Feb. 18, 1979- I’m watching TV--probably checking out the exploits of my favorite prehistoric dude, Fred Flintstone--when I’m called into my Mom’s bedroom. Back then, when my Mom called my name, it was usually bad. What can I say? I was kind of a mischievous and hyperactive child. But since today was my birthday, hearing my name couldn’t mean that I was in trouble today. Could it?
Nevertheless, I rushed into the room, where I found Ma beaming at me with pride. A sense of relief and a feeling of excitement washed over me as I sat on the bed and patiently waited for what was next. I figured that it was gift time!
As I sat on the edge of the bed facing the bedroom window, Mom came over and said jokingly, “Happy Birthday, son. You’re finally five so you now have my permission to grow a mustache!” As I smiled and thought about having the same hair over my lip as my Dad had, she handed me a flat square gift that was wrapped with the Sunday Daily News comic pages.
Now the gift being a flat square was a very good sign because it matched the dimensions of the gift that I was pining for for weeks. I ripped the Funnies off in about 2 seconds flat and came face-to-face with IT. I got IT! The Michael Jackson “Off the Wall” album!
After jumping up and down (I had hops even as a five-year-old youngin’) and hugging and kissing “The Best Mom Ever,” I ripped that shrink-wrap off, and ran straight for the record player! What I heard for the next hour or so, was pure magic.
After I lifted the needle up off the record, I felt really lucky. I remember thinking that this was the best birthday gift that I EVER got. Granted, I was five years old and this was the third or fourth birthday that I actually remembered, but you couldn’t tell me nothin’!
I got IT, and even better, I was the first of my friends to get it. I thought, “I can’t WAIT to get to daycare tomorrow!”
Feb. 19, 1979- Walking into Labor Sherman Day Care Center, the nexus of my social universe, I was the one now beaming with pride. I walked up the stairs quickly but still playing it real cool. I sauntered up to the classroom with a slow-bop (yeah, I had my walk down at five too). As I hit the door, I held up the album as if I was announcing its, and my, arrival. Even though the album fell out of the jacket because I was holding it upside-down (I've always been a little on the clumsy side), my friends knew what it was and rushed at me with excitement and disbelief. As I moved through the crowd with the aplomb of a star like Michael himself, I finally made it into the classroom. I, and the rest of the class, then pleaded with the teacher to interrupt our regularly scheduled activities for this special event. We wanted music time to be just a little longer that day. She quickly agreed because she figured that a bunch of united five year-olds weren’t going to give in no time soon. Viva la revoluccion! I also secretly thought that she probably hadn't heard it yet either and wanted to check it out. Once the needle dropped, true magic followed...again.
To this very day, this is still the best birthday gift that I've ever got. I don't think that it's because of the album, because while it's a classic, I've heard better albums over the 36 years since. I think it's because of the way I felt at the time I got it. Getting something that I was pining so hard for. Getting an album that allowed me to continue my love affair with music that was still in its early stages. Being the "first kid on the block" with something that seemingly everyone wanted. Giving my friends and I something that we could enjoy together. Being the center of attention.
While all of those things were great, the think the main reason was that my Mom was the source of all of these good feelings. I remember how I felt when I ripped the album open every time I hear a Michael Jackson song. I also remember it when I think about all of the times my Mom has come through for me because it was one of the first times that she did that I can remember.
So, here’s to you Mom for always coming through. For always giving me what I needed (even though it may not have been what I wanted at the time) and some of the things that I wanted (I’m still a little warm about all of those sneaker store battles that I lost). Thank you for giving me the best birthday gift besides my very first first one when I turned 1 second old. I love you!