Birthday celebration – Humorist
17/06/2011 § Leave a comment
This is Master Barn Owl’s story. It is not mine, unless I happen to be Master Barn Owl. If you don’t understand Master Barn Owl’s story (or mine), don’t blame me, dear reader, don’t blame the text. Please shift the blame to the weather and to the Ministry of Education and the Excise Department.
A birthday is a very important day, especially my wife’s, incidentally my own, accessorily my wife’s mum’s and remotely my wife’s mum’s mum’s.
I am not like some men (in one particular instance; as for the usual attributes, of course we are the same; if you don’t believe me, I dare you to come and have a look) – not like them in this that some cannot remember their wife’s birthday, recall it three days later, thus fail to have a blowout on that important day, which has the wife in peeved histrionics, so there is no opportunity to do anything more special than on any other day.
As for me, as I already told you, I am unlike some men in this that I remember my wife’s birthday three months in advance, keep that important day in mind all the time except when I am asleep or too far gone, because on this most important day of her life (given that she was only born once) we celebrate in a big way and when it is not yet time to celebrate in a big way we endeavour to find days on which to celebrate in a small way as dress rehearsals, such as the birthday of this child, the birthday of that one, the birthday of that other yet unborn, and when we run out of children and cannot find any other important day, we take any ordinary day, or two, or three, or sometimes more than that, and declare them to be ante-birthday days. By upping the ante, sometimes we manage to celebrate my wife’s birthday three hundred and eighty days a year.
An explanation is in order for a correct understanding of the story that follows, which is that by “celebrate” what is meant is that children, wife, wife’s mum and wife’s mum’s mum sit sharing a repast according to their lights and at the same time sit looking at me drinking spirits in high spirits on my own, singing some song, bragging about notional incomes or calling for no longer available appetizers. As soon as I recline to join the food circle, my wife puts the dishes away, wipes away crumbs and scraps, lights a mosquito coil for me, and that is the end of the feast. At dawn the next day I go for a couple of hair of the dog, then examine my body to make sure these sparkling spots are mosquito bites, not cold sores, and then I wash my face, get dressed and go out and at ’em. When I have ’em I do some work for exercise’s sake. In late afternoon I go back home and the celebration resumes. That’s what we always do. Not for us, half-hearted equivocations that lead to changing prime ministers at a drop of the baht.
The celebration I am talking about is the celebration marking the end of another cycle in my wife’s life, which took place the day before yesterday. (As for my birthday this year I can no longer remember exactly how many times it has come around. It blurredly seems to have been celebrated each time it did, so often actually that it has become unseemly, so let us forget about it and wait for the fifteenth of August to celebrate it for good.)
It is necessary for me to report on my wife’s birthday celebration in order to publicise it for others to imitate, because it is one of the many cultural traits pertaining to my wife we can share (the traits, not my wife). I had gathered my wits and wit fully for such a report, but once the celebration was over I no longer had any wits about me, only a dry wit, so I used that to tell my children to write the report for me, which they did. I corrected it and deleted all crude and lewd words, but for all that there still must be some left. If you find any, feel free to take them out. I have also taken out the various slang terms which these little cowboys don’t yet know the meaning of. They also drew pictures to illustrate the text but they had nothing to do with the import of the report, were rather smutty and overemphasised parts of the body, so I took them out as well. No need to be sorry. What? Oh, the female body of course. Who would say “smutty” for the male body? “Obscene” is the word. And nobody writes on paper to waste paper. Artists expert in these kinds of pictures use walls instead.
Hereafter is my son’s report, i.e. Master Barn Owl’s report, because this is Master Barn Owl’s story as already mentioned. I am reproducing it here. Actually, there is no need to mention his name, because he doesn’t want anything besides two meals a day, noodles once a day, things to nibble before and after every meal as well as toffee, chewing gum and watermelon seeds for as long as his mouth is empty. For pocket money he only needs enough to see all the movie programmes of all the big movie houses and buy all the sex-boosting publications sold in the capital. Everything else he doesn’t want.
