A birthday isn’t a birthday unless there is a birthday cake with candles. The adults want to know what kind of cake it is but the kids just want to look at the frosting. The design might be Blue from “Blue’s Clues” or Hello Kitty. On year Elena’s cake had an African American Barbie on it.
You have to be careful placing the candles. They need to be in a nice, neat, regular pattern — but they shouldn’t mess up the picture underneath. You’re allowed to move a candle over if it would be placed on Barbie’s nose.
And what kind of candles should you choose. There are the traditional skinny candles. There are the decorative big ones that you can center on the cake with the smaller ones spread around. This is the fatter candle that is in the shape of the number of the birthday.
Today it would have been a nice round eight for Elena.
At some point we would have brought out the cake and lit the candles. Elena would climb on on a chair to see better. She’d have squeezed her eyes tightly shut and started to make a wish.
“C’mon Elena, the candles are melting on the cake.”
“Maggie,” Elena would whine, “I’m making my wish.”
“Well hurry up Elena. There’s wax melting all over my piece.”
Elena would pause just long enough to let Maggie know that she was in charge. She’d give her eyes an extra squeeze, move her lips slightly while making her wish just so whoever was in charge of wishes would hear her, and nod her head to signal that it was done.
She’d open her eyes and say, “o.k., I’m ready.” And then she’d look at the cake.
She wouldn’t just glance at it. She’d take a long look. She’d drink it all in. This was the cake she’d chosen. She’d look at Kim and me knowing all along that she was pushing Maggie’s buttons. “Isn’t this the most beautiful cake you’ve ever seen.”
“Elena! Blow out the candles.”
Elena would stretch the moment just a little longer. “Should I daddy?” I’d nod. She’d look over to Kim who would nod as well.
“O.K., fine,” she’d smile and take a big breath in, lean forward, and blow out all the candles.
“Finally,” Maggie would say.
And then one candle then another would spurt back to life.
“Oooh,” Elena would laugh, “trick candles.” And she’d blow them out again and again laughing. When it was clear that a couple of them were just going to stay lit, she would give up and ask Mamma for help. Kim’s mom would take the candles out and run water over them to put them out for good.
Her actual celebration this year wasn’t quite like that. Jodelle was in town and asked if she could stop over.
“Sure,” I’d said, “but it’s Elena’s birthday.”
We don’t really know what that means yet. But Jodelle came over and late in the afternoon we headed across the street to the Henry’s house. It was a cold and windy day. Just like it’s supposed to be in early March.
The year before they had set out seven candles for Elena’s birthday outside our house. This year there were eight. Eight candles set in gallon sized plastic milk containers with sand on the bottom.
Kim, Jodelle, Maggie and I walked down the street with Tom, Betsy, and Carolyn. Patti met us at the little garden at the end of the street that the neighbors planted for Jan and Elena. Tom placed the containers around the garden like he was decorating a birthday cake.
He lit a few of the candles.
The wind blew them out.
I joined him. The two of us lit candles for a while and the wind kept blowing them out.
“It’s Elena,” Kim said. “She’s blowing out her birthday candles.”
“Make a wish baby,” I said.
Jodelle, Kim, Maggie, and I met Kim’s parents for a birthday dinner. Pancakes at the iHop. Elena loved pancakes. We told stories and no one said the obvious. That it’s just incomprehensible to be celebrating an eighth birthday that the birthday girl didn’t live to see.
The wind picked up. It was turning colder. Kim’s parents headed to their house, Jodelle headed back to New York, and the three of us headed back home.
We stopped at the top of the street at the garden and relit the candles. Our own trick candles that we kept relighting til Elena tired of blowing them out.