Patricio turned either 43 or 44 on Sunday, depending on which birth certificate we feel like believing. According to the passport agency and the department of motor vehicles, Patricio just finished up living the first 43 years of his life. According to his own calculations, though, he admits he’s probably 44; how gallantly Patricio stands in the face of time.
Or perhaps his nonchalance stems from it being yet one more detail he shares with an author he reveres. Gabriel García Márquez, to be precise. Aside from them both living in Mexico City, holding liberal views about spelling, and boasting a long line of family members that are hearty grist for the magical realist mill, they both have slightly uncertain birth years. In this light, for Patricio, it borders on privilege not to know his age for certain.
He has two birth certificates guarded quietly in the their file, both from the civil registry, both official, and each with a different year written in bold, black typewriter ink. Gauging his age, then, has more to do with how small he looked in a series of black and white photos, crying in his mother's arms, as she watched his older sister blow out her own birthday candles.
Still, the discrepancy between his birth years remains a funny mystery, and for a good while, so did the day. He was well into junior high when told it fell on October 22nd.
It wasn't that birthdays at home weren't much of a big deal, it was that they weren't a deal at all. Much like celebrating, say, St. Patrick's day in Mexico, the response would simply be "What for?" In fact, the only family birthday party he remembers was that well-photographed event for his sister, Trini, when their mother brought a huge basket of strawberries home. She stirred up a huge pot of jam and then proceeded to bake that memorable, well-documented, scrumptious strawberry cake. Even in black and white, those strawberries on top look awfully tempting.
It wasn't until his elementary school days began when, listening as his friends talked on the playground of their birthdays and name days, it occurred to Patricio that he didn't know his own. One of his friends, upon a little investigation, discovered that St. Patrick's day was the 17th of March, so Patricio--figuring his birthday and name (or saint's) day most likely coincided--decided he must have come into the world smack in the middle of the year's third month.
A few years later--probably prefaced by his oft-asked question as to why they gave him the "funny" name Patricio, and not what he deemed to be the more logically correct Simón--he approached his mom to confirm his March anniversary.
"Mmmm," she said, drawing her eyebrows closer together, "I remember it being around November." Thoughtful little Patricio then decided his birthday must have been November 1st.
And that's what he believed, and told people if they asked, and continued not to consider as a matter of large importance. But then he proved himself a veritable super star of junior high sports, and the coach resolved to enter Patricio into tournaments around the state. Pulling Patricio's school records to fill in the age-placement blank, Mr. Coach was the fellow who finally hit on the definitive day. And then he told Patricio. And Patricio's been a Libra ever since.
Traditions are often hard to begin, though, and in the years that followed, he'd often forget it himself. And despite the number of notable GreenBeans in the country, St. Patrick's day doesn't find the Zócalo decorated with tinsel shamrocks, and Patricio would forget his first mistaken birthday--his saint's or name day--too.
Though once more popularly celebrated than birthdays, name days seem to have gone the way of forgetting with most everyone nowadays, too. Children aren't found talking much about their saints' days out on the playground, and even if one's parents did name her after her birthday's saint, the only mention of it will probably happen in the singing of a birthday's "Las Mañanitas."
Patricio may still wish he'd been given the name Simón, but he views his saint's day in a much different light, after marrying a girl whose mother's maiden name was Breen.
It's often said that two is better than one, and we're subscribing to the idea, at least where birth certificates and personal celebrations are concerned. Smiling at the idea of both birth certificates filed away, and both his birth and saint's day to celebrate his life, I'm glad he's Patricio, no matter what his age may be.