December 30, 2007

Out of his teens

Birthday candles

By the time First Extra had gotten out of work and driven to our house, we'd already gathered near the fire for the candle ceremony. There were thirteen of us, my own family and some extras, and I'd already passed out the beeswax candles that are made at the monastery. Boy in Black had settled in the comfy chair, with With-a-Why on one side of him, balanced on the arm of the chair, and Math Kid on the other. Sweet Funny Extra had pulled over the wooden rocking chair and was busily destroying his candle. Shaggy Hair Boy and Quick sat on the floor, near the oak bench that we use as a coffee table, while I found a spot on the couch between my daughter and my husband.

It was First Extra's last few hours as a teenager.

We've known him since third grade, and almost from the start, he's been part of the family. As we went around the circle, each person who held a candle said what they liked about him. Boy in Black, who knows him the best, kept chiming in with funny anecdotes. We all know the stories by now, but it's tradition to tell again crazy things that have happened over the years. We heard again about the time he vomited on the way to the Weird Guy Who Does Mostly Parodies concert, and the time he came with us camping in the mountains on a weekend that got very cold and we had only three blankets for all of us, and the time he broke our sliding glass door when he was golfing in the backyard, and the time he was so busy talking that he didn't watch where he was going and walked right into a sign.

Film Guy arrived halfway through the ceremony and joked that he'd been late on purpose in hopes of missing the whole thing, but then he pulled up a kitchen chair and joined the circle. In the dimness, I couldn't see any of the faces, just the flickering of the candles, and the coloured lights from the Christmas tree behind Boy in Black. During pauses in the conversation, I could hear the crackling of the fire. But there weren't many pauses: teasing remarks, funny quips, and laughter filled the spaces between sincere compliments, affectionate insults, and rambling anecdotes.

Then we watched him open his present. Boy in Black's method of wrapping a present usually includes any cardboard boxes we have out in the garage, a number of random objects, and a whole lot of duct tape. The process of creating the package, it seems, is far more important than the gift itself. Each item First Extra pulled out of the box was stranger than the last: a black glove, some packaging straw, a football, part of a drill, an old boot. It was well past midnight by the time we finished the candle ceremony and the unwrapping of the traditional gift. And the boy we've known all these years was no longer a teenager.


zelda1 said...

What a nice way to celebrate the leaving one stage behind. When my son turned twenty, he and I counted the seconds backward from sixty to get the exact moment when he was born. That year, I bought him a map and reminded him that sometimes it's hard to find our way home and I wanted him to always know the way. Sometimes I think growing pains hurt the parents worse than the kids.

Coffee-Drinking Woman said...

Reading about your family traditions always fills me with hope, for some reason. Thank you.

Yankee, Transferred said...

Sounds wonderful. Both Gigi and Older Daughter turn 20-just one month apart-this coming year. It scares the bejeezus out of me.

kathy a. said...

that's so lovely. i really like that you have this ceremony, and that it embraces the family you all choose as well as the ones bonded in more traditional ways.

landismom said...

That is really special. I like that your whole family gets together to celebrate the birth of friends.

Patti said...

I have no idea how we will celebrate the 15th birthday this year...oh did you hear, Songbird is coming this spring! Pure luck will be working in my fair, little city! Maybe you'll be able to get a nude of him, after all!