Three Birthdays

A Short Story By Grace L. Sutherland


Although a stand-alone story, Three Birthdays is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, Next Year In Huntsville. Sarah, Melanie and Theresa are three very different girls, each in her own way a misfit. A shared birthday binds them together in a friendship that spans almost fifty years and three continents. Set mostly in a country town in Gippsland, Australia, and against a backdrop of actual world events, Next Year In Huntsville is the saga of their intertwined lives as they share their ups and downs, joys and sorrows, the dramatic and the mundane, all building to a stunning climax. This is the beginning of their story …

I grew up with all the restrictions and expectations that come from living in a town that was named after your great-great-great-grandfather.

William Arthur Reginald Macdonald Hunt settled in the east Gippsland area of Victoria in 1842, close on the heels of McMillan’s exploration which opened up the area. He was 27 years old, and his wife Henrietta was 25. They took up a hundred acres, and William set about building the family fortune, whilst Henrietta set about building the family dynasty, producing twelve children over the next fourteen years.

My great-great-grandparents, William and Jane, did even better, adding fourteen progeny to the clan between 1881 and 1893, whilst my great-grandparents, James and Elizabeth, only contributed seven to the expanding dynasty, as did my grandparents, Joseph and Dorothy. My parents, Samuel and Anne, had added three to the ever-growing brood. Five generations of uncles, aunts and cousins put in similarly sterling efforts, and between them populated the neighbourhood. Pretty much everyone in town knew me, or at least knew who I was, and the reputation of my family. At least half the town was related to me.

Even though the town was awash with Hunt children, I was the family heiress – first-born of the first-born of the first-born of the first-born of the first-born – and there was no escaping it. The only person who may possibly have come in for more scrutiny than me was my brother, Sam, to whom would fall the illustrious task of carrying forward the family name. Even then, the fact that he had had the audacity to be born second threw a softening pall over that responsibility.

That meant, very simply, that I could never get away with anything.

In truth, I never really tried to get away with anything. It simply wasn’t worth it. My parents were the kindest and most loving people you could ever hope to meet, but they were also pillars, both of the local community and of the local Church of England congregation. Any activity likely to damage their standing in either of those institutions would bring swift reprisal, both to my ears and to my bottom.

So, I took the line of least resistance. Always did the right thing. Worked hard. Took my responsibility seriously. Kept out of trouble. Showed respect.

As a result, I was admired by the adults in town as a paragon of filial duty; and shunned by most of the kids – many of whom I suspected had more than once been compared unfavourably with my glowing example – as Miss Goody Two Shoes and Teacher’s Pet. It made for a somewhat lonely existence – when I was 11 my “best friend” was in her 20s – but I didn’t really mind too much. After all, I had my books and my horse. What more could a girl want?

That Monday, 7th March 1960, was my twelfth birthday. The school principal, Mr Greaves, made it a habit to announce birthdays at the morning assembly, right after we had raised the flag, sung the anthem and said the Lord’s Prayer. I knew I would be called forward. What I wasn’t expecting was for two other names to also be called. I had never shared my birthday with anyone before.

“Today we have three birthday girls: Melanie Mitchell, Theresa Moretti, and Sarah Hunt. Come on out girls.”

As we stood there awkwardly while the school serenaded us with Happy Birthday To You, I wondered about the others. They were not in my class, so I had not noticed them at the school before. Theresa I had seen around town – her father ran the local fruit and vegetable market – but Melanie was a total stranger to me. I had to know more. Before we left the stage, I whispered to them, “Meet me under the oak tree at play-lunch time.” They nodded, and we dispersed to our separate classes.

My attention was really not on my lessons that morning. Curiosity kept playing hide-and-seek around the corners of my brain.

Read the rest of the story on Niume

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