Tales From A Hungry Life

August 30, 2013

Birthday Celebrations

by Maria Schulz

When I was growing up, birthdays were never a big deal in our house. My parents would have no more rented a pony, invited 50 of your closest friends, or even bought you a card than they would’ve sent you on an all-expenses-paid trip to the moon.

Basically, I think my parents reasoned that there were so many of us (7) and so few of them (2) that expecting them to remember your big day was asking a lot.


I'm not going there

I’m not going there

My twin brother, Chris, and I had a better shot at being remembered than my other siblings. That was probably because my mother never seemed to get over the trauma of being pregnant with twins after her 3-year pregnancy break.

Mom used to say, “I only found out I was having you two the day before you were born. Then, the doctor told me I had to go on bed rest for 6 weeks. SIX WEEKS! I had 5 boys under the age of 8. There was no way I could lay there for 6 weeks.”

“So what happened?” I asked.

“That afternoon, I was laying in bed, listening to my parents taking care of your brothers. I could hear the sounds of my parents screaming, lots of pounding footsteps as your brothers tried to run away from my father, who was swinging a wooden spoon, and my mother complaining in a torrent of Spanish.”

“Sounds like fun,” I said.

“It was a nightmare. I couldn’t have my parents over for all that time. Luckily, my water broke that night and you guys were born the next morning.”

I heard that story every year from my mother. She always got kind of sweaty and panicky at the very idea of spending 6 weeks with her parents in charge of her kids.

My father, on the other hand, liked to tell us about how he just looked at my mother when she was 4 months pregnant and said, “You know, I think you’re having twins.”

My mother thought he could be right, so she mentioned it to her doctor. But the doctor just shook his head.

“Listen, when your husband gets his medical degree, tell him to come talk to me.”

So who was right? My father, of course.

That was the story I heard from my father every year.

Chris and I were more successful reminding everyone that our birthday was coming because we would walk around saying things like, “Only two more weeks until our birthday,” and “Our big day is tomorrow. Did you hear me? It’s tomorrow!”

After a while, we managed to penetrate the gray matter in our parents’ heads and make them remember that, GUESS WHAT? We had a birthday coming up and we were ready and willing to accept all gifts, parties and other assorted surprises.

Now accepting gifts

Now accepting gifts

This may or may not have led to a cake, with or without candles. It all depended on how busy our mom and dad happened to be that day (and of course, with 7 children, they were always busy).

One year, Dad came home early and we ran into him in front of our house.

“I’ve brought home a surprise for your birthday!” Dad said.

Chris and I were stunned and delighted.

“What do you think it could be?” I said.

“Maybe he got us something really great,” Chris replied.


Malibu PJ

Malibu PJ

I was hoping and praying for a bike to go along with the Malibu PJ Barbie doll I just got.

A few hours later, about 20 of our relatives descended on the house.

“Are you here for our birthday?” I asked.

“Oh, is it your birthday?” they replied.

I started to tell everyone that Dad brought home a surprise for us, and I couldn’t wait to see what it was.

“I hope it’s a bike!” I said. I couldn’t figure out why my relatives were all laughing.

When Dad heard me, he laughed too. “I brought home this Barbara Streisand movie to watch!”

Welcome to Movie Night

Welcome to Movie Night

Since Dad worked for a motion picture company, we had a reel-to-reel projector and a giant movie screen. My relatives and I piled into the living room to watch. I was pretty sure my surprise would come later, because really: what 4-year-old wants a movie with Barbara Streisand in it as her gift?

Unfortunately, what Dad thought was a Rated G picture turned out to be a Rated R movie, and it didn’t take long before my grandmother interrupted the show.

“Louie,” she said. “Send the kids upstairs.”

As this point, the reel-to-reel was turned off, and my brothers and I marched out of the darkened room with only the light bouncing off the empty screen to guide us.

“But where’s my bike?” I said, as I marched upstairs.

For some reason, my relatives all laughed. When I woke up the next day, I couldn’t find my new bike anywhere.

Now that was a surprise.

