with boys? If it involves boyeruring or Charles Boyer, I am there.

2:15 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Happy belated Birthday.

The Playaz will drink some saki in your honor at the japanese steakhouse tonight.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Carrie M said...

lovely post. and happy belated!

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Born on the soltice, the shortest day, so every day before you expands and grows. That's a great day to be born, and to give birth. Thank you for a beautiful reflection.

-- grince

12:39 PM  
Anonymous ma said...

I hope that you had the happiest of birthdays, Madame Cube.

best wishes,

11:43 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

What a beautiful post!

Maybe the namelessness gave you more room to be anyone you needed to be. You're still good at shape shifting, you know.

My hair guy in San Francisco shared your birthday. He grew up in Australia where his birthday was summer solstice. I love thinking about that, how time is so .. arbitrary, really.

I'm glad you were born. Happiest day and year.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Thanks for the saki, Phil. I have a bottle in my fridge, next to a bottle of champagne. I'm ready.

Carrie: Thank you. Now I need to go over and see what you've been up to.

Grince: The disadvantages of being born close to Chrismtas are obvious: everyone too busy, combined gift giving, but I always liked being born on the solstice.

MA: Thank you. I'm still pushing along getting my holiday things finalized.

I've known other summer solstice babies, Reya, and there is that polar thing between us. I very much sense the shape shifting and freedom in that blank, but it also creates a disconnect and distance. Always a trade off.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Phil said...


Our christmas cards will reflect the evening we had. We celebrated the day after your birthday well.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

I've mailed yours Phil. Still waiting for mine.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

They were mailed yesterday, so it will probably be late (again).

I apologize in advance for what may be written on it.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous playfulinnc said...

You are super cool, Cube. These tidbits of interesting-ness never end. I'm glad you're still here on the internets.


9:17 PM  
Blogger Sheri said...

Sorry I missed your bday, Cube, but loved reading your memories. Really beautiful post.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Playful: You is back! Wow. Once a bloggah always a _____.

9:11 PM  
Blogger Hammer said...

A nameless girl born in a storm right at a zodiac cusp. Mighty portends indeed, Miss Cube.

Funny how family quirks become traditions that become rituals that eventually border on sacraments. We all have a list of our own that grows a little over time, and while they make little sense to others, they carry an essential resonance that never lets us forget who we are or where we come from.

My entire immediate family just celebrated Christmas together for the first time in a dozen years, and during the week I spent with them I watched a lot of the old rituals get dusted off. I may have also seen the origins of a couple new ones, but only time will tell.

Happy birthday, my dear, and thanks for sharing some of the Cube family history and ritual with us.

P.S.: Why I declare! I about fell out of my chair when I saw your latest New Year's avatar. You are SOOOOOO grounded, young lady!!!

1:23 PM  

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