Amy Choate-Nielsen: April showers bring a family history birthday surprise

Published: Tuesday, April 30 2013 3:48 p.m. MDT

Tulips in bloom during the Mother's Day Garden Fair at the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District Conservation Garden Park in 2011.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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April has always been one of my favorite months.

It's not too hot and not too cold. I like rain and the fresh tulips and bluebells April brings to my backyard.

And it just so happens I was born in April.

I generally like to make a big deal out of my birthday, but it's getting harder and harder to do that. For one thing, the chores of life — like doing the grocery shopping or cleaning the house — make simplicity seem so much more appealing when it comes to celebrating.

For another thing, my wants and desires are a lot more complex now. When I was 13 or 14, I celebrated one of my favorite birthdays of all time. In the morning, I got a tape cassette Walkman as a present from my parents. In the afternoon, I brought a friend to the maritime museum in Norwalk, Conn., and I went shopping at my favorite bead store. Then I finished the day with my family at a rotating restaurant on top of a hotel where I had grilled salmon and freshly ground pepper for dinner. It was magical. And it was everything I wanted.

This year, as I turned 33, the logistics of the day were such that I woke up, fed the kids breakfast, cleaned the house, drove the car pool to preschool, made dinner, and luckily snuck out just before bed time to attend a little gathering of women at my church.

But I have no complaints. I have everything I need, I am happy and I think my birth date is the best ever. In fact, it always surprises me when someone else has the same birthday. It doesn't seem possible.

Often, on the day itself, I find out about all of the celebrities who were born on my day. It usually surprises me, and simultaneously makes me feel as though I have something vaguely in common with these strangers. I assume they must love the month of April, too. And it makes me wonder what else we might have in common.

When I first started learning about my grandmother, Fleeta Choate, who died before I was born, I paid a lot of attention to names and dates, trying to put together the pieces of her life into a timeline I could visualize. I noted that she was born in March 1911. I noted when she was married, when she died, how many brothers and sisters she had, and that her mother's name was Arizona Lewis.

Arizona.

I was immediately intrigued. And a little ashamed. How could I not have known my great-grandmother's name? And then I saw that Arizona died in 1915, when Fleeta was only 4 years old. That shocked me to think of the great loss both of them suffered at such a young age.

At first, I mourned for little Fleeta, losing the woman who probably sang her songs and stroked her hair, as I do for my daughter. And then I mourned for Arizona, who had the pain of knowing her kisses on her children's cheeks were numbered, and she wouldn’t be able to soothe them when she was gone.

I don't know much about my great-grandmother. The day I delved into Fleeta's history, I learned Arizona was born in 1877. She died in 1915. She was 38.

And she had my same birthday.

It is harder for me to find stories about my great-grandmother. She died when my grandmother was so young none of my living relatives, as far as I know, even met her.

I don't know the cause of the sickness that led to her death. I don't know if she spoiled her children, if she was kind or harsh, humbled by mortality or hardened by discomfort. And I don't know how she chose her husband or the things that made her laugh in life.

But I do know she was born in the time of tulips and bluebells, before the Statue of Liberty was erected and the Titanic sank, in a month when the rain and cold comes and goes, but the promise of spring is eternal.

With her, I'm glad to share my birthday.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.

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