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James R. Stout

You Say It's Your Birthday?

            There are some of my birthdays that I simply have no recollection of at all. Examples would be my 11th, 14th, 26th, 34th, and most of my 40’s and 50’s. I remember what was going in my life during the general time of those, but no specific memories are there. On the other hand, there are several birthdays in which I have vivid memories. Some of these include my 8th, 10th, 13th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 24th, 25th, 27th, 28th, 30th, 36th, 40th, and 51st. Perhaps all this seems strange to some of you, but I have an excellent memory and ever since I was very young, I have stored many memories. If you have read any of my blog entries, then you will know this.

            I want to tell you about one of those birthdays that I remember vividly. It wasn’t necessarily a “special” birthday though. In other words, it wasn’t a milestone birthday. You know the kind I mean. While I do remember many of those, I want to tell you about my 24th birthday. It was September 9th, 1979. It was a Sunday and during my working years I always loved it when my birthdays fell on a weekend or a holiday. It meant that I didn’t have to work on my birthday. That was always cool.

            The day started out with us going to church in the morning and then rushing home to get changed, meet up with my sister and her husband, and then the four of us went to watch the Houston Astros game at the Astrodome. We played the San Francisco Giants that day and won the game 4-1. The Astros had a pretty good team that year and ended the season with an 89-73 record. But the Pittsburg Pirates would eventually win the pennant and then the World Series. If you were alive and remember much about that season, then you’ll remember the Pirates having a great year with Willie “Pop” Stargell and Bert Blyleven leading the way and it was the first time that the team used the Sister Sledge hit record, “We Are Family” as a theme song. I digress.

            The game was an afternoon game and the plans were to meet my parents after the game for dinner and then to mine and my wife’s apartment for the birthday cake. My parents watched my sister’s 1-year-old son while the four of us went to the game. He was the only grandchild at the time. We met them at a local Tex-Mex restaurant and then went to our apartment. My wife had baked a cake and I had pretended not to peak at it the night before. It was my favorite. A spice cake with creamy white icing. I don’t eat those anymore though. Too much sugar. The cake was brought out with the candles burning and they sang happy birthday to me and I then blew out the candles. We didn’t go in for big birthdays in those days and there were only three presents to open. One from my parents, one from my sister and brother-in-law, and one from my wife. My parents bought me a set of horseshoes. Now, that may seem kind of strange given I lived in an apartment. But I could always go to my parent’s house, a nearby public park, or my favorite, take them up to the farm and play under the shade of some huge cedar trees in the side yard. I loved to play horseshoes. I still would, but it seems that I’ve always got something more pressing to do these days. Plus, there is nobody to play with. (Cue the big crocodile tears!) My sister gave me the new debut LP “Get The Knack” by The Knack. Stop laughing! It was a good album. Then I opened the present from my wife. I was flabbergasted. She actually bought me something that I really really wanted. Now, that’s not a dig against her. It’s just that she always felt that I was impossible to buy for and she just never knew what to get me. I didn’t understand that. Anything musical or baseball or a good book would have been a hit with me. And, speaking of a hit, she knocked this one out of the park. What was it that I was so incredibly happy to receive? A handheld Entex Electronic Baseball game! My oh my was I excited. I may have been 24 and married for 3 years and all that stuff, but I still had some little boy in me.

           

            Handheld electronic games were a new cutting-edge technology in 1979. I think that was the also the year that the Mattel Football Game came out in time to be sold out nationwide by Christmas. Now this game was pretty simple by today’s standards. There were no graphics to speak of. The sounds were beeps of different notes depending on if you got a hit or out or in the case of a home run it kind of went crazy with a bunch of beeps. The batter and pitcher were represented by a tiny red dot that moved. The same kind of digital red color as the original digital watches that you couldn’t read in the sunlight. Yea, I had one of those too in about 1976. The game could be played one or two persons. Given my wife was about as interested in playing the thing as a bear would be in a mosquito, the one player option was perfect for me. I might add that much to my wife’s delight there was a volumewheel on the game. This meant that I could play the game without driving her crazy with the beeps.

