By Robert St. John
This year I will celebrate the 21st anniversary of my 29th birthday. Over the weekend, I attended a collective birthday party for Hattiesburg High School alumni who will reach their fifth decade this year. Even though I didn’t attend Hattiesburg High, I figured since I had gone to elementary school with most of them, they wouldn’t mind if I crashed the party. It turns out I knew most of the people in the room.
One thing struck me while looking around the party – everyone looked younger than me. That was disturbing since I am actually younger than all of them. Growing up, I always had a late birthday – something that drove me crazy then, but something I’m grateful for today.
Being the youngest in your class is a drag (I just realized that using the word “drag” dates me even more than giving my actual age, maybe I’ll also try to fit the word “groovy” in an upcoming paragraph). Having a late birthday as a youngster, meant that I was one of the last ones in my class to get a driver’s license.
For some strange reason, Mississippi used to license 15-year-old kids. Big mistake. Even at 18, I had no business behind the wheel of an automobile. Some who have ridden with me lately might still say I still don’t need to be driving a car. Now that I have a teenage daughter, I wouldn’t be upset if they inched that driving law up another year, to 17.
There weren’t too many people at the combined 50th birthday party, which worried me a little bit. Had most of us already died off? It’s probable that those who weren’t there were busy babysitting their great-grandchildren.
As I looked at all of those people who looked younger than me, I took solace in the fact that – even though I might look older and have a later birthday – I was still way more immature than everyone in the room. I’m 49, look 59, physically feel 69, yet on a maturity level, I’m about 19.
Someone at the party began talking about “middle age,” and I laughed. I figure I saw middle age about a decade ago. With my track record, diet and lifestyle, there’s no way I’m going to make it to 100. No way. Middle age is a memory – men die young in my family – break out the orthopedic shoes and the Ensure: I’m gonna make these last several years count.
In October, I will begin my 50th year on this planet somewhere in Italy. For 49 birthdays I have celebrated this annual milestone by blowing out the candles on a yellow cake with chocolate icing. This year I think I’ll bake an Italian Cream Cake and stick enough candles in it to light up the entire room. I will think of my childhood friends, and I will eat a piece of cake in their honor.
After all, a birthday is just a number; age is a state of mind. And my mind is stuck at 19. Happy 50th, Class of ’79.
Robert St.John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.