I (that’s him, my son, because he is entitled to call himself “I” like every other Thai citizen according to all past, present and future constitutions; I can’t prevent him from using “I”; it would go against our fledgling democracy) – I’ve been asked by Dad (that’s me) to report on the celebration of Mum’s (that’s my wife) birthday. I (that’s him again) thus report the following:
We love our mother dearly. Mum gets money from Dad to give to us and then Dad comes and borrows it from us, so we are Dad’s creditors with Dad’s own money. Mum is so generous with us, Dad only so-so, which isn’t double so but half so. Therefore on Mum’s birthday we were determined to celebrate jollily. It’s one of the most important days for our family as we want to make it the day Mum receives the most happiness.
Two days before the occasion, Dad exerted himself enough to get up before noon to go to work. We heard him tell Mum that if he was going to work it was to take the day off on her birthday because a clever foreigner of some country or other had claimed compellingly that “Those who don’t work don’t know like the rest of us what a day off is”.
We too took a few days off for this important memorial day (three days to shape up to it, three days to recover from it – a week altogether). We wanted to do something splendid, so we consulted Dad about decorating the house with paper flags and paper stripes of various colours. Dad agreed, so he sent me off to ask Mum for money to buy paper flags and stripes, and then asked us who would do the decoration. This one said he was no good; that one, hardly better. Dad said he couldn’t stand on a chair, it’d make his head spin and he could fall and die for nothing. Actually there’s no need to climb up a chair: by merely standing on the floor, you can just use the wall as a prop if you don’t care to reel. So we had Mum put up the flags. She wiped the place clean of cobwebs then climbed up to pin the flags we handed over and Dad lay supervising the operation. We’d get him to open his eyes once in a while to ask him for advice. When the decoration was done, Mum was delighted that her birthday party would be brightened by rows of flags waving gracefully in the house.
Our big sisters thought that on the important occasion of Mum’s birthday they should each cut a blouse in commemoration, so they asked Mum to go and buy some material they’d cut and sew and that’s it. Dad asked Mum for money to buy two new shirts in commemoration. My little brothers bought a football in commemoration, a top each in commemoration and a box of biscuits in commemoration. We wanted to buy material for Mum to make herself a blouse in commemoration, but Dad thought that ever since Mum had been wearing blouses he had yet to see her wear any blouse as beautiful as the royal blue one with white polka dots and plunging neckline and to buy the same material for a new one would be redundant, so Mum agreed with Dad to have the beautiful blouse she had worn less than fifty times in commemoration of the occasion.
Usually Mum would be engrossed in homework all day long, with our big sisters giving her a hand (out of four) in the morning and in the evening only. We young sons didn’t help in any way other than by alleviating her work by not having inkpots overturn and dirty our clothes too often and when the field was muddy easing up on playing football, so Mum would wash our shorts less often. But everything was the same as ever, which is that when they got up in the morning my sisters would hurry over their homework in time to send it to the morning teacher, Mum would ask why they didn’t do it the previous evening and they’d say that when they came back from school they were so pooped out by PE they fell asleep. So actually they didn’t help Mum much either morning or evening, but they alleviated her work by competing over handkerchiefs and school scarves to iron them themselves. We could see Mum’s hard labour, so to have her pleasantly surprised, Dad went to borrow a car to take Mum and the whole lot of us children on a day trip along the road to Pak Nam.
When Dad told Mum the good news, Mum was pleased, as she had never gone on a day trip to Pak Nam before. Dad said that since we were going we must take the children as far as Pak Nam to visit the offshore stupa. It’d be fun if we stopped the car to have lunch along the way, so Mum prepared food for lunch the evening before for the next day. There were rice crackers, fried mince pork canapés and loads of other stuff we love, besides the food for breakfast on the important day, with especially delicious dishes, and food offerings for the monks as well. Mum put them in a big Cambodian hamper together with bottles of water and glasses which could barely all fit in.