            But first I had to figure the game out. I played a couple of games with my Dad and my brother-in-law that evening and none of us could manage to hit the pitch. We all pitched like pros but batted like sissies. What it took was figuring out the timing. You can believe that I did indeed figure out the timing. I had a blast with that game.

            One big difference in me and my wife was our natural body clocks. I have always been a night owl. Since retiring, this has become even more prominent. My ex-wife found it hard to keep her eyes open after 9 p.m. and was up early. In those early years of the 27-year marriage, I tended to go to bed when she did. That’s all I’m going to say about that. The deal was I couldn’t get to sleep without something to make me sleepy. At first, I listened to my stereo with headphones until I finally got to sleep. I would also read, but this could be bothersome to my ex due to the light having to be on.

            Then came the Entex Baseball game. I could turn down the sound, have the lights out, and play several games with no more disturbance than tiny red digital lights going off at times. It was a win-win situation. But like all good things, I did eventually get tired of playing the game. But over the next 4 or so years I would get the game out of the bottom drawer of my chest of drawers and play a game or two.

            In the spring of 1984 two major things were going on. First and foremost, we were expecting our first child. On this day 35 years ago, he was born. Happy birthday, Matt! Secondly, I started recording what would become my first album. On the night of April 25, 1984, I was up late finishing the mixing of the album. I got it finished about midnight and made two copies to use as demos. When I came to bed it was about 1 a.m., but I was still wide awake. Between waiting for my wife to go into labor with our first child and the accomplishment of finishing my album, I was pretty keyed-up. I laid down in bed and tried to sleep. No luck. Then I thought about that old Entex Baseball game. I got up and retrieved it from the bottom drawer and laid back down in bed. I turned down the sound and played a few games even though some of the L.C.D. red dots had burned out over the years. Finally, about 2:30 I fell asleep. But not for long. I think it went something like what follows.

            I was sleeping and my wife started pushing me in the back.

            “Randy. Randy!” I heard her say.

            “Yes?” I replied sleepily.

            “I think my water just broke.”

            Well, I guess I shot out of the bed about 120 mph. I was suddenly wide awake.

            “Are you sure?” I asked.

            Then she showed me the wet sheets. Yep, I’d say her water broke.

            Well, we had her bag already packed and ready to go. While she went into the bathroom (not going there) I called the OB/GYN’s answering service and let them know. They said not to worry and to get to the hospital by 6 a.m. We lived about 18 miles from the hospital. It would take a little time to get there anyway. We left the house about 4 a.m. and as I was closing the front door to lock it, I looked back in the house. My wife was standing there by me and she asked me if something was wrong.

            “Not at all.” I said. “I was just thinking that the next time we come back into this house together it will be three of us instead of just us two.”

            After nearly 8 years of marriage, it was going to be an adjustment, but an exciting adjustment. Well, we got to the hospital a few minutes before 6 a.m. and the waiting started. By 11 a.m. it was obvious it wouldn’t be long. In fact, they wheeled her into the delivery room while I put on the surgical mask, surgical shoe thingies, and was shown the proper and thorough way to wash my hands and arms. I was going to be there the whole time. I wasn’t going to miss it. Labor started to speed up and to this day I’m not sure if my left thumb will ever be the same. But it was something for her to squeeze and hold on to as our son entered center stage. Matt was born and the doctor lifted him up and set him on his mother’s belly. Then he looked at me as he held out a pair of surgical scissors and said, “Well, Dad. Want to cut the cord?” It was one of those moments in my life that are just eons beyond the normal everyday moments we all go through.

           A few minutes later and I was holding my son, in his swaddling clothes, and wondering at the miracle of it all. I cried which caused my wife to cry and I think even the nurses were getting a little teary-eyed. And you know what? I wasn’t thinking about playing that Entex Baseball game at all. Not even a little. There was something new in my life that completely eclipsed such things as electronic games. Two days later a family of three entered that house of ours. A little over a year later it would be a family of 4. And now? Well, it’s a family of 9 counting 5 granddaughters. I’ll say it again. Happy birthday, Matt!

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