My Unforgettable Birthday

Zooey Byram

© Copyright 2002 by Zooey Byram

Drawing of a pyramid with a treasure inside.

The morning of my eighteenth birthday, Mother handed me her birthday card. Tearing it open and hoping to find a check, I read her special message. “This is a birthday adventure you’ll always remember! It’s a trip around the United States and Canada with other teens.”

I read her message again, before looking at her. Smiling at me she said, “What have I always told you? People are just as happy to meet you as you are to meet them.”

I didn’t believe her gift. My best friend, Modesta and I have planned to work this summer. We were going to save our money and buy a car together. Now I’m leaving on a seven-week trip around the United States and Canada! Disappointed and let down I phoned Modesta. She didn’t seem upset with my news. Instead she seemed relieved as her parents decided it was time her brothers learned how to swim since their house is on the Russian River. Her summer was going to be busy with swimming lessons. Plus her parents didn’t like our idea of buying a car together either. She said to have fun on the trip and to send her some postcards.

The next day I took a plane to Los Angeles. This was the starting point of the trip. My father met me at the airport. I hadn’t seen him in a long time. We chit-chatted to his house. He had moved to a smaller home since Scott and David were the only two children living at home.

My stepmother welcomed me. It was good to see her and my half-brother David. David took me into his bedroom and played his drums for me. A big fat dachshund entered his room. Jumping off his drum stool he went to the dog. “This is my own dog, Happy.”

The next morning, my father took me to a park. Kids were standing around. I asked some if they were going on teen tours. They replied, “Yes.”

My father unloaded my suitcase and sleeping bag. He had to get to his golf game so we said good-bye. Standing around with my stuff, I saw a girl from my junior high speech class. As she walked closer to me I said, “Jan?”

“It’s me, Joan-i. Remember, we had speech at Emerson together?”

“Oh yeah. Hi, how are you?”

“Okay. So you’re going on this tour, too?”

“Yep. We’ll talk later. I better get back with my stuff.”

Seeing her brought back memories how kids with speech problems were pulled out of class to meet with the school speech teacher. When I was eight years old, the part under my tongue was clipped because I couldn’t touch the roof of my mouth with my tongue. Every two weeks, I took the bus into Beverly Hills and met with a speech lady in a doctor’s office. I had problems pronouncing th in words and r’s. The speech lady always asked how school and life were going for me before we’d start working on speech. I think she felt sorry for me. Because I was sent to live with my father and family in the middle of eighth grade. This was a hard and difficult adjustment for me. As I had lived with my mother and stepfather before in a small town in northern California.

The last fifteen minutes of our speech session together we’d work on speech things. She’d give me special words to practice. That would be the end of our time together. Then once a week the speech teacher in school would spend thirty minutes helping me with these words.

“Excuse me, hello there? The buses are loading now.”

Turning to face this cute guy with sandy blonde hair and brown eyes I answered, “Really?’

He grabbed my stuff and gave it to the Greyhound bus driver. We got on the bus and found two seats together. He took the window seat.

An adult with a clipboard asked for our attention. When my name was called I answered. She finished calling our names and began explaining about the trip.

Dean, the guy sitting next to me, started reading his magazine. A couple of girls sitting across the aisle from me smiled. Smiling back, I said, “Hi, I’m Joan-i.”

The one sitting on the aisle seat said, “ I’m Sharon. This is my youngest sister, Teresa.” They certainly didn’t look like sisters. Then again, Nancy and I didn’t look anything alike; but we aren’t blood sisters. Like Nancy, Sharon’s hair is blonde, her eyes are blue and she has fair skin. Teresa has long straight black hair, brown eyes and olive skin. Sharon must have noticed my puzzled expression. “Teresa and I have the same father, but different Mother’s.

“I understand. I’ve got a half brother too, the same way.” “Really? It was so strange the night Teresa’s mother came to our house to tell my father about being pregnant. The same night she arrived, so did a cop. The cop said my father had been killed in a fatal car accident. Both women gasped at the news, then Teresa’s mother fainted. My mother learned the truth about my father and Teresa’s Mother.”

“Wow! How bizarre.”

“It was for awhile, but my mother felt sorry for Teresa’s mom. When my mom got money from my dad’s life insurance policy, she invited Teresa and her mother to live with us. As an only child, it’s bitchen to have a sister. Our mothers now owned our funeral home near San Diego.”

“Really? That must be weird owning a funeral home?”

“We live upstairs from it. Sometimes it’s eerie. How are you so lucky to be taking this trip?”

“My mother’s birthday present to me!”

“Happy birthday. Our mom’s thought it would be fun for us to see the U.S. and Canada with a bunch of other kids our own ages.”

“Don’t you love how parents think they know what’s best for us? My best friend and I were planning to get jobs this summer and buy a car.”

“Bitchen! Aren’t you pissed at your mom?”

“I was-until she explained how you’re only young once, and there’s plenty of time to work, so enjoy this time of your life. Plus, my girlfriend has to teach her younger brothers how to swim. So here I am.”

