April 30-Jackie’s Birthday

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We’re going to have a lot of milestones this year, as well as a few almost-milestones.

This will be the year we move into our first house, the year our oldest niece turns 1, the year our youngest niece was born, along with many other marriages, births, new jobs, funerals, new opportunities and friends and family moving away. Among all those big milestones is my favorite “almost” – this is the year my wife turned 29.

My wife had a run of disappointing birthdays when she was younger, so now that I’m in the picture I try to make each one as special as I can, although there is an interesting phenomenon with birthdays as you get older. When you’re a little kid every birthday you have is a GIANT celebration. Everyone you know comes to your birthday party, you get a lot of new toys, you’re the center of attention, but in a good way (the best part). Everyone is glad you exist. But the older you get, the less special your birthday can feel. If it’s not a “milestone” birthday, like you’re in a new decade in your life, the parties aren’t usually that grand. And unless you’re a spoiled brat, you don’t really desire a grand celebration every year; you really just want to feel special and loved. And hopefully, that’s what we did on my wife’s birthday.

She’d better have felt special, too, because for her birthday, we had a crawfish boil.

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My wife is gaga over crawfish, aka crawdads, aka crayfish, aka mudbugs, aka delicious. Southern tradition states when one partakes in a crawfish boil, you cook together a bunch of corn-on-the-cob, potatoes and sausage with a mix of spicy seasoning, then bring on the crawdads so everything shares the delectable aroma and flavor of spice, savory, smoky, sweet, slightly-briny goodness. With an added twist: the crawdads were ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We had 20 pounds of live crawfish shipped in that day (Thanks, Internet!), and I had the honor of cleaning, preparing and cooking the little sons-of-guns half the day. By the way, I’m not complaining about that; it was fascinating to see all those little creatures scurrying around together, not aware of the watery doom that awaited them. That was actually the worst part for me, the actual killing of the crawfish. As I said, the deal with crawfish boils is that you have a really flavorful cooking liquid with a bunch of other tasty food cooking in there, then you drop in the live crawfish handfuls at a time into the simmering water. If you do it right and your quick about it, the crawdads are killed instantly and with as little suffering as possible. This is my first time cooking a crawfish boil, so I did all the research, I knew what to do, and when the mudbugs’ time came, I made the sign of the Cross, picked up two handfuls of them and dropped them in the water. Here was the problem, though. I didn’t realize the amount of corn, potatoes and other vegetation I had in there, so instead of being quickly submerged in the liquid, the crawfish were able to stand right on top of the food that was already in there, and basically just get a relaxing steam. As I hurried to rectify the situation, I was tempted to let that batch of crawfish have their freedom.

“Fate smiles upon you today, my friends. Go in peace.”

That didn’t happen, though. All the crawfish had their burials at sea, I swallowed my grief, then swallowed some of that delicious, succulent crawfish.

It was all worth it for my wife. Crawfish are about her favorite things on earth to eat, so Ihad to make sure she had them on her birthday, even if 29 might be kind of a non-birthday.

A bunch of us sat around tables piled high with crawfish, eating them with our fingers along with hot corn, potatoes and sausage, throwing all the shells in big bowls until they were full to overflowing, and generally not caring how much of a mess we made of ourselves. It was a visceral experience, and one my wife has always wanted to partake in. 29 years old may be an “almost”-milestone, but every year I get to spend with my wife deserve a celebration. I was typing the sentence “She’s the best thing that ever happened to me” when I realized that makes her sound more like a force of nature rather than a graceful, intelligent beautiful human being who pushes me to be a better man. But “force of nature” is also accurate.

Happy Birthday, Jackie! Next year we’ll both be in our 30’s, which is weird to even think about, but I can’t wait to start another decade with you.

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