The Dog Days of Summer isn’t just an expression that indicates summer days so hot dogs are driven mad. It’s an actual astronomical event when, Sirius, the dog star rises in conjunction with the sun. The Dog Days are listed as starting on July 3rd and continuing through August 11th.
In my family, the Dog Days of Summer marked the beginning of birthday season. I have three brothers and three sisters. Then there are my children, nieces and nephews, in-laws (or as we insist out-laws) and now the grandchildren and grandnieces and grandnephews. A significant number of them have birthdays in July and August.
Birthdays around our place were always a bit different. With so many relatives we seldom had friends to our birthday celebrations. We rarely severed cake but rather baked from scratch (including the crust) birthday pie. There were favorites – quite a few apple pies, pumpkin (made three days ahead of the feast and refrigerated to the proper coldness), lemon meringue, peach, and rhubarb for my mother.
And when my mémère (French for grandma) was alive, if it was your birthday, you got your nose buttered. It was supposed to make you side through the year to your next birthday.
Now Mémère assured us this was an old French custom, but I never met any other family who practiced nose buttering –even the few friend of mine when we were growing up who also had a mémère and pépère.
So, a few years ago I googled it. Sure enough, other families butter noses, but the articles I read listed the custom is either Scottish or Irish. I suspect Mémère would be upset by these claims as she was very proud of her French ancestry even though the family arrived in the New World well before there was a United States. She and Pépère spoke French at home, and my dad and his siblings didn’t learn English until they went to school.
I must admit that she frequently got things wrong. She was also very proud of being born on June 13th and every year would tell us that she just missed being born on Friday the 13th (it happened to be a Thursday that year). But when she died my aunts found her birth certificate. She wasn’t born on June 13th, that was the day she was baptized. She was really born two days earlier and forever celebrated her birthday on the wrong day.
My aunts were upset, but I would like to think Mémère would not have cared if she had ever noticed. She was happy to have a pie baked by my mom, and she would laugh her head off when we would sneak up and butter her nose so she could slide through another year.
Does your family have different birthday customs? What are they?
Marianne H. Donley makes her home in Tennessee with her husband and son. She is a member of Bethlehem Writers Group, Romance Writers of America, OCC/RWA, and Music City Romance Writers. When Marianne isn’t working on A Slice of Orange, she might be writing short stories, funny romances, or quirky murder mysteries, but this could be a rumor.
If you want to know more about the Dog Days of Summer here are some links:
When I was eight years old I spent the night with my grandmother, a handsome woman who, as I look back, was probably younger than I am today but looked 10 years older. She was a German lady who wore housedresses and pin-curled her grey hair. She was proper, punctual and particular but when I woke up the morning of our sleepover, I found her holding onto the back of a chair, shoeless and enthralled by the man on the television. His name was Jack Lalanne.
Jack held onto the back of a chair, too, but he wore a skin-tight jumpsuit that showed off his muscles – all of them. I had never seen a man dressed like that. Even at eight, I knew I was watching something extraordinary – maybe even a little naughty. Watching my grandmother lift her leg ever so slightly, put her arm over her head like a ballerina, bend from the waist so that I could actually see the backs of her knees was awesome. Grandpa was gone. The doors were locked. The only sound was Jack’s voice encouraging my grandmother to do things I never thought she could do. I was privy to something I had no word for and I never told anyone about grandma’s morning with Jack.
Almost twenty years later, I met Jack Lalanne for real. I was an account executive with a major advertising agency and Jack LaLanne Health Spa was my client. Though I didn’t know it then, I was working on an account that was the forerunner of a social and health phenomena of fitness clubs, spas and specialty gyms. Before 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox or day spas there was Jack Lalanne.
We met during a commercial shoot. My job was to make sure we stayed on budget, on schedule, on message and that the client was happy. To this day, I don’t know if the client was happy. Jack, dressed in his iconic black jumpsuit, stood apart and managed only a distracted hello.
He was perpetual motion as he waited for his call: flexing, stretching, moving. And, most interestingly, he talked to himself. Eventually, I realized he was rehearsing his line. He only had one but the man was nervous and that made me curious.
How could a man who inspired my grandmother to take off her shoes and exercise, a man who spoke to people on TV every day be nervous about delivering one line? It took me many years and my own journey as a writer to understand why, that day on the set, Jack LaLanne was sweating. It was because he was not a pitchman, he was an advocate. Jack LaLanne sold best when he sold in his own language and with his own message. That man not only inspired people to exercise but to be their best in every aspect of their lives.
A few days ago, I woke up and found that Jack LaLanne had passed away. I doubt he would have remembered me but I will always remember him. I will remember him as a part of my childhood but I will also remember what he taught me about being a creative person. So, here you go. The lessons I learned from Jack.
Write, compose, draw, speak, work with love and focus.
Always exercise: your mind, your imagination, your skill.
Be consistent. Be a brand. Craft your own “black jumpsuit” so that when people pick up your book or see your picture or hear your song they will know what they’re getting.
Plan your career, do not calculate it. Eventually, calculation will override passion and you will lose your “voice”.
Do not worry about how many people read your work. Creating something that is meaningful to one person is more important than having thousands know your name but not remember your work.
Share your passion. If you have a chance to inspire, to coach, to encourage, do it. Do it with abandon. Do it with energy. Do it without concern that sharing your knowledge will take something away from you. It won’t.
Thank you Jack. I was inspired by your energy, your abandon and your goodwill. I will pay it forward and, when I do, I will think of you.
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