For the first time in the 82 years since the maternity nurses at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital convinced my parents it would be almost unpatriotic to give their newborn daughter any other name when the huge annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade was marching down Fifth Avenue, my birthday took place in a truly surreal time.
(I have always been grateful to those New York nurses, not to mention St. Patrick, even though an ancestry.com DNA Ethnicity Estimate a few years ago indicated I am just five percent Irish. The rest of me is pretty evenly distributed between Great Britain and Italy.)
The thing about having a name and a birthday like mine makes it hard for friends and relatives to forget it once the day arrives and one way or another mention of St. Patrick gets made. This year’s news mentions tended to be limited to parades cancelled and bars and restaurants shut down. So again this year, and especially this year, hunkered down in my small apartment where public health authorities recommend older persons with medical conditions sequester themselves, I spent the day talking on the phone, answering texts and email, never changing from the scruffy old sweatpants and shirt I throw on to pick up the newspapers each morning.
Any plans for celebrating my birthday changed from day to day as COVID-19 news grew more frightening with the numbers of those infected steadily growing along with deaths. And as we learned more about this brand-new, never-before-experienced virus, with no advanced warning symptoms, some of us began to realize we could already be infected. At first, I told my Los Angeles daughter that I really didn’t feel like going out to a restaurant or inviting other friends to join us that evening, but it turned out by the time of the 17th, many restaurants here were not serving diners at tables anyhow. She was disappointed and offered to look into nearby restaurants offering take-out meals that she and her husband could bring to my apartment.
That morning, lying in bed I re-played in my mind video she had shown of her husband playing with his new grandkids, delighted laughter of all serving as soundtrack. No, they can’t come here, I thought. I could be a carrier, especially as I’d spent the afternoon before at the DMV renewing my drivers license. I sent a text, but she insisted she had things to deliver. She would alert me from the elevator and hang a bag on my door. I was talking on the phone when a soft knock and the sound of the birthday song from a mobile phone sent me to open the door. My daughter and son-in-law stood the required four feet back, smiling and wishing me greetings. Thank you, I said, now go home.
In the bag she’d brought were a few grocery items I’d mentioned and four packages of Hostess cupcakes that she, who doesn’t eat chocolate, had searched for. The cupcakes, especially the coconut covered Sno-Balls® are a junk-food tradition for my birthday. On the east coast the coconut is frequently green for St. Patrick’s Day, but here the best she could find was pink. I assured her later when I called thanks, pink is the new green.
Even my birthday cakes are downsizing!