First Birthday Party at a Ripe Old Age

The man had a good, full life but he never a birthday party, he just didn’t. A loner, a smart man, a storyman, and even a moonshiner.

Simon Carlson worked in the Amery City Hall, engineer I believe or head of streets and sewers (let me check on that) who enjoyed his job, worked well with the public, and attended community events.

“He lived in that cable car on the road going out to the dump,” Dad told me when we saw him walking on Keller Avenue, main street. Dad pointed out the cable car on our way back from the dump one Saturday morning. Later I worked for the city under his office in the summer, with my cousin Brad, and got to know him and his lifestyle.

He’d make moonshine out in his cable car lot, a heavily wooded area where a fire and copper instruments couldn’t be seen from the street. He distilled about a gallon a month, slowly dripping the alcohol into the finishing metal gallon can. Once he let Brad and me try a juice glass of it, but it stung all the way down. The 2nd glass wasn’t so bad, but that was enough for me. Brad barely finished his.

Police often noticed him walking among the headstones at the Amery Cemetery, and residents in that area noticed him strolling and talking to no one they could see. He’d have a quart jar of his corn blend, and he brought a small flashlight with him to get a closer look at the old gravestone printing. Mornings in the summer he’d be out there as well, but no nature’s mountain dew at that time of the day.

Birthday Party for Simon, Finally

When I went away to college, I received a note from a couple of co-workers at City Hall that they intended to throw a birthday party for him later in the day on Thanksgiving. The Congregational Church most years provided a community meal to anyone who happened to be alone or who couldn’t cook for themselves. Simon was always at these events, dishing out mashed potatoes and later relaxing, sitting down exhausting and scarfing down the turkey and trimmings.

Little did he know that later in the day, after the dishes were washed and put away, that he’d be the center of attention. Someone once heard that he’d never had a birthday party. That streak would be broken.

Former co-workers and as many friends as could be rounded up came to the Congregational dining room, bringing presents and in one large box, a luscious cake of lemon poppyseed, his favorite. On top, the words Happy Birthday Simon, then below it in large wax letters, standing up, a 6 and an 8. His 68th birthday.

His mouth open, his eyes almost as large, and tears started down his cheeks. The crowd couldn’t be distracted, or they wanted to distract him by singing the Happy Birthday song. “Happy birthday to Simon, happy birthday to you.” Not a dry eye anywhere.

Simon sobbed, unable to speak. They sang it once more and let him compose himself. The joy of a birthday party for the hermit living in the cable car. A day he never forgot.

7 Replies to “First Birthday Party at a Ripe Old Age”

  1. This story reminds me of the first birthday party that someone threw for me…when I turned sixteen. I didn’t have to wait as long as Simon, but I can identify with the feeling. Another great story, L!

    1. Thanks Dana. I hope you saw the next post is dedicated to you. Too bad about having to wait until 16 for a birthday party. I’m guessing you gave your kids the birthday attention they deserved. When you read the posem about Some people are special, this gets me thinking of making copies, almost like on heavy cardstock, so when I meet up with someone like that, I can tell them what I feel. Thanks for all your support.

  2. And….as the real Brad would have it! Hardly a swallow of strong whiskey down his throat! an interesting character is Simon. Somebody realizing living people appreciate and notice as much as people who passed away years ago.

    1. Brad, have you ever tried moonshine? And this story is about 80% fiction but the setting, the cable car, the cemetery, and Amery are real. This started out after I heard in church about a man who died, only getting his first birthday party at age 65. That triggered a story idea. Hoping to keep this guy going, and to damage your reputation as we go on, fictionally of course.

  3. Loren, this brought back some very precious memories. We, as kids, didn’t know him by the name you gave. His name, as we knew him, was Charlie. His streetcar home was on the dump road, next to, but across from David McKnights parents old house, used by the Amery fire department as training when they burned it down. It’s where the dump road split, one way heading to the dump, the other way past Shelby Anderson’s parents house, up the hill past Fansler’s and Westland’s. Charlie was a super nice guy. He used to walk into Amery almost every day, for groceries. When my Mom had to go to the dump, we’d see him walking in, and she’d always offer him a ride and he would always thank her, but decline. I was told back then, that he was the brother of a guy by the name of Oscar, I believe was a retired Pharmatist, who apparently had a fair amount of money, but pretty much kept it to himself. Oscar lived next to the Olson’s (Steve Olson, the son of Ken and Bea, now lives there) and across the street from Ray Peterson’s house and Mrs Halverson’s house. Same block as the Johnson’s, Hager’s and Cree’s, near the Amery Beach. There was a hill to the north of Oscars property, that we used as our sliding hill in the winter. The top of the hill was where the old Catholic Church used to sit. It’s now all trees, and brush. But back in the 50’s, it was our sliding hill. Oscar would hate us for using that hill, as when you got to the bottom, you followed his driveway all the way down to the street. His driveway ran around the back of the house, and alongside Olson’s driveway, down to the street. I think about Charlie all the time. I never heard about his passing and every time I went by there, I remember seeing that streetcar, and the memories come flooding back. Thanks for that. I loved it.

    1. Thanks for that, Greg. Did not hear about Charlie but heard about Bob over on Central Ave. It always fascinated me to see that cable car, but I don’t think anyone was in it when I was with my dad about 1960, maybe I’m wrong. But it stuck in my mind. Thanks for all those memories, too bad the Amery people aren’t reading this, even if it’s highly fictional. I could also picture this Simon walking across the tracks and onto the cemetery grounds, a huge area when you think about it. Did I tell you? This all came about because someone in church on Sunday described a neighbor they befriended, alone and didn’t get out much, and when they gave him a birthday party when he was 65, he told them that this was his first ever, even though he came from a decent family.

  4. For Greg and Loren. Your ability to remember names blows me away. I have the details but names and faces are elusive. You’re absolutely right, Loren; the people of Amery should be reading your offerings as I’m sure it would spark memories for them too.

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