Having a December birthday is not the best timing when it comes to receiving presents

By John Toth

This is the last column I am writing as a younger man. On Monday, (Dec. 13), the day before this paper is distributed, I turn 55.

Here are a few things that I really want for my birthday. I’d like to turn the clock back 30 years and retain the wisdom and common sense I have since acquired.

I also want my son, Bobby, to make it back from Afghanistan in one piece in early January.
One more thing. When I turn 84, I want to be just like my buddy, Bill Fletcher, who is still running around all day volunteering, but promises that he will soon settle down and chill a little.

I don’t want any trinkets (maybe a new griddle because the old one is a piece of junk). I don’t want to be surprised by a bunch of people as I walk into the house (it’s a good thing that it never happened before). I don’t even want to pretend to be really happy that another year has gone by (because they go by way too fast).

Having a birthday on Dec. 13 has been a disadvantage all my life. People tend to combine birthday and Christmas presents, and that’s not fair. They don’t do it for those born in June or July, so why should I get the shaft?

As a child, I wanted a birthday present and a Christmas present, not a combination deal.
People in my shoes have a way of making that clear early in life, like right after learning to talk and realizing that you are short one present each year.

After a while, you learn to deal with it. And, since I didn’t have a really normal childhood because I was country-hopping for a while, fighting the combination present battle became a low priority, replaced by learning languages and finding out where the heck everything was (why couldn’t countries be like Wal-Mart and all look the same?).

This present dilemma was most noticeable during my first 10 years in Hungary, where I was born. Over there, Dec. 6 is St. Nicholas Day (small present); Dec. 13 is my birthday; and Dec. 25 is Christmas. As you see, this was totally unfair.

Since we were poor as dirt back in those days when the country was occupied by the now-defunct Soviet Union, a combination present was actually a great solution, although not fair.

Back in those days we were glad if we could buy a few warm clothes and perhaps an orange or a banana as a special treat. In Vienna, where I spent two years in the 1960s, I gorged myself on bananas because they were aplenty and cheap. What a difference a five-hour train ride on a sunny Sunday morning can make.

I have to be fair. For the most part, as kids growing up in poverty, we still managed to have a good time. When everyone around is equally poor, as a child, you just think that’s the way it is suppose to be. My parents were factory workers who knew we were poor. There wasn’t much we could do about it, since the whole country was poor as the Soviets stripped it of its wealth. Why, because they were also poor, but bigger.

It’s all different now, though. Hungary is a full democracy with all the problems and benefits of a free country. And, Christmas there is as big of a deal as over here. You can even listen to American holiday music on the radio until you can’t take it anymore.

Back to my birthday. I can’t say that life has treated me badly so far. At 55 I feel pretty good. I have stepped up going to the gym, and I eat all the right foods, thanks to my health nut son, John.

I did get a little cholesterol scare at my last checkup, and I use reading glasses now to read small print, but other than that, I have not been dealt a bad hand.

So, instead of worrying about what I want for my birthday and Christmas combination present, let me reflect on all the good things that have happened so far – that is, by itself, the greatest combination present of all.

Ahhhhh. That’s so sweet. But I can’t finish on a mushy note like that.

Let me try to lighten things up a little. Here is a question to test your knowledge: What did George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Christopher Columbus all have in common? They were all born on holidays.

Where do you find a birthday present for a cat? In a cat-alogue!

Why did the boy put candles on the toilet? He wanted to have a birthday potty!

Why did the boy feel warm on his birthday? Because people kept toasting him!

What does a clam do on his birthday? He shellabrates!

“Doctor, I get heartburn every time I eat birthday cake.” Next time, take off the candles.”

Do I know how to rip off jokes, or what? See you next week at age 55, with another interesting column. Don’t miss it.