Birthdays can be unpredictable

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Last week and this week are recorded as being the coldest in January. My husband Tom was complaining that he wished he had never married a girl from Minnesota. He says this every winter. He grew up on Army posts and some of the places he has lived are England, Japan, Texas, Colorado and Utah. He was out working in the elements every day last week digging graves.

The ground is frozen down two feet and it was difficult getting it to thaw out. He used his propane oven and charcoal to thaw out the frozen ground. His partner, Jeff, marinated steaks overnight and they grilled the steaks on a little grill while they were digging one day. Tom said they tasted great and they warmed up his blood.

Tom also said that at if he ever marries again he is going to make sure his next wife is from a warmer climate. Another complaint he has every January is my birthday is this month. Living in Minnesota and having to celebrate my birthday during the coldest time of the year makes Tom shake his head and roll his eyes. He says he didn't know what he was in for when he married me.

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I think sarcastically, "Really, you poor, poor fellow."

Having a birthday when it is so bitter cold outdoors has usually been

without great fanfare. My mother would bake me an angel food cake and my dad usually grinned at me and said, "Oh, it's your birthday." He would then reach into his pocket and hand me 50 cents. One year my mother said that since it was my birthday I had a choice of doing dishes or hauling in wood.

I chose to haul in wood.

When I turned 8 years old, my mother had my godparents in for Sunday dinner. She made me the usual angel food cake, only she sliced it in layers and put vanilla ice cream and frozen strawberries in it.

My godparents brought along Great Uncle Joe Callahan for dinner. Uncle Joe had a wooden leg that he said a rat lived in. He had false teeth that he would click in and out of his mouth while staring without blinking at a little kid.

I was afraid of Uncle Joe. I knew that I didn't want to sit and eat at the dining room table with him. The dining room table could seat 10 comfortably and the younger kids were delegated to the kitchen table. There were nine of us kids, my parents, my godparents, their two children and Uncle Joe.

After we said grace, I loaded up my plate and was going to sit in the kitchen with four of my brothers and sisters. My mother said, "Sheila it is your birthday, sit at the head of the dining room table."

For the first time in my life I sat at the head of the dining room table. I was so uncomfortable and extremely shy, as I wasn't used to being the center of attention. Uncle Joe was at the other end. I kept my eyes on my plate while eating to avoid looking at him. After dinner, Mom set the birthday cake with the lit candles in front of me and everyone started singing Happy Birthday. I was looking at the sea of smiling, singing faces and then looked at Uncle Joe. He was staring a hole through me while clicking his false teeth in and out. I was shaking as I blew the candles out. I was glad that dinner was almost over and I could get away from the dining room table.

I knew after dinner that Uncle Joe would pull his pant's leg up so we could look at his wooden leg with its holes for ventilation and try and see the pet rat that lived in his leg. I hoped that this birthday I would finally see the elusive pet rat. Of course I didn't, but I knew it was there.

Anyone as scary as Uncle Joe would let a rat live in his leg.

Sheila Donnelly can be reached at 434-2233 or by e-mail at