Today is Gussie’s birthday. He would be 83 this year. I have dreaded this day all year, worrying about how sad this day would be. But as it got closer, I started to try to convince myself to do the opposite-to celebrate his life, not dwell on his death. Those who know me know that it’s not a easy feat for me, for as much as his life and lessons have shaped my life, his death has forever changed it.
My family has a few traditions that my father was big on maintaining, either for the sake of family tradition or just out of habit and preference. One such tradition was the birthday cake we all were presented with every year- the Italian cream cake. Rum-soaked vanilla cake with a chocolate pudding-like cream in between layers and adorned with slivered almonds or chopped peanuts on the frosting, this cake was, to the best of my knowledge as a child, the only birthday cake in existence. I have to admit, I never liked it much. Once I was married and my birthday celebrations were not left up to my parents, I deviated from the traditional Italian cream cake but would occasionally get one for my father’s birthday. The last time we had one was 2010- this is it:
So, with June 11 looming, I decided I would not spend the day crying or lamenting my father’s passing. Instead, I was determined to find the resolve to think of the beautiful memories I have of him, and how happy and vibrant and pain-free he is in heaven today. So, I bought an Italian cream cake, some Rolling Rock (his favorite beer- read here) and drank one with lunch and then I sang “Happy Birthday” in my full Water Rinaldi voice (a bad version of a local opera buff who used to sing Happy Birthday at the Newtown Squire restaurant as if he were Pavarotti) which my father used to also do, but better, because my father also knew how to sing. I imagined him there, closing his ears and shaking his head at my version, which is what he always did, pretending (?) he couldn’t wait until it was over, and that made me smile. My mother laughed and we all had some really good Italian cream cake. I have to say, after years of not appreciating it, I thought it was delicious today. My dad would have loved it.
Happy Birthday to my father. I hope this birthday was the best he ever had.