Simple Birthdays? Nay, we say.

By Ernie Witham   |   September 24, 2020

Our family spends more time planning birthdays than some people spend reading presidential briefs… it’s been said… by many, many, fine folks.

We’ve had choreographed dance-offs, whereas we all stand in a large circle and someone does a dance move. The next person has to duplicate it or get eliminated. Out of pity they let me go first once, but Ashley, the next person, refused to spill her drink all over herself while pulling her calf muscle, falling forward, and dominoing the entire group. That move is now known as the Ernie.

On his birthday, Charlie designed an Amazing Race contest, which started at our condo tennis court trying to hit balls over the net and into a small bucket on the other side (much harder than it sounds). Then we had to race to the Santa Barbara Courthouse, put on tutus and dance to the Nutcracker Suite in the middle of the Sunken Gardens, before racing to Stearns Wharf for the finale. Somewhere Jessica has an iPhone video of me in that tutu that probably prevents me from ever running for political office. That and I couldn’t stand watching Fox News for 12 hours a day.

One year we rented a 50-foot-long inflatable obstacle course. At “Go” you had to run and dive through a porthole, shimmy up an air-filled ramp, squeeze through inflated pylons, and slide out the other end onto the lawn. I lost badly to my then-eight-year-old granddaughter Leila.

We had a Western theme one year with sawhorse roping and a game of tossing snakes into boots. Plastic snakes replaced real snakes at the last moment because Jon thought they’d be easier to gather up for round two. We also skipped the quick draw contest because we were afraid excited NRA members might show up.

This year for my birthday things were more subdued, partially because of coronavirus distancing, and because no one wanted to perform CPR on me – again. Instead I was given a carefully wrapped (with copious amounts of duct tape) package that contained an envelope with a piece of paper that read: “This isn’t your gift but quit your hawin’ and hemmin’ you’ll find your real gift in the tree of a…”

I’m really good at games and in less than 15 minutes found another envelope in a “lemon” tree. “Ahhh!” Thud.

“This also isn’t your gift so sorry to lie, You real gift is in a tree of…”

Bonsai was the obvious answer, but Carl and Christy don’t have any. Turns out they had a large juniper I had pruned which contained… another envelope.

“Foiled again I’m so sorry. I will owe you a drink, perhaps a tonic and gin-nia, after you find your real present in the garden box of…”

Encouraging words like “still cold dude” and “it’s getting late” and “whose idea was this?” rang out as I scoured the yard looking for a hyenia. “It’s zinnia,” they yelled.

“What’s a zinnia?” I’m guessing next year they’ll just give me beer.

More recently, it was Patrick’s birthday. “What’s the plan?” I asked.

“Ping-pong tournament, ladder toss game, plus we have written special lyrics to a popular song called ‘Cups’ that we all have lines for,” Pat said.

“You realize that I’m tone deaf right?”

“It’s easy, listen.” She played the song and sang the new lyrics.

 “So. When I was a kid, my parents made me join the Congregational Church choir.”

“There you go.”

“I threw everyone off. They kept moving me from sopranos, to tenors to bass. Finally, they said I could only stay if I just mouthed the words.”

Charlie whooped me at ping-pong. Patrick whooped me at ladder toss. And after much practice I was able to squeak out my lines in the song to raucous applause. “Is he done?” “I hope so.”

Then a guy dressed in a plaid skirt walked into the backyard playing bagpipes. Four-year-old Jack covered his sensitive ears and ran into the house. Patrick, whose grandmother was of Scottish descent, loved it.

“Wow. That reset the bar,” I said. “What should we do for your next birthday? Buxom German barmaid and an oom-pah band?”

“Hawaii,” Pat said. “No games, and definitely no barmaid. Just sunshine and mai tais.”

“You got my vote – twice.”


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