Posted by Robert on March 14th, 2011

This year I will celebrate the 21st anniversary of my 29th birthday.

Over the weekend, I attended a collective birthday party for Hattiesburg High School alumni who will reach their fifth decade this year. Even though I didn’t attend Hattiesburg High, I figured since I had gone to elementary school with most of them, they wouldn’t mind if I crashed the party. It turns out that I knew most of the people in the room.

One thing struck me while looking around the party— everyone looked younger than me. That was particularly disturbing since I am actually younger than all of them. Growing up, I always had a late birthday— something that drove me crazy then, but something I’m grateful for today.

Being the youngest in your class is a drag (I just realized that using the word “drag” dates me even more than giving my actual age, maybe I’ll also try to fit the word “groovy” in an upcoming paragraph). Having a late birthday as a youngster, meant that I was one of the last ones in my class to get a driver’s license.

For some strange reason, Mississippi used to license 15-year old kids. Big mistake. Even at 18, I had no business behind the wheel of an automobile. Some who have ridden with me lately might still say I still don’t need to be driving a car. Now that I have a teenage daughter, I wouldn’t be upset if they inched that driving law up another year, to 17.

There weren’t too many people at the combined 50th birthday party, which worried me a little bit. Had most of us have already died off? It’s probable that those who weren’t there were busy babysitting their great-grandchildren.

As I looked at all of those people who looked younger than me, I took solace in the fact that— even though I might look older and have a later birthday— I was still way more immature than everyone in the room. I’m 49, look 59, physically feel 69, yet on a maturity level, I’m about 19.

Someone at the party began talking about “middle age,” and I laughed. I figure I saw middle age about a decade ago. With my track record, diet, and lifestyle, there’s no way I’m going to make it to 100. No way. Middle age is a memory— men die young in my family— break out the orthopedic shoes and the Ensure I’m gonna make these last several years count.

Others were talking about friends who were having mid-life crises. Whereas, I don’t think I’m going to break out a red Corvette or get a hair transplant anytime soon, one who is about to shatter the half-century mark does start to think about time wasted.

Someone else at the party said “50 is the new 30.” While I’d like to hang my hat on that statement— and I would agree that my mom’s generation seemed older when they were in their 50s— 50 is halfway to 100 no matter what cliché’d phrase one attaches to it.

Ultimately, those of us in the class of 1979 had it good. We lived through one of the greatest eras of popular music ever. We are old enough to have seen the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, and graduated high school only nine years after they broke up as a group. We remember having discussions about how there would be no way that Mick Jagger could still be rocking after he turned 40 (almost 30 years ago), we were there when Springsteen let us know he was “Born to Run” and we helped Pink Floyd tear down “The Wall.” Granted, disco was tacked on at the end of that era, but that was created and fostered by the generation ahead of us.

In October, I will begin my 50th year on this planet somewhere in Italy. For 49 birthdays I have celebrated this annual milestone by blowing out the candles on a yellow cake with chocolate icing. This year I think I’ll bake an Italian Cream Cake and stick enough candles in it to light up the entire room. I will think of my childhood friends, and I will eat a piece of cake in their honor.

After all, a birthday is just a number; age is a state of mind. And my mind is stuck at 19. Happy 50th, Class of ’79.

Italian Cream Cake

1 cup Butter, softened
2 cups Sugar
5 large Eggs, separated
2 1 /2 cups All-purpose flour
1 tsp Baking soda
1 cup Buttermilk
2 /3 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 can Flaked coconut (3 1 /2 oz.)
1 /2 tsp Cream of Tartar
3 Tbl Grand Marnier
1 recipe Cream Cheese Frosting

Grease and flour three nine-inch round cake pans. Line pans with wax paper;
grease paper, and set aside.

Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Combine flour and baking soda. Add buttermilk and flour alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in pecans, vanilla, and coconut.

Beat egg whites at high speed in a large bowl until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat until
stiff peaks form. Gently fold beaten egg whites into batter. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 or 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, remove from pans; peel off wax paper; and let cool completely on wire racks. Brush each cake layer with 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier. Let stand 10 minutes. Spread cream cheese frosting between layers and on sides and top of cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (8 oz.) pkg Cream cheese, softened
1 (3 oz.) pkg Cream cheese, softened
3 /4 cup Butter, softened
1 1 /2 Powdered sugar, sifted
1 1 /2 cups Pecans, chopped
1 Tbl Vanilla extract

Beat first three ingredients at medium speed of electric mixer until smooth.
Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy; stir in pecans
and vanilla.


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