When Maggie was in kindergarten, she attended a birthday party with at least 50 children and their parents. I’d never seen anything like it.

Gifts covered every surface inside the house. Screaming children swarmed the pool. A chef grilled burgers, chicken and hot dogs. An ice cream vendor dipped cones and sundaes. A bartender poured wine for adults. An artist oversaw bead and paint crafts. A pirate organized sword fights.

It was a suburban festival, not a child’s birthday party.

Maggie, always a quiet child, spent a lot of time on my lap. Frenzy was never her best thing. Overwhelmed myself by the increasingly inebriated adult chitchat, I was relieved to sit quietly with her in the shade, remembering my first birthday party.

When I turned six, we had only lived on that street for a month, so I was basically unknown. But my mother figured out who had children my age and made contacts. Social media was different back then. Mothers were home all day, for one thing. It was common for people to knock on the door and for residents to answer. Our neighborhood had a telephone party line, so you waited your turn to make a call, but you also might introduce yourself and excuse yourself at the same time if you interrupted someone’s conversation. Mothers were often outside, hanging laundry on the clothesline, getting freshly delivered milk from the porch, sweeping the sidewalk, sharing baked goods with a neighbor.

I honestly remember borrowing a cup of sugar from next door. It really happened back then.

I’d never had a birthday party and couldn’t remember the one I’d attended when I was four, so I had no idea what would occur. Six children arrived with gifts. I was astounded. They just showed up with wrapped boxes and cards for me. One gift, an Anchor Hocking dish set, is still with me because my mother and I believed I might have a daughter who would enjoy it, too.

We played pin the tail on the donkey, tossed pennies into bowls, and dropped clothespins into milk bottles. My mother awarded dime store trinkets to everyone, careful to find a way for each child to win. My dad blew up balloons and we all jumped and laughed as my mother tossed them to us.

We were extraordinarily happy in that backyard, just six little children and two devoted adults. I was so proud of my parents, that they knew how to create joy on the lawn for me. It couldn’t have been a simpler party. It couldn’t have meant more.

But there was more.

As we sat at the picnic table, my parents emerged from the kitchen, carrying a white bakery cake. Although I could barely print, I knew THAT was my name in pastel script. There’s something about a capital K in sugar curves and loops that thrills me to this day. Some people fly to NYC or enjoy spa retreats for their birthday bashes. All I need is my name glistening in candlelight on a white cake. It’s hardly a remarkable thing these days. But it reminds me of being dearly loved by two people who wanted to see me be surprised by the happiness that was possible because of my birthday.

When I see my cake each year, I see them. Betty and Bill. All over again. That’s who deeply loved my birthday. In those icing letters, they magically return to me every September.

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