Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why Grandpa Has Two Birthdays and Grandma Graduated So Young

I remember, as a little kid, looking at my mother's list of extended family birthdays and being a little puzzled that my grandpa Gill came up in March and May. Why did he have two birthdays? I asked my mother. She couldn't remember exactly but said that one was from Indian government records and the other was the one his mother said. I figured the government was just wrong--after all, a mother would remember the month, right?--but last night, Kira was having Nicole make a list of birthdays in our extended family, and Grandpa told her the story himself, and it went something like this:

When Grandpa Gill was a little boy, he liked to follow his cousin Balwant everywhere. So even though Balwant was three years older than him, as soon as Grandpa was big enough, he followed Balwant to school. Grandpa was tall for his age, and pretty smart, so they were happy to let him stay, but they needed paperwork for him from his mother. She was glad her son was going to school willingly (as a boy, her husband had snuck back from school until his parents gave up on his education), so she decided not to fill out that paperwork in a way that would keep him out. Instead of listing his birthday accurately as March of his birth year, she moved it forward to May of the previous year. The new birthday stuck on all his school records and related records and it wasn't until he needed a birth certificate to get into the United States that he got his old birthday back.

And so it was that the March birthday the government initially said he had was right, while the May birthday his mother gave him was designed specifically to let him follow his cousin to school.

This is particularly funny because a similar thing happened to my grandmother: when she was little, she insisted on doing everything her big brother Carl did. You'd have to ask her what all they'd done together by the time she was four or five: I vaguely recall stories involving canals, monkeys, a movie theater in San Marcos--that was a golden age of childhood wandering, I suppose. In any case, when my grandmother found out that Carl would be going to school at the end of the summer, she announced that she would go with him. Her mother told her that's not the way it worked: Carl could go this year, but she would have to wait. My grandmother told her mother that anything Carl could do, she could do. After the umpteenth iteration of this argument, my great-grandmother decided she would let the school tell her daughter that she was too young.

But that summer, the family moved to a small Texas town with so few students, no one asked any questions about age. My grandma followed her brother Carl to school and got to stay.

And so it was that my grandma started school a year early without even needing an extra birthday.
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