Whit’s End: Holding onto birthday traditions in a new home
I’m a writer and a reader. In my mind, that’s a chicken-or-the-egg equation; they’re intricately connected. And so I’ve long harbored a stereotypical writer dream: I daydream about owning a coffee shop and bookstore.
On July 5, 2011, my dream shop opened. It wasn’t — isn’t — mine. But because Church Street Coffee and Books opened its doors on my 30th birthday, I’ve always felt a sense of ownership.
That birthday began a series of traditions I’ve held to since. Each year, I would fill my day with a bookstore visit (Church Street holds an annual sale on its anniversary), coffee, yoga, pizza and friends.
Typically, I start thinking about my birthday six months in advance. This year has been a bit different. Perhaps that’s because I arrived in Colorado on my half-birthday, and I’ve been occupied with plenty of newness since. But in the days leading up to my birthday, my colleagues heard about its approach far too many times.
I am unapologetically obnoxious about my birthday. In fact, I once asked my mom if I’ve always been this worked up about my annual celebration.
“Well, you weren’t so excited about it the day you were born,” she said. (I was 13 days late, and born via Caesarean after 18 hours of labor.) “But since then, yes.”
I could’ve flown home for this celebration. One of my best friends gifted me SkyMiles for that purpose. But summer in the South is unbearable, and so I’ve applied her generosity toward an October visit instead. That left me with one challenge: I am a creature of habit, and my birthday routine is tied to Birmingham, Alabama, and a number of local businesses. How would I adapt them to my new home?
I’m always up for a challenge. Wednesday morning I wheeled my bicycle outside and pointed it toward Glenwood Springs. Thirteen miles later, I walked into Book Train for the first step in continuing my birthday tradition.
Bookstores are like therapy for me. Time spent wandering through the shelves is soothing; if I’m on edge when I arrive, I slow down and study the spine of each book in a section until I’m calm. I’ve already turned to our local bookstores and libraries several times when my stress level has escalated, but Wednesday’s visit was pure pleasure.
After I made my selection — “Learning to Walk in the Dark” by Barbara Brown Taylor — I retrieved my bike and parked it near a bench, where I fueled up for the ride back to Carbondale. My next reward waited at the end of the ride. I’ve spent my past five birthday lunches at Slice Pizza and Brew in Birmingham. This year, White House Pizza filled the void.
The day continued with such treats: dinner with friends at Fatbelly (I’m 36, but my favorite food remains hamburgers, just as in childhood). Board games in my backyard. It was just the sort of low-key day I consider ideal.
And I wasn’t completely removed from my old ways. One of my best friends called me, via FaceTime, from Church Street. I didn’t want to miss out on my birthday sale, after all! We spent an hour on the phone as she walked me through the shop, allowing me time to examine the books on every shelf. I chose “A Child of Books” by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston, and “Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living” by Krista Tippett. She’ll bring my selections during a late-July Colorado visit, and I’ll have yet another opportunity to allow books — and the memory of where they came from — to soothe me.
The magic of technology makes the world smaller, and, if we allow it, can make the days more special.
Carla Jean Whitley is the Post Independent’s features editor. She welcomes your favorite birthday stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Chef Hunter Hale went into business with his parents to bring an American bistro to Carbondale.