by Taffy Cannon
I was a little more surprised, though I’d been hearing about Eeyore’s Birthday Party for years. This annual end-of-April celebration in Austin, Texas, is one year shy of its own 50th birthday, and friends always spoke of how much fun it was, featuring events for both children and adults, with a distinct underpinning of the hippie counterculture that lingers pleasantly in Austin. They talked about costumes and body painting and drum circles and balloons. A certain similarity to Grateful Dead concerts came up, and the local friend with whom I went wore an original Grateful Dead t-shirt older than most folks in the park.
What nobody mentioned was just how big Eeyore’s Birthday Party was, thousands of celebrants in a park of truly Texan proