Birthdays and candles are a common association, at least to most people brought up in the loosely defined ‘Western’ culture. According to Wikipedia the tradition most likely dates back to the mid-eighteenth century with Greeks adorning their birthday cakes with candles, though the credit might go to the Germans who had a similar tradition. And while I’m more than a little familiar with the idea of making a wish before extinguishing the candles, I have an altogether different association with birthdays and candles.
I’m not sure how old I was at the time of this memory, old enough to look suspicious but too young to have a proper ID of my own. If I had to pin a number on it, I was 13. My family owned and operated The Candle Factory, a small business that unsurprisingly specialized in the production of candles. The Candle Factory was a place that I loathed as a child. Spend more than a few minutes in the production areas and a menagerie of ultra feminine scents would sink so deeply into your clothes and skin that you would carry it for days. The wax was much like sand on a beach, it clung to everything and after only a few hours you could feel it in your hair and coating your fingers. Your shoes would be ruined as well, the soles coated in a microthin layer of wax that would enable you to slip on any surface known to man.
When business was good and orders outstripped the production of the normal staff it often fell to my brothers and I to help out in some way. We’d work after hours, in the evenings when we’d come home from school and the other workers had gone home to their own families. It was on such an occassion that my father, my older brother, and I were all pulling into the parking lot. The factory was all locked up, so we let ourselves in with a key and the alarm let out its shrill beep, as it always did. My memory turns murky now and I can’t really say why the alarm was allowed to go on too long. Was it because we entered from the wrong side of the factory, expecting that the alarm had not been armed? Was it because my father forgot the code? The latter seems unlikely, as there is a family joke regarding the alarm code of that building – for the longest time it was simply the address. Difficult to forget.
Whatever the reason, the alarm sounded for longer than it should have and the security company alerted the local police, as was their duty. The police arrived promptly. I was pulled aside from my father and brother, asked for a story as to why we were here, what we were doing, and who we were. On the last bit he asked for details: my name, my address, and my birthdate. My story was then to be verified against the claims of my father and it all did, all but one thing. My birthday. My father, whose memory contains more knowledge than I will ever see, much less remember, had forgotten my birthday.
We were not arrested. My mother was contacted, as she was the designated contact with the security company, and one presumes she was able to accurately relay my birth date to the police. It worked out in the end – no harm was done, aside from my shattered ego, and I am left with a story to tell.