Happy Birthday to Me!

My birthday was never much of a big deal.

Being born on the 21st of December, four days before Christmas, it often got overlooked amid all the holiday preparations. I remember one year when I was a boy, maybe 10 years old, I received only one gift from my younger brother. It was a jock strap. Happy Birthday to me!

In India, back here at the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission, birthdays have a different twist. You are expected to throw your own party. That’s not to say you won’t get some gifts or cards or a delicious fried chicken dinner…but you may also be asked: “What are you going to give us, Uncle?” by many of the kids who live here.

So I have a bit of a birthday tradition going. For the past three years, I buy enough cake so everyone on the mission can have a piece. That’s about 150 pieces if you count laborers and anyone else who happens to be on the property on that particular day. The cake is ordered from a local bakery, it comes in four big boxes, pre-cut and ready for serving.

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I pass it out during 4 o’clock tea time. The children gather together and sing a raucous version of “Happy Birthday,” then piece by piece the cake goes out. When everyone at the initial gathering is fed, the party goes house to house, singing as we go, making sure everyone, young and old, gets a piece. It’s a joyous parade that happened at sunset this year and involved around thirty children as my cake-giving posse.

It’s a simple thing. Just cake and some kids. But there’s something really beautiful about this tradition for me. It’s outside, for one thing. It’s active. It brings me to every corner of the Mission, to every house, with a simple gift to celebrate another year of my being alive. The kids love it; they jockey to hand pieces out, to lick the knife and the empty boxes, to hold my hand, to sing loud. It’s a party. It’s fun.

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When we reached the furthest house on the property and delivered the last Mission-family pieces…there was only one piece left. “Who will we give it to?” Ram Pal asked me, hoping—I suspect—that I’d choose him. But I looked around and saw a small village boy, walking slowly across the rice fields. He was maybe five years old, all alone, wearing a read hooded sweatshirt. “Him!” I said, pointing, and everyone cheered.

We ran like a mob towards this boy and delivered the last piece in the box. His face was thunderstruck, his two tiny hands held the pastry cake like a treasure and he smiled as if his secret wish had been granted as he turned around and headed for home.

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I gave my camera to 16-year-old Rosie (in blue) who took all the photos included in this post.
I think she did an amazing job!

I’ll be over here in India for the next few months, enjoying life with this beautiful group of people, sharing my life with them. I turned 51 this time around the sun, and if my birthday is any indication, it’s going to be a great year.

Happy Birthday to me, indeed!

11 Comments
  • Alison Hawkes
    Posted at 10:41h, 22 December

    Happy Birthday John! I am also a December girl, and now that I am older I like the ability to down play the day. I would love to come and be there some year for our birthdays. I always cry reading your posts – this time you had me at “singing as we go.” Thank you for sharing!

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 11:06h, 22 December

      You’ll have to come out and we’ll do a joint birthday. There’s always room in the parade for one more, Alison. Cheers from India.

  • Terri
    Posted at 11:28h, 22 December

    Cake and John Marshall, both make me smile. Happy Birthday.

  • Meredith Jordan
    Posted at 11:37h, 22 December

    John Marshall, you are a wonder! Thanks for bringing your particular brand of birthday joy into all our lives!

  • Bev Sakran
    Posted at 11:40h, 22 December

    Wonderful story, John!!! AND a BIG HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!!

  • Stuart Midson
    Posted at 14:25h, 22 December

    Happy Birthday again John. Maryann & I were with a Door of Hope team in 2015 on our first visit. It was our wedding anniversary. I asked Clifton for a suitable location in Banbasa where we could dine. He suggested the 4 pm tea time cake celebration. I guess it was the same bakery that supplied a huge cake and many smaller ones all boxed. We shared in the dining room with all the kids. What a beautiful happy occasion. Enjoyed by all.

  • Wendy Goodman
    Posted at 17:14h, 22 December

    What a wonderful birthday!! Belated best wishes John and it easy to see that you had an awesome day!

  • Nicole french
    Posted at 21:59h, 22 December

    From one Saggitarian to another — a very sweet birthday and holiday season to you!

  • Kellie Armstrong
    Posted at 16:45h, 24 December

    You are such a rare and beautiful spirit, Mr Marshall! Continued success in helping others wherever that journey may take you!

  • Ana Katsuya
    Posted at 03:47h, 26 December

    Hi John,
    Thank you for sharing the heart-warming news and pictures of your celebration with us! The Katsuya family wishes you a wonderful year ahead, blessed by the presence of these amazing loving children. Please continue to inspire us by sharing your beautiful work. Much joy in your life always!

  • Dale
    Posted at 13:31h, 03 January

    lovely….through and through…