notable birthdays

December 18

In 1935, in the town of Bourg-en-Bresse, at the foot of the Jura Mountains in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, the world was gifted with the birth of Jacques Pépin.  In honor of this glorious event, go have some kick-ass French food.  Better yet, make some yourself.  

But you have to speak in a goofy accent while you’re cooking if you use your own kitchen.  It’s required.

Thirty-six was not a particularly notable birthday. Sam still had a few years before his scheduled fortieth freakout happened, he was six years into what was proving the best decade of his life, and, as Bucky put it, “You’re friends with two ninety year-olds, no one gives a shit about your decline into middle age.” Then Bucky had given Sam one of his favorite knives as a birthday gift.

Sam wasn’t too proud to admit there were some tears going on after that. He maintained they were mostly Bucky’s. Like. A solid seventy percent of the tears were Bucky’s.

Maybe sixty percent.

Steve took him out to dinner along the Potomac, a little one-on-one time that they almost never got these days with Steve doing his time on the West Coast and Sam running the Avengers (after joining the Avengers, leaving the Avengers, joining the Secret Avengers, surviving the merger of the Secret and the Not Secret Avengers, going off to help found the West Coast Avengers, retiring for like a month there, and then coming back to take over Carol—halfway through his employment history for the past few years, Sam had to start using charts to keep it all straight). The next day, Sam was at the new Avengers mansion, half for a meeting and half for a party. Basically, Sam was at a debriefing with beer when T’Challa called.

“Your boo need something?” Rhodey asked with a grin when Sam came back from the balcony, sliding his phone back in his pocket.

“Yeah, we were planning your intervention,” Sam replied. “We gotta talk about your polo addiction.”

“Not everyone’s man enough to rock a polo.”

“You and every frat boy named Chet keep telling yourselves that.”

T’Challa had called to say happy birthday. He didn’t say much else. T’Challa was quiet, and the words he did say sounded like they were painstakingly crafted just for you. Sam liked the way T’Challa spoke, and yet he loved T’Challa’s silences more. The king of Wakanda had a way of making silence sound like a warm smile.

Shut up, you’re in love.

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Colonial American Birthdays!

It’s Alexander Hamilton’s birthday today, so I thought I would look into the ways in which Americans celebrated birthdays in the late 18th-century. I found very, very little. So, I dug through everyone’s favorite website, Founders Online, and found any mention of birthdays I could. Royal birthdays were traditionally marked by large balls and other public celebrations, and after the colonies declared independence they began to celebrate George Washington’s birthday this way instead. Since Washington’s birthdays were outliers, I ignored them.

In general, it seems that personal birthdays were widely celebrated. Benjamin Franklin’s wife, Deborah, wrote him in 1765 to say that their friend Mr. Bartram (presumably John Bartram) “asked us to celebrate his Birthday.” Celebrating a birthday in someone’s absence seems to have been relatively common: Eleanor Morris, Mary Hewson, and Sarah Bache all wrote Franklin to let him know that they would be keeping his birthday, in 1768, 1779, and 1783 respectively. Morris says that she and her cousins celebrated his birthday (“that Happy Day”) by having plum pudding with their dinner and drinking tea to his health. Bache, his daughter, claims to keep Franklin’s birthday “in the most festive Manner in my power,” and invited sixty children over for a dance.

Birthdays for children were certainly celebrated. Franklin’s illegitimate grandson, William Temple Franklin, wrote to his cousin to say that he would be visiting a friend to celebrate their son’s first birthday. In 1771, Benjamin Franklin wrote to Deborah to say that he celebrated his grandson’s birthday with friends: "At Dinner, among other nice Things, we had a Floating Island, which they always particularly have on the Birth Days of any of their own Six Children.” A floating island is a French dessert, basically meringue floating on crème anglaise. Apparently, fancy desserts were considered an acceptable way to celebrate a birthday.

I found two instances of personalized poems written in honor of someone’s birthday. In 1767, Benjamin Franklin wrote a poem for Mary Stevenson, the daughter of his London landlady, which included the line “You’d have the Custom broke, you say, That marks with festive Mirth your natal Day,” which also implies that birthday parties were considered customary. On February 21st, 1793, George and Martha Washington sent a birthday greeting to Elizabeth Willing Powel and expressed their regrets that they were unable to attend her 50th birthday party that evening. They also enclosed a personalized birthday poem. In 1814, John Quincy Adams’s seven-year-old son wrote from Saint Petersburg to say that he had performed in a French play at the birthday dinner of a Mr. Krehmer (presumably Sebastian Krehmer, a banker). The dinner ended with a dance.

John Adams, in true New England fashion, marked his 37th birthday by writing this in his journal: “Thirty Seven Years, more than half the Life of Man, are run out.—What an Atom, an Animalcule I am!—The Remainder of my Days I shall rather decline, in Sense, Spirit, and Activity. My Season for acquiring Knowledge is past.” Slightly more optimistically, he writes, “And Yet I have my own and my Childrens Fortunes to make. My boyish Habits, and Airs are not yet worn off.” Two years later, he noted his 39th birthday but wrote nothing else about it and seemed to have spent most of the day traveling.

If we sometimes caricature Ben Franklin as our most bacchanalian founder, and John Adams as a bit of a Puritan stick-in-the-mud, I feel like these examples provide a good range. There are many other examples of letters that simply begin with a birthday greeting, or dates that note that it’s the author’s birthday. Most people seem to have kept track of their birthdays and mentioned them to friends and family, and quite a few seem to have celebrated with dinners, poems, special desserts, and even dances. 

So, what about our birthday boy, Alexander Hamilton? Well, he never mentions his birthday in any of his surviving letters. On January 10th, 1772, the day before his 17th or 15th birthday, he wrote to his employer, Nicholas Cruger, to let him know how business was going. At the end, he thanked Cruger “for the Apples you were so kind as to send me,” but there is no other personal information. It seems extremely unlikely that these apples were some sort of birthday gift, since the last letter he’d had from Cruger was from December 20th, 1771. The only notable thing about Hamilton’s birthday seems to be that he didn’t take a break. There are plenty of work-related letters sent on the 10th, 11th, and 12th of January throughout his life. On his 34th or 36th birthday, he wrote a particularly lengthy one to Thomas Jefferson, entirely concerned with politics. So if you were curious about how Hamilton celebrated his birthday…he might not have. 

Happy 259th/261st birthday, Hammy!

Happy 88th Birthday, Anne Frank!

June 12th, 1929 - February, 1945

Anne Frank, who was born on this very day in 1929, was one of the Holocaust’s many, many victims and is a legendary icon world-wide for her beautifully written diary, which she wrote while she and her family and friends of theirs were in hiding from the Nazi persecution (they hid from 1942-1944). Tragically, she died of Typhus in the concentration camps Bergen-Belsen. She was only 15 ½-years-old.
Her father, the only survivor, published his daughter’s diary, which almost instantly became a global sensation. To this day, her diary (called either “The Diary of Anne Frank” or “The Diary of a Young Girl”) is considered one of the most famous books ever written and one of the most notable Holocaust books.

Happy birthday, Anne. R.I.P. 😌

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Notables from 2015: Birthday Artshow, New Grill, Paris, Lit Halloween, Touring the whole summer with Wiz, coming home with a new outlook on life and possibilities. Another Dope Year.