Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Happy (and Healthy) Birthday!

John Lawless sporting a birthday brocolli hat

NOTE: The following was written by Ryan Lawless, a 6th grader at my school. He and his dad attended a memoir writing workshop, and this story was the result. Originally it was planned that it would be published in book format, along with the rest of the participant's stories, but so few people saw their ideas through to the end, a book was not possible.  But since Ryan and his dad worked so hard on this, I felt their story deserved to be shared...even if it's just with you people!

Happy and Healthy Birthday
by Ryan and Rick Lawless

I had just finished eating my meatloaf and broccoli and was excited that dessert was coming.  My cousins, Jack and his sister, baby Sabrina, were visiting for dinner with their dad and mom.  Their dad is my Uncle Sean.  He used to be an actor and singer and coached the Red Sox Little League team that Jack and I played on.   As I helped my mom clear the table and get out new plates for dessert, Uncle Sean asked my older brother, John, what he wanted for his birthday. 

My older brother likes to play the guitar and is a decent skate boarder and he likes to be cool.  And when I say cool, I mean he likes to let me know that I’m the little brother  and he’s stronger, taller, and faster than me.  So when Uncle Sean asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he tried to be his cool self and said, “I don’t know.”

 I don’t know?”  asked Uncle Sean. “So, if I got you broccoli for your birthday, you wouldn’t care?”

                 The little flinch John made told me that he was shocked by the question.  But he was tough and strong and acted cool and said, “I don’t care.”

The next Saturday was John’s tenth birthday party and Uncle Sean came to our house carrying a good-sized birthday present in green wrapping paper. We had birthday cake that was scrumdiddlyumptious and then John started to open up his presents.  Uncle Sean’s was the last present. He had wrapped it in the funnies from the Sunday paper. 

With great excitement, but a gentle touch, John started to open it. Uncle Sean asked him to wait while he got out his video camera, but John couldn’t wait any longer and ripped the present open, excited to see what he got.  Inside the box were ten heads of broccoli, one for each year, and John’s expression went blank as he gave Uncle Sean a puzzled look.  I know he was thinking, “Broccoli? Are you kidding me?” 

                After everyone had a good laugh, Uncle Sean gave him twenty dollars in a birthday card as a consolation present.

For his eleventh birthday, John got a huge present in green striped wrapping paper.  He was excited to see what was in the huge box and quickly tore off the paper and opened the box.  Inside was a smaller box, wrapped in blue wrapping paper with stars on it.  He was surprised but determined to keep going.  When he opened that one, there was another box inside, wrapped in red paper. This went on and on for 10 boxes, until he came to the eleventh box.  He seemed a little unsure as he opened it, and inside, wrapped in a piece of tissue paper was one piece of broccoli.

On his next birthday, he got a pretty cool present from Uncle Sean.  It was a piñata in the shape of a football.  Sabrina is the youngest cousin, and she got to go first.  And even though she’s a girl and the smallest, she did a pretty good job hitting the piñata with the stick.  The middle cousins, Thomas, Michael and I, got to swing next.  I got a couple good hits in, but the piñata was still intact.  John and his older friend took turns till it was just starting to break.  John got to finish it off.  He took one big swing and the football popped open.           Everybody was running to get some candy until they realized that the piñata was spilling out a waterfall of broccoli florets.

John’s thirteenth birthday was at Daddy’s Extreme Sports.  After playing mini golf, laser tag and riding the go carts, we went into the party room and had pizza and cake and then presents were opened.  This time Uncle Sean’s present was first.  It wasn’t wrapped, but was just a bottle and an envelope. And came with a catch. 

Uncle Sean told John, “You can have what’s in the envelope…if you drink what’s in the bottle.  Or,  you could just have $10.”

                “What’s in the bottle?” John asked.

 “It’s a smoothie,” replied Uncle Sean.

 John thought about it for a minute and seemed reluctant, but everybody was telling him to drink it.  That was good enough for John and he said he’d try the drink.  He started strong and began to drink, but as soon as it touched his lips, his mouth twisted like he just had a gulp of sour lime juice.  Then his face turned green and he spit out the drink.

“It’s a broccoli shake!” Uncle Sean yelled over the laughter.  “I added a little apple juice to liquify it!”

 Later I had a small taste and it was so bitter and disgusting that I never want to have it again.   Lucky for John, the envelope had $20.

And while twenty bucks is a good present, my all-time favorite was John’s fourteenth birthday.  Sadly, Uncle Sean had to work and wasn’t able to be at the party.  At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, John’s friends started to show up.  There was Tristan, Kevin, Alex, Adonis, and my friend Connor. We had pizza and afterward out came a big birthday cake.  It was John’s favorite, chocolate with chocolate frosting and red writing that said, Happy Birthday John.  We lit all fourteen candles, sang happy birthday and then ate the cake.  Afterwards we went to the living room to open the presents. 

 “Too bad Uncle Sean’s not here,” my mother said. “He dropped off this video tape though.  Looks like you’re not going to get a broccoli present this year.”

My dad put the video tape in the VCR and Uncle Sean popped up on the TV.  He was sitting at his kitchen table and said, “If you’re watching this video, that means you’ve  already eaten your cake”   We watched as he pulled a food processer into view, followed by a tray of cooked broccoli, which he set on the table.   Then without a word he put the broccoli into the food processor and turned it on. 

“Whooshhhhh!”  went the machine as it blended the green vegetable into a smooth paste.  Next he opened up a can of chocolate frosting and spooned it into the food processor, blending them together.  Finally he pulled out the naked cake, got a spatula and smoothed the broccoli icing all over the top.  Then he turned and gave a big smile into the camera and the video stopped. 

The kids were all staring slack jawed at the TV, the parents all laughing and I screamed out, “Oh my God, I ate the frosting!”  

It took a year to get the taste out of my mouth. By then, it was John’s fifteenth birthday, and he got a red baseball hat with real broccoli sewn to the top. For his sixteenth birthday, he got a plastic piece of broccoli on a key chain.  The broccoli was about 4 inches long and Uncle Sean said it would be easy to find his car keys when he started to drive.

I’m not sure what Uncle Sean has planned for the next few years, but I’m sure he’s got something (green) up his sleeve to keep the tradition going.

And maybe by the time John turns 21, he’ll realize that being cool can be a good thing, but if you act like you don’t care when someone asks what you want, you might not be happy with what you get. 

On the other hand, you might have a good story to tell!


  1. I have a nephew who would be a perfect target for this kind of annual gift. His kryptonite is green beans though. Cool story!

  2. Awesome story, Ryan! My fifth grade son was assigned a project this year on "Funniest thing that ever happened to me" and he couldn't think of anything good to write about. I'll have to let him know he should've had an Uncle Sean!

  3. Nonna and PopPop have really enjoyed John's birthday presents as much as our Sean loved making them. You have to have a good imagination to think up things green to do from year to year. Can you do this for John with something else next year, Ryan?
    Love from your grandparents to you and John.