Why would a dark story come flying into my head at my grandson’s joyous birthday party? Suddenly sad, my mind swept back to that bleak Saturday afternoon, a cold but clear winter day.
Visiting my best friend George in his tiny house, furniture, leftovers from an unfaithful marriage, his mother abandoned with two kids and not much to make it pretty.
I remember bare, spare. An odd-shaped table, unmatched chairs, a plastic K-mart tablecloth, bright party plates—cups and napkins embarrassing the rest of the room. And Kitty, George’s thirteen year old sister, sobbing in the corner on her mothers’ s heavy breast.
No one came. Not one kid. The entire eighth grade class invited. Sometime later, after the four of us ate some of the too large cake, small smiles came through the tears, the repeated “Whys?” having faded away, Kitty would tell us. She had been to a few of “their” parties, always lots of kids, presents, fun, balloons, ice cream, cake, games.
She wanted one for herself, too innocent to know that class extends from birth. Too shy, she asked her teacher to pass out the invites, tried not to notice the lack of eye contact.
Wore her one pretty dress. Terribly poor, but Mom splurged on plates, cups, napkins, hats, party favors, ice cream and a huge cake, decided not to make it herself after a lot of lost sleep. Set for one o’clock. It was a bit past two when George and I arrived, heard the sobs, beat a quick path to his room to shut our ears.
Finally, a knock on George’s door.
Mrs: “Boys, come out to the party. Your sister wants to share her cake.”
We came right out, Mrs. putting a party hat on each of our heads without asking, the same ones she and Kitty had already donned. The cake and ice cream were already served before us, each plate with a red plastic fork.
We ate; it was good. Made small talk. You can’t remember small talk. We did not sing.
As I stood at my grandson’s party, even as memory fades, I realized that all these years I had never thought about why it happened. Then, I was only old enough to feel sad.
Was it the poverty, the house, the wrong-side-of-the-tracks neighborhood, that Kitty was not pretty, had acne, was overweight, sweat stains, even then, under her party dress arms?
Now I am able to reflect, surmise in my old, retirement, comfortable age, snap back to my own festivities—middle-class children, plates, cups, napkins, hats, favors, pizza, cake, ice cream, games, lots of presents.
Originally published in Adelaide Literary Magazine