As far as other birthday surprises go, I have to mention my brother Joey here. Joey had the bad luck to celebrate his birthday the week before Chris and me.

What’s so bad about this? Well, since he was formally the youngest, cutest child in the family, he had some issues with our arrival. Suddenly, he became boy #5 and was overshadowed by the appearance of not just one sibling – but two – and one of them was the elusive girl my mother had been hoping for.


Joey, Chris and Maria

Joey, Chris and Maria

Couple this with the fact that my parents never, ever had a working camera, batteries, flashes or film in our house, and you could really get a complex.

I used to laugh when Joey would talk about how there were a zillion baby photos of our oldest three brothers, but none of the 4 youngest. That is, until I realized that I was one of the 4 with almost no photographic evidence of my existence prior to the age of 12.

Joey didn’t have a twin to help him double team my parents, so very often, a birthday cake for the twins would also be for Joey too. So when you think about it, Joey should be grateful to us. Without us, he probably would have gotten no cake whatsoever.

There’s something pretty wonderful about having big brothers AND a twin brother. Since everyone was so close in age, we had a one-of-a-kind childhood. Although I doubt I would’ve described it that way when I was a kid.

All of my brothers would tell us stories about the day we came home from the hospital and how everyone was so excited to meet us. And of course, all of my brothers were only too happy to punch us in the arm as many times as necessary to commemorate our big day.

Since Joey’s birthday was so close to ours, we often went out together to shop for our own birthday gifts. We had a $25 limit (which was HUGE for us) and Mom told us to get something we really wanted. Only one thing: there were no returns. So if you went home that day and decided you hated your gift, tough luck.

Can you smell the strawberries?

Can you smell the strawberries?

We’d pile into the car (Paul would come for the ride) and head to Korvette’s. Then, the three of us would head straight for the toy, record, or sports aisles. I remember coming home with Talking Stacy, Baby That-A-Way, and Barbie Sweet Sixteen (I can still smell the strawberry stickers that came with her). One year, Chris got Mike Powers, Atomic Man and Joey got a GI Joe.

GI Joe

Shopping for my birthday gift was fun with my brothers along.

As for Joey, he was always a teaser and a tormentor, but he was also a great teacher. It was Joey who showed me how to ride a bike with no hands. He even stopped and helped me after I crashed.

Joey gave me a lavender colored bike with a banana seat that he got from one of his paper route customers. He swapped it with me for my oversized blue bike that he borrowed very often.

Meanwhile, Joey started teaching Chris how to ride my bike. Of course, there was a problem: you had to pump the pedals back and forth fast, and then once backwards (without dislodging the chain) in order for the brakes to work.

Chris was having a hard enough time getting the bike to stay upright, let alone following my complicated rules about pumping the brakes and not knocking off the chain.

I can still see Joey at the top of our hill, pushing Chris off and yelling, “Pedal! Pedal!”

Chris was finally getting the hang of it and he was riding really fast. But then, a car turned onto our block, and Chris panicked. He was speeding down the hill and couldn’t figure out how to stop.

Joey and I were at the top of the hill, screaming, “Pump the pedals! PUMP THE PEDALS!”

The silent killer

The silent killer

Instead, Chris veered out of the way of the oncoming car and towards our neighbor’s parked station wagon. He smashed into the hood, flipped over the top of the car and landed with a sickening “THUD” underneath it.

Joey and I broke into a frantic run. We scrambled to the back of the wagon to see if Chris was still alive under there.

There he was, bashed and bloodied, but definitely still alive. When we realized Chris was just a little bit broken, we dissolved into fits of laughter.

Don't try this at home.

Don’t try this at home.

“Get up,” Joey said, as he pulled Chris to his feet. “Get back on the bike and try again.”

“No thanks,” Chris said, as he dusted off my bike and handed it to me. “I think I’ll walk back up the hill.”

And that was the end of Joey’s Bicycle Training Institute. Luckily, Joey would open his Car Driving Institute some years later, when my parents went away on vacation. But that’s another story.