The next morning, I don’t know when Mum woke up. As soon as we were up and intent on helping her cook the rice and take out the offerings for the monks, it turned out that everything was ready, and the special dishes for breakfast and for the lunch we’d eat on the way were already warmed up. We set about waking up Dad. Dad asked for a half-hour reprieve three times. Mum thought that if we waited for Dad to share in the food offering we’d have to go to the temple to serve the monks their eleven o’clock collation because there were fewer and fewer monks left waiting on the road, so Mum filled their alms bowls along with us while Dad went on sleeping.
Dad’s friend from whom he had borrowed the car had its driver convey it to us and it was already waiting, so this time Dad had to get up, otherwise we wouldn’t have much time left to spend in Pak Nam. Dad did get up. Mum told us that today it wouldn’t do to have Dad fuzzy-woozy, he should pick a hair, so she gave money to go and get two pegs.
When that was done, we dressed in a hurry. Mum put on the blouse Dad liked, the beautiful old one Dad had decided would do for birthday celebration. My sisters put on new blouses. Dad put on a new shirt. We took along the football and the tops for commemoration and we got into the car only to realise we were one too many for sure even though we squeezed ourselves in it like red herrings and occupied every square inch. This was because the hamper took up far too much sitting space. We couldn’t sit on it. To take it out to have someone sit instead was neither here nor there because food was important. So we agreed someone had to stay behind. Dad said he wouldn’t go so that Mum could go. Mum said if Dad didn’t go who would take us there, and as to having one of us children stay home, none would agree. To give up going to Pak Nam would be a shame now that we had borrowed a car, which was no easy feat, and prepared lots of food: eating it at home, we wouldn’t get through it all for sure. Leaving the driver out wouldn’t do either, as none of us could drive. So regretfully Mum would have to stay behind, but Dad didn’t dare to speak, we didn’t dare to speak, until Mum could see there was no way we could go on a day trip to Pak Nam if she didn’t forsake going and so she told us she’d stay behind and take care of the house. We were sorry for her and wanted her to come along because it was a fun trip on the occasion of her birthday. Mum said never mind, on the way back you’ll tell me about it. So we cheered her and drove away. Mum stood looking until we went out of sight.
It was fun all the way. Dad got off to buy a bottle of stimulant for the car, but having it in the car before long he had it in his stomach to avoid wasting space. We missed Mum for missing the fun. The visit to the offshore stupa was a great lark. We ended up covered in mud and wondered when that happened. It must have been when we pulled and held up Dad who was on his last legs and fell into a soggy depression.
We came back home in a jolly good mood in late afternoon. Mum was still wearing the same beautiful clothes as in the morning and had dinner ready. All of us went to hug her in turn, except those who were helping Dad get out of the car, and competed in telling of the fun we had on our trip on the occasion of her birthday.
And then Mum served dinner, woke up Dad for him to sit leaning against the wall to eat with us. Dad cheered several times to cheer up Mum’s birthday party and then reclined beside the food outlay as usual.
We were all exhausted and helped each other take off Dad’s muddy clothes and ours as well, took showers and turned in because we were really fagged out. That very evening Mum washed all the muddy clothes, afraid that if she left it till morning they’d be too hard to clean.
The next morning, as soon as we were up, Mum made breakfast for us and then got Dad to sit up to eat piping hot curry to clear his fumes except it didn’t, so Mum sent us off to go and buy a pick-me-up and when Dad was picked up he told Mum how delightful and enjoyable her birthday had been. Mum told us it was the day she had been most happy celebrating her birthday so jollily. We were delighted to have all contributed to Mum’s happiness on her birthday.
‘Chalong Wan Keurt’ in Sao Hin Haeng Karnweila (Timeless Masters), Writers Association of Thailand, 1973