Can’t Hold a Candle to This

by Jane Hertenstein
Jane Hertenstein

I searched and searched and could not find any. The truth is, I seldom need birthday candles; it had probably been a decade since I last used them.

I scavenged in a drawer—the one containing bread ties and postage stamps and grapefruit spoons—for used candles. Stubs would do for the purpose of lighting and then extinguishing. But in a fit of “organizing” I must have cleaned them out. Who knew they would become hard to replace?

In the car, I cruised the frontage road—the one out by the now abandoned mall — thinking I might have picked up my last pack at the Hallmark store, but it’s no longer there. There used to be a party store by the old high school, but that has closed too; its business now moved online.

I did a Google search and found birthday candles at Amazon, where I could order some in bundles of 100; the best price was for a case lot. I’ve got just one cake, not a bakery of cakes, not a cake warehouse. And, it’s not such a big birthday, a moderate millennial one for someone who might be ambivalent to candles (or anyone else in the room). So not a lot of candles required.

Listen, I get how capitalism works: supply and demand.

Lately there has been a diminished demand for birthday candles as the birth rate is dropping. (Another example of diminished demand).  That’s one reason the high school is now a senior center. Birthday candles aren’t flying out the door. A small box could sit on the shelf forever, since they don’t expire or have a use-by date.

So I reverted to my old standby: eBay, for the hoarders. We are in the kind of economy where hoarders cash in. They fill a niche by providing hard-to-find objects. On eBay,  I found “vintage” candles selling for $9.99 plus shipping. This seemed a bit steep for a dozen. Listed were personalized candles—but I didn’t need any that read “Ashley.” Animal print, beeswax, or sparkle flame weren’t special enough to  justify the expenditure. Those must be for some hipster or venture capitalist.

I just needed every-day, non-vintage candles.

There must be a million candles in China where there are billions of people. Why couldn’t I get some of those? The fact that America doesn’t manufacture them anymore shouldn’t be a problem. But, it seemed no one was making birthday candles. Perhaps, candles on cake hasn’t caught on in other countries. Is it a tradition that will go the way of Arbor Day and May poles? Fall into obscurity when this generation dies out?

So, I did what I’ve gotten used to doing.

When I downsized houses and gave up the fireplace, when I Marie Kondo-ed my closets and had my photo albums digitized—I turned to virtual reality. That fireplace became a roaring fire screen saver; a slide show of past vacations can play randomly on my monitor. My grandson spends his entire visit gaming, using his phone.

This year for Luke’s 18th birthday, I thought two can play this game. I planted a cellphone atop his cake with YouTube candles flickering. I felt pretty smart until he unwrapped the alarm/clock radio I’d gotten him. He looked up at me stunned.

Candles or no candles, I’m keeping a little piece of the past alive.

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