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Getting excited about birthdays again can lead to disappointment

Columnist Dan Conradt says he still remembers the birthday cake that never was.

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I hadn’t been so excited about my birthday since the year I turned 10 and had accidentally discovered that there was a G.I. Joe space capsule hidden in the back of mom’s closet.

THAT was a birthday to remember, but nothing like this.

This year I’d get a cake.

Cake was a birthday tradition in our house. Mom would make a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and decorate it with candy letters and the appropriate number of candles. She’d light the candles once the supper dishes were cleared away; the family would sing an off-key version of the Happy Birthday song and the cake would be served with vanilla ice cream.

I wasn’t expecting a song or a G.I. Joe space capsule on my 22nd birthday, but I was expecting a cake.


Not a Mom cake. An office cake.

There was a tradition at work that an employee’s birthday would be celebrated with a cake, and my 22nd birthday would be my first office cake. But in the weeks leading up to my birthday, the tradition had come to represent something much more than a cake; it was confirmation that I was part of the team … doing a job, earning a paycheck, making my own way. Being an adult, even if, for one day, at least, I felt like a 10-year old.

I smelled the cake even before I saw it, and knew that one of my co-workers had stopped at the bakery on the way to the office.

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I was glad I wore a clean shirt.

The office workers were at their desks when I walked through the lobby: “Good morning,” I said a little too cheerfully. Someone answered a phone and someone else was punching numbers into an adding machine. I passed between two desks and stepped into the break room.

If a birthday cake can be a work of art, there was art sitting on the counter. It was covered with delicate frosting flowers and sprinkled with colorful candy confetti.

Across the top of the cake, a ribbon of frosting spelled out "Happy birthday, Roscoe!"

Wait … what? Roscoe?!


I looked around to see if I’d missed a second cake, maybe a bigger one that said something like, oh, I don’t know, “Happy Birthday, Dan.”

Nope. Just one cake.

Happy Birthday, Roscoe.

I was still trying to understand the cake when the workers in the adjoining office sang out “Happy birthday, Roscoe!”

“Thanks, guys,” my co-worker Roscoe said. He stepped into the break room, then poked his head back into the office: “Wow! Thanks for the cake.”

“Happy birthday, Roscoe,” I said, trying to hide my disappointment as he slid the first piece of cake onto a plastic plate.

“Thanks,” he said, licking frosting from his finger. “25 today. I’m getting old.”

Two nights later my mom cleared the supper dishes and carried a chocolate cake to the table. The cake had one candle … Mom joked that 22 candles would be a violation of the fire code … and my family sang “Happy Birthday” off-key.


I was cutting my second piece of cake … I took the “H” from the candy letters that spelled out “Happy Birthday, Dan” … when Mom asked, “Did they do anything for your birthday at work?”


Mom and Dad gave me a very nice dress shirt and said I should wear it to work on Monday, and for an hour we lingered over cake and coffee.

It might have been the best birthday ever.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.

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