Laughing and taking turns talking, we came upon our first stop-Kingman, Arizona. Stepping off the cool air-conditioned bus into the hot air, I just about fainted! Once inside the restaurant, several of us went straight to the restroom. Sticking my face and head under the cold faucet cooled me off.

Afterwards, I ordered a chef salad and a big glass of ice tea. After lunch, one of the lady chaperones read off our room assignments. Not knowing the other girls, I raised my hand and asked to be changed to a room with Sharon and Teresa. The lady moved me. I now roomed with my new friends and another girl. After receiving our room assignments we had an hour to do whatever we wanted in Kingman.

As the three of us started to leave the restaurant, a girl in a tie dye tee shirt, cut off jeans and a beaded necklace asked us to wait for her. “Hi, I’m Darlene, and we’re sharing a room together.”

“Hi, I’m Joan-i.”

“I’m Sharon. My sister…”

“Hi, Teresa.”

We all spotted a silver jewelry store across the street from the restaurant. Leaving the restaurant and taking off our shoes, we walked across the street. Darlene was almost hit by a car. The driver stopped up the street and yelled at us how pedestrians didn’t have the right-of-way and something about stupid kids!

In the jewelry store, the lady began showing us some pretty turquoise necklaces and rings. She commented that we must be from California because only kids from California go barefoot! Her jewelry was way too expensive, and we didn’t buy any.

A couple days later, we stopped at the Grand Canyon National Park. Standing in the sun, we listened to our guide. He rambled on about the history; then someone’s camera accidentally dropped down into the canyon. We all laughed and listened for it to hit bottom. He got disgusted waiting on us to pay attention, so he left. We had about forty-five minutes to take photos of the canyon. I needed to find the restroom and cool off. The last thing I wanted to do was stand in the sun and take more photos. Sticking my head and face under the cold water faucet felt refreshing.

Then, getting back on the air-conditioned bus we were headed for El Paso, Texas. It wasn’t too long before I dozed off. We arrived to the muggy, humid city of El Paso. The pool was closed, but a bunch of us had the same idea about going swimming while the air conditioner cooled off our rooms.

Swimming and enjoying the pool, someone yelled out about seeing lightning. Seeing lightning so close to the ground scared me. We all got out of the pool and ran to our rooms. Standing on the balcony, I watched the rain fall and this incredible lightning. I’ve never witnessed lightening like this before.

The next morning, at breakfast, I overheard a chaperone telling another one that Jayne Mansfield and her boyfriend were killed in an auto accident. It happened shortly after midnight on their way to New Orleans. Their car plowed into the rear of a slow-moving tractor-trailer. Shocked by the news, I couldn’t believe it! I knew her daughter only a few years back at Emerson Junior High School.

After breakfast, we got to go across the Texas border to Juarez, Mexico, for a short visit. Silver and turquoise jewelry was nice and inexpensive here. The storekeepers expected you to bargain with them. After bargaining with one of the storekeepers I bought two really nice rings, one for myself and one for Modesta. It was illegal to sell firecrackers in the U.S., but almost every shop in Juarez sold them. I decided to buy a bunch of firecrackers for the 4th of July.

Once back on the bus, the chaperones asked how many of us bought firecrackers. Different kids admitted buying some, and the chaperones confiscated them. Sharon, Teresa, Darlene, nor I said anything about mine.

We made it to New Orleans the day of the 4th of July. We’re planning on going to this groovy amusement park at night. As we began to get ready for the amusement park, I saw a flash of lightning and then more lightning. I heard thunder and it began to rain. Because of the storm, the trip to the park was cancelled. We had to amused ourselves in our rooms. This upset Darlene and I.

Earlier she had flirted with the desk clerk. Phoning him at the front desk she explained our sob story. He told her not to worry. He’d phone some friends and we could party with them in our room. Turning on some music, Sharon found a bitchen station. It wasn’t long before we heard a knock on our door. The desk clerk, Lenny and his friends entered. They brought an ice chest filled with beer. According to Louisiana law drinking age is eighteen. I didn’t have to worry or care. I didn’t like alcohol-especially beer. Sharon, Teresa and Darlene weren’t old enough, but they drank beer with the guys. Lenny announced around ten o’clock that they had to head out to some party. Giggling and laughing we all thanked them for partying with us.

About a half hour later, when it appeared everyone had gone to bed I lit off my firecrackers. The next morning at breakfast, chaperone Dennis asked if anyone knew who lit off the firecrackers. No one knew, so he concluded it was probably someone else staying in the motel.

From New Orleans our next overnight stay was Montgomery, Alabama. Once again, by late afternoon the weather had turned muggy and humid. Arriving at a recreation center, we learned this was our motel for the night and we’re sleeping in our sleeping bags. Something didn’t seem right at the center. What wasn’t right we discovered was that the night before a riot had broken out and the windows were shot out! That night I and many others stayed awake because we were scared.

After breakfast, we toured the Capitol. Arriving at the Capitol, the governor greeted us with a thick southern accent. She began to tell us how Negroes are now being treated like equals, and how everyone welcomes them into their homes. She continued to tell us that segregation was over in the South. If that was the case, how come there were riots, and why did the Negroes sit on one side of the cafeterias while Whites sat on the other side? I felt like asking her.

