You would think having a birthday in early June would be a fun thing. And by and large it is, but when I was a boy, having my birthday in early June seemed more of an extra thing on the busy schedule than anything else. The school year was always wrapping up (we usually got out around June 8 then). And then, pretty much right away, my family would hit the road for the annual family vacation. How did that affect my birthday?
Well, one year, Mom decided there was no point in baking a cake for my birthday because we were just going to go out of town in a day or two anyway.
There would be no time to eat it all before we went on vacation, and what was left would just go rotten sitting in the refrigerator for the week or two that we were gone.
So Mom hit on the idea of buying me a Pepperidge Farms frozen cake for my birthday. I had my choice of chocolate or white. Whatever was in the freezer case. We did it in 1970 when we went on vacation to Washington DC. And again in 1971 when we went to Cedar Point. And in 1972 and 1973 when we went to Florida each year. And again in 1974 when we moved. By the time 1975 came around, it had become an unintended fun family tradition. Chocolate, White, German Chocolate, Cocoanut. It seems like we hit them all through the years. So even though we weren’t going off on vacations much anymore, the Pepperidge Farms cakes continued. I believe one year when I was grown up and it was just Mom and I we even had a carrot cake.
For the couple years in college when I spent the day away from home, I would go out and buy one for myself.
When I was a kid, I remember feeling somewhat shortchanged by the whole Pepperidge Farms thing. But, eventually, I came to see that it added a special wrinkle to an already special day. Even now, it brings a smile to my face and makes a fun story to tell.
So the next time you are wondering how to add some spice to your birthday, try a Pepperidge Farms cake. And add a large scoop of ice cream!
And thanks for the memory, Mom!
Other Famous People Born on June 6
Robert Englund (Freddie in Nightmare on Elm Street)
Thomas Mann (author)
Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter actor)
Paul Giamatti (actor)
Harvey Fierstein (actor)
Aaron Sorkin (writer/producer)
V.C. Andrews (author)
Lasse Hallstrom (director)
Aldo Costa (F1 designer)
These days, there are very few objects from my childhood that still get daily use but there is one object that has been in constant use since I first got it back in June, 1972. It is the first thing I see in the morning when I get out of bed. And it is usually the next to last thing I see before I turn out the lights at night. I am speaking, of course, about my Florida desktop date calendar.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t into keeping track of the days as they pass. Perhaps it comes from my Grandma Rothrock who always had a Flip Top Perpetual Date Calendar in her kitchen. And when we visited her, I always asked to flip it each morning. She usually agreed. But I got it in my head that I wanted one of my own.
So I saved up my allowance money and, when my family headed south to Florida for our 1972 family vacation, I had my money with me and I was looking for one. We travelled those days in our 1969 Pontiac Safari station wagon (that kid travelling with the luggage in THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)? That was me!). Our family usually stopped at many of the tourist traps along the road so that my sisters and I could buy many of the cheap novelty items sold (then and now) to us unsuspecting, gullible tourists so I figured there was a good chance that I’d find one.
Not long after crossing the Florida state line, my father pulled off I-75 just north of Gainesville and stopped at a place called Candyland. This was one of those Mom and Pop all in one restaurant, gas station, and gift shop sort of places that seemed so plentiful back then before national franchising seemed to do it all away. A contemporary postcard describes Candyland as a “One-stop service center for today's fast moving Interstate traveler; restaurant; candies; gifts; souvenirs; gasoline; towel & tog shop; towels; textiles; clothing; mill store prices.” Wow, what a neat sounding place!
We hustled inside. I really only remember two things about the place. First, were the bins of toys and souvenirs for kids to rifle through. The other is that they had music piped through and the song playing when we arrived was the current Sammy Davis Jr. hit, “Candyman” (from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory). I remember thinking that it seemed very apropos to have that song playing.
Of course, Mom wanted us to sit and have something to eat because we had just arrived in Florida from our long trip from West Virginia but, being a kid, I went straight for the souvenirs. And it didn’t take long to find the thing I was looking for, my date calendar. I remember being a little put off that it had a “Florida” plate on the front – its single bow to tourism – but other than that it was exactly what I wanted. I remember showing it to my father who scowled down and said (as he said about most of my purchases), “You really wanna buy THAT?” Well, of course, I did. I remember hurrying over to the check out and paying for it with my own money. I don’t remember at all what it cost.
That night, I set it up next to my roll away bed in our motel room (I always got the roll away). And when I got up in the morning, I advanced it to the new day. And I have been doing that every day since for 42 years. My date calendar has held pride of place on my chest of drawers in 13 places of residence in 4 different states. It has marked and shared every good and bad day I have ever had from the very high to the very low and back again.
It has been with me through first loves, high school graduation, college road trips, my parents’ divorce, graduate school, multiple jobs, one firing, death of pets, my marriage, fatherhood, my mother’s death, and on and on and on. You name the life event and it and I have marked it together. And for some strange reason, being able to get up each morning and turn those knobs helps me to get the proper perspective on the day. If yesterday was great, it helps me to smile at the memory but know that today is another day and I have to work today to make this one as good as yesterday. If yesterday was a bad day, it makes me realize that today is another day and, most likely, it won’t be as bad. In fact, it has a very good chance of being better.
Of course, many things have changed since 1972. I am a little grayer and a little heavier than I was when I was ten. Candyland has long since gone though the building still exists today:
Sammy Davis Jr. has moved on and is now performing daily with the rest of the Rat Pack up in Heaven (or maybe down below – it’s hard to say).
I did inherit Grandma Rothrock’s flip date calendar when she passed away and used it daily in my kitchens as well until it broke in the late 1980s.
But me and my Florida desktop date calendar keep motoring along. I turned it this morning as soon as I stumbled out of bed. I expect I will be using it until that day when I will be making my last move and unable to bring it (or anything else) along except my memories.
Do you have anything like this in your life?
Oh, and for the record, I prefer the original version of “Candyman” from the movie.