“Death is as essential to life as life itself” from The Secret Language of Birthdays by Gary Goldschneider & Joost Elffers

Howie Kumagai by ©Camila Gargantini

When I first met Howie, he told me about his passion for photography and how he loves to photograph different sporting events such as marathons and soft ball games. He seemed so happy to talk about the activities he is involved in that at that moment I knew that the photograph I wanted to take had to involve something around that. In this photo we went to a softball game at Prospect Park in Acton and while he did his thing, I did mine. And although at the beginning my intention was to show his face in the portrait, I believe this best represents him… a camera shy guy that doesn’t mind standing on the side lines, capturing his own vision. – Camila G

Image © Camila Gargantini

An Interview with Howie

Q. What is your best memory/moment from one of your past birthdays?

A. There are so many… I think the fondest memories are from when I was a child. My parents worked hard for what we had but always tried to give us what we wanted for our Birthdays – even when our wants were unreasonably extravagant or foolish. But it is the simplest things that are the most memorable. I still have the 9 pennies, 9 nickels, 9 dimes, 9 quarters and 9 half-dollars that they gave me on my 9th birthday… still in the Wampole Formolid Throat-Ease box that Dad so lovingly wrote my name on…

Q. How about the worst? And why?

A. Probably my 33rd birthday – I realized that I was not immortal and was fast approaching ⅓ of a century.

Q. What was the present you’ve received for your birthday that most surprised you?

A. A violin when I was 10 or 11 – I saw a violinist play at a wedding and thought it would be the best thing ever to learn. I don’t think I picked that instrument up more than three times. Thinking about it now it makes me realize how much Dad & Mom wanted to give.

Q. Is there one food or dish that you insist on eating during your birthday celebration?

A. Not any more, but it used to be chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Mom made the BEST chocolate cake in the world! ….and she would wrap pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters in wax paper and hide them in the cake as special surprises.

Q. What do you believe is the most important aspect of celebrating a birthday?

A. As I age and find that my body doesn’t want to do the things it easily used to I’d prefer to forget my own birthday, but I do like to remember others’ because it is a chance to celebrate their lives. Being with friends, sharing their presence, experiencing their joy, laughter and love is the best part. Maybe we should do that every day, but celebrating their special day is a good start.

Q. Do you/your family/culture have any traditions/rituals/ceremonies that are performed to celebrate birthdays? What is it?

A. My Mom has always tried to get everyone together for family birthdays. She turns 93 this August. Relationships, work and life is beginning to spread our family out geographically, but we still try to get together to crowd around Mom’s living room table to enjoy the companionship of one-another over a home cooked meal, only now we celebrate two or three birthdays together instead of individually. Sadly, I am also reminded of those who are no longer at the table, although I hope that they are still celebrating with us from above.