“Happy Birthday to Me” is a delightful little horror film from 1981, starring Melissa Sue Anderson, aka Mary from “Little House on the Prairie,” as Virginia, a top student at an exclusive private school who may just be blacking out and killing her annoying friends. Now, I don’t want to get too involved in the parallels between that movie and my own academic prowess, blackouts, annoying friends—but, hey—uh…what was I saying? And…uh…is this blood on my shirt? Good God! It’s everywhere!
Anyway, for my birthday I decided to treat myself to a late-60s/early 70s, cheapo Charlie Brown plastic mask I found on eBay—not so cheap now that it’s “vintage”—and, no, the costume and box are not with it. It’s a mask I intend to hang on the wall in my office—sort of a comical homage to all that Jungian persona business, and the notion that all therapists and psychologists have at least one or two carved, ‘primitive’ masks among their office décor. I suppose that, like with the vast majority of my comical homages, it will go largely un-understood and un-laughed-at by anybody who ever sees it. But that’s okay. We’ve got to amuse ourselves, right?
Still, there is a larger personal significance to the mask than just a little inside joke about Jung and the décor of therapists’ offices. It’s tied to my second—make that my third—I think—memory ever.
My father died a week before my third birthday, in a car accident, when another driver ran one of the few stop signs in the rural Nebraska community where we lived at the time. By October’s end, my mother had landed the family—my five siblings and me—in Oregon. We didn’t have much to hold us to Nebraska. We hadn’t been living there that long, and we had no relatives in the area. We were there because that’s where my father had been placed in his role as a pastor in the LCMS.
Halloween 1971 was spent at the home of my Uncle Jim (my mother’s brother), while we waited to move into the house that had been purchased with some of the payouts from my father’s death.
That year I went trick-or-treating in a Charlie Brown costume. The only reason I can recall this at all is that my Uncle Jim had slipped a rock or two into my trick-or-treat bag, predictably and hilariously eliciting cries of “I got a rock!” as we inspected our hauls for the evening.
It’s been a bit of a mystery to me why the end of summer and the beginning of autumn has always been my favorite time of year. Despite what should be an obvious association with loss, I’ve always tied it to new beginnings—most obviously the start of the school year. It also seems a bit odd that Halloween would be my favorite holiday as well, given that it’s connected somewhere back in my mind with the death of my father, and being unexpectedly uprooted.
I suppose that on some level, because fall is associated with most of my earliest memories, and it marks the time when I arrived in Oregon, which I will always consider home, fall is when I really joined the world as a conscious, if befuddled, human being. So I suppose that Charlie Brown mask is a symbol of both that consciousness and that befuddlement…and of the idea of home.
Happy Birthday to me, indeed.