Birthday Cake

Birthday cake

What birthday would be complete without cake? Here are some recipes from BBC Good Food that looked birthday worthy:


And here’s one for all of my friends who eat gluten-free:



Gluten-Free birthday cake

Gluten-Free birthday cake

So, Hungry Lifers…what was your best birthday memory? Worst? What’s your favorite birthday cake? Please leave a comment and let us all know.

And to my two wonderful brothers, Joey and Chris (and my wonderful sister-in-law, Anne): I’m so happy to share a birthday/birth month with you! Happy Birthday.



  1. I never wanted to make a fuss over birthdays because I celebrated life every day in a special way not just some special day. Besides it seemed I never had enough money to really spend on such celebrations. But one thing I can tell you your Mom knew everyone’s birthday and when you got sick and when you did something special. Later she may have forgotten as her brain succumbed to Alzheimer’s but her spirit and heart always remembered. When she couldn’t remember anymore I made sure the birthdays were remembered always signing the card with both names. As I look back on those days I do remember having twins was really something special. Today with all the drugs and procedures multiple births are common place but back then it was something special. Mom and I considered each and every birth as a very special occasion. I guess we were a little crazy back then because after overcoming the initial fear of a new birth everything seemed like a piece of cake (no pun intended) even if it meant getting very little sleep while we went from one crisis (there was always a crisis) to another. Oh and by the way, happy birthday! .

    Comment by Bglou — August 30, 2013 @ 10:59 pm | Reply

  2. that was a good one, what was the movie??


    Comment by Diane Vitolo — August 31, 2013 @ 9:37 am | Reply

    • I think it was Up the Sandbox. I could’ve gotten it mixed up with some other movie though — that wasn’t the only time we were thrown out of the room!

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — August 31, 2013 @ 10:02 am | Reply

  3. I could picture everything you said! R rated back then would not be so bad now. Ok so it was my 16th birthday and my mother decided to have dinner in the dining room(a very big deal). My father(an even bigger deal) was coming along with my uncle and my sister. So I’m waiting for everyone to be home and no one is there. My mother gets a phone call and she is trying to hide fom me, but the cord can only go so far. When I ask her where everyone is she tells me that they went to pick up my pediatrician dr.miller. What the hell??? I was so annoyed. (I always thought she was too close to him) now this was going to get awkward. Ok so they all come home and my sister tells me that my present is in the car. I run outside and on the front seat is a new puppy. He looks like a st.bernard but he was a mutt. Okay so yay for me right? No I didn’t want a dog but my sister did, so I bring the puppy in and everyone is happy. Especially my sister. Now Im wondering where Dr.Miller is. Apparently my mother couldn’t think fast enough when I asked where everyone was and just said that. Why was she thinking of him???? Anyway we named the puppy Barney…..Miller, the best dog to my sister and hated me except whenever I got out of the shower he was always in my room. Strange…I love birthdays now, everyone else’s.

    Comment by Suzanne — August 31, 2013 @ 10:45 am | Reply

    • Lol why on earth would your pediatrician be coming over? Your mother must have been quite a charmer. There are days I can’t even get an appointment for my kids in my pediatrician’s office. Wow you got a puppy? Well, at least your sister was happy. How could you NOT love Barney Miller? You could’ve gotten more puppies and named them Fish, Deitrich, Wojciehowitz, Yemana and Harris.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — August 31, 2013 @ 2:11 pm | Reply

  4. Great post as usual! I can visualize those things happening with such clarity. $25.00 for a birthday limit was tremendous back then. Boy were you guys lucky! My worst experience was when my twin bother’s friend called me to say they were having a birthday party for him. I didn’t really want to go but Tony convinced me to go saying how could they have a party without acknowledging you. At that time no one in my house called or even sent me a card for my birthday. So deep down I thought maybe there was some truth to it, I’ll go to the party. We get there and everyone is congratulating Brian and saying nothing to me. I see the cake and it clearly says Happy Birthday Brian. All of a sudden his best friend (I grew up with this kid and considered him family) realizes it was my birthday. He rips off a matchbook cover and writes “And Kathleen too”. I never forgot that day!