Obviously, Negroes didn’t feel welcome to sit anywhere they wanted. This governor must of thought she’s talking to a bunch of stupid teenagers. I couldn’t stand listening to her anymore. I looked forward to getting back on the air-conditioned bus. When I talked to Dean about some of the governor’s remarks he too couldn’t believe her stupidity. Prejudice is still very much present in the South.

On our way to Birmingham, Alabama, the bus pulled off the main highway to stop at a place called Ruby’s for lunch. Ruby’s wasn’t very large-some seats at the counter, a few booths and tables. Several of the locals were sitting at the counter. Walking inside one of the men made a wisecrack about serving hippy kids. This comment didn’t sit right with me. A few of us had on cut offs and Darlene wore her usual tie dye tee shirt, beads, and a headband.

Bringing a pitcher of water and glasses the waitress asked us, “Where y’all from?”


That same man was shaking his head and remarking, “No wonder”.

The waitress said she’d be back to take our orders. I got up to use the restroom. As I was walking by the front door, a Negro man with white hair and beard holding a blind person’s cane tried to open the door. Dripping in perspiration, I held the door open for him.

“Thank you, child. All I need is a glass of cold water.”

“No problem.” I helped him into the restaurant.

“Bless you child.”

Within a few seconds, I felt things hitting me and men yelling, “Nigger lover,” over and over. Falling to the ground crying, not knowing what to do, I glanced over at the blind man.

He disappeared. Dean, Sharon and Darlene came over and helped me up. They took me to the bathroom. Washing my face and hands I couldn’t believe what just had happened!

By the time I came out of the bathroom the men at the counter were gone. Some of the kids were laughing at me. I didn’t understand what was so funny about this incident.

Finally one of the girls, Jody spoke for everyone. “Look at your shirt Joan-i, that’s why we’re laughing!”

My clean white tee shirt that I put on this morning was now covered with the dirt from the soles of these men’s shoes-yuck! Flashing through my mind was Mother’s birthday card message “This is a birthday you’ll always remember!”

The trip continued. Two of my favorite places we visited were Savannah, Georgia and Williamsburg, West Virginia. Downtown Savannah there’s a big park surrounded by beautiful old plantation homes. Some of the homes are open to the public. A guide explains the history of the home and takes you out in the backyard. She shows you the slave quarters which gave me the chills while listening to the guide.

Williamsburg is quaint. It’s a historic colonial town with all kinds of old stores. Wagons are pulled by oxen. Men, women and children are dressed in colonial clothes.

I spent three days in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian Institution. I saw the biggest and rarest diamond in the world. The last day in D.C. we took a tour through the White House and went to the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. The day we left D.C. I began feeling sick.

I had a bad sore throat, my nose was running and felt achy all over. By the time we got into Quebec, Canada my entire body hurt. Susan, the tour nurse, phoned the hotel doctor. He arrived and examined me. I had the flu. He gave me some medicine. Throughout the night I was sweating and vomiting. The doctor returned in the morning and told me I was having an allergic reaction to the medicine.

I wanted to go home. Mother and her friend Roberto were on a trip. Since I didn’t know their whereabouts I decided to stay with my step-aunt.

The World’s Fair was going on in Quebec. So I had to fly stand-by. On the flight from Quebec to Chicago I sat next to a nun. I threw up all over her. She told me not too worry as she had a spare habit with her. The stewardess came and helped me. We arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. I was running a high temperature. Most of my time at O’Hare’s airport I spent throwing up in the bathroom. After hours at the airport, I got a flight to San Francisco. Several people helped me onto this flight. I sat next to a man who was in the army. He could see something terribly was wrong with me. He said his name was Charles and he’d take care of me. The plane finally landed into San Francisco at two in the morning!

Charles helped me off the plane. I saw my step-aunt. Charles continued to help me. He got Ann and I a motel room close to the airport.

The next day, Ann and I took a bus to her house across the bay. That afternoon I went to the doctor. He gave me something to help bring my fever down.

Charles phoned to see how I was doing. After several days of feeling better Charles came to see me.

Mother got home from her trip. She heard I was staying at Ann’s. Immediately she came and brought me home.

Getting home and sleeping in my own bed felt great. Soon I got well again.

Believe me this is a birthday I’ll always remember!

I live in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and spend my winter months writing short stories and poems. This winter I am busy writing a suspenseful intriguing novel and a collection of short stories. I volunteer once a week for three hours at Hospice Thrift Store. Also, I am a mentor. My interests include: reading, gardening, traveling and collecting seashells, magnets, interesting picture frames, wind chimes and souvenir spoons. I have a B.S. degree in nutrition and believe strongly in taking care of my health with proper nutrition, exercise and meditation. I have been happily married to Dennis for fourteen years. We have a loving devoted female cat name Squeaky. My family and friends are very important to me.

Contact Zooey

(Messages are forwarded by The Preservation Foundation.
So, when you write to an author, please type his/her name
in the subject line of the message.)

Another Story By Zooey--My Unforgettable Birthday

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher