Kage Baker regarded her own birthday as the beginning of Summer.
That was when real summer began. The calendar insisted it was June 21st, and Kage happily celebrated the older holiday of Midsummer on that date. And of course, the ending of school was an enormous landmark. By most kids’ reckoning, summer begins then, as you rush hysterically out of school on That Day, eager to spend your last secretly hoarded milk money on Pixie Sticks and Tootsie Roll Minis on the way home.
But we were almost always out of school before Kage’s birthday rolled round on June 10th. She almost never had the cupcakes in the classroom thing. Of course, most kids miss out on that these days anyway, as the Powers That Be have decided that homemade cupcakes are no longer welcome in the classroom. But in our antedeluvian day, your mom showed up at lunch time with a tray full of cupcakes, and everyone toasted you in Betty Crocker’s best.
Unless you had a summer birthday. Most of us girls did, with Kage coming earliest on the rota. But that was all right, once she decided her birthday was summer’s actual start.
When we were grownups, out living on our own, the whole week surrounding a birthday was sacrosant. Ladies never tell their ages, per maternal order: but neither of us cared much about how old we were. It was the observation of the anniversary, not the tag on it. Birthdays were often the occasions of road trips; birthday charabancs, wild adventures over the edge of the horizon, tropical cocktails, weird sweets found in tiny shops in strange towns.
Being able to drive, buy alcohol and dine in nice restaurants made it all the more adventurous. Kage often said, she wouldn’t go back to childhood birthday parties for anything: steak dinners at some restaurant on the Northern Coast, with a glass full of rum, orchids and plastic dolphins – that was what she liked. Walking late at night on strange beaches, headed back to a bespoke room.
Sometimes she liked to pretend we were creeping in to our own house or hotel room. “This looks like a nice place,” Kage would say as we wandered through the warm darkness. “Let’s break in and sleep there tonight.”
“Sounds good to me,” I would agree. And we would do that. When we were young and limber and the cocktails had been especially good, we sometimes really did sneak around to a window we knew was loose or open – Kage would give me a leg up, I’d more or less fall through the window, and then pull her in. Much giggling and a really atrocious amount of noise accompanied these faux home invasions, so it’s a minor miracle we never got the cops called on us.
And after that celebration, it would be summer forever … or at least until the crepe myrtle began to bloom in early September. That was Kage’s private marker for the start of school, and autumn. She always mourned the blossoms of the crepe myrtle; those prevaricating clouds of pink and purple and white; lying spring colours, that were really announcing the first sighting of fall.
It’s along, long way from June 10th to that, though. Right now is the season of abundance.
The Santa Rosa plums are just coming ripe on my tiny little tree in the backyard – three of them this year! I had only one last year. Peaches, apricots, nectarines, pluots, apridoodles and Goddess knows what else are ripe and tempting in every market. Exotic tomatoes and cucumbers. Corn – gold, white, and unlikely but edible jewel colours. Lettuces in shades of green and red, like a sunset with the green flash showing. There are red, white, black and amber grapes. There is local watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew; muskmelon, Persian melon, horned melon; Canary, Casaba and Crenshaw. Plus all the merrily incestuous hybrids that result when you plant different melons too close together.
So I’ll eat a plum from my very own tree tomorrow, to celebrate Kage’s birthday. I used to eat the apricots, while she ate the plums. But it’s her day tomorrow, and the beginning of real summer – so it’s plums. Plums, all the way down.