    Comment by Kathleen Lagalante — August 31, 2013 @ 12:46 pm | Reply

    • Kathie, it was a $25 limit for one gift. So if you bought a Barbie that cost $10, you were done. You couldn’t bank the rest! Wow, you just described the birthday party of every twin’s worst nightmare. That sounds awful. Good thing you have Tony around to shower you with parties and gifts.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — August 31, 2013 @ 1:55 pm | Reply

  5. And while it’s a day later (here), Happy Birthday!

    Comment by doreenmoran — August 31, 2013 @ 1:38 pm | Reply

  6. Maria, you and Chris got 25 dollars for presents. Boy did you rate. On my tenth birthday I asked for a bike. I thought that I would get the present of a life time when I asked for a banana seat. Jude just got a ten speed brand spanking new bike for the past Christmas and I thought I was in for a treat. I remember waking up on June 10 1969 to a warm sunny morning (it was a weekend) and running down stairs with great expectations. My other specification was to have a green metallic color to the bike. In the basement was this antique green monstrosity with fenders that vibrated when I rode the bike. It was nothing that I hoped for. It didn’t help that my father took great pride in telling everyone that he got the bike (parts) from his cousin and put it together. He used house paint (on a metal frame) to make it puke green. The cost – 2 dollars and 51 cents. Here Jude gets an expensive bike that my dad complained took him hours on Christmas Eve to assemble and I get the reject parts from the garbage that were never put together correctly in the first place. Also, the bike weighed a ton so riding it was hard. The chain always fell off. Happy Birthday Tony!

    Comment by Tony Lagalante — August 31, 2013 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

    • We did NOT get $25–we got a $25 limit. We never reached that limit because we were so excited (and young and dumb) that we grabbed the first thing we saw that we really wanted that was under $25. I think the most expensive gift I ever picked was Baby That-A-Way, and she cost about $15. Ha ha ha…I remember your puke green bike. I was very jealous. Remember, I was riding a tricycle (that I got from one of the neighbors) until I was about 7! No new bike for me, not even from recycled parts. You oldest kids got everything! Lol. Thanks for the comment, I’m still laughing.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — August 31, 2013 @ 10:51 pm | Reply

  7. Love it! My mom also had 7 kids – and a highlight of the year was the homemade birthday cake she made for each of us on our day. We were allowed to pick a recipe for dinner from her recipe box -and then a special cake for desert. My dinner was always hot dog cheesies and my favorite cake was the one shaped like a guitar – which I was learning to play that year. Thanks for the memory Maria, now I should call my mom to say thanks.

    Comment by sussman81 — August 31, 2013 @ 7:47 pm | Reply

    • Wow, you should go call your mom right now! We also had our share of homemade cakes, as well as bakery cakes and Entenmann’s cakes. You just never knew which one it would be (of if there would be one — that was part of the surprise 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — August 31, 2013 @ 10:45 pm | Reply

  8. Oh – and Happy Birthday~!

    Comment by 46Pearsall — August 31, 2013 @ 7:49 pm | Reply

  9. Maria, I don’t know who this birthday was for but we were anywhere between 17 and 20. It may have been ours but I can’t remember. Anyhow, I bought those candles that relight after you blow them out. Mom put them on the cake and lit them. She walked out of the room and was gone long enough for the wax to start to melt onto the cake. I told her we should take the candles off and when she came back in she blew them all out and proceeded to put them onto the flimsy tablecloth she bought for the occasion. One by one they started to light again. First the ones on the tablecloth, then the ones on the cake she was getting to. As she was grabbing for ones that were extinguished they would light again. Her expressions were priceless. The tablecloth went up rather quickly as if Johnny Storm said, “Flame ON!” The table was on fire and the cake started to flame on as well. When the fire started and it was as getting some hight, she looked at me and started laughing. I was not as amused as she. She threw some juice or water onto the flames and cake and took the other candles and put them in her drink. She said, “I guess we are done with those!” Letting out a big laugh.

    Comment by Chris — September 2, 2013 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

    • I have a vague recollection of us using gag candles, but I don’t remember seeing Mom light the place up. I’m sorry I missed it. Mom was always a good sport!

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — September 2, 2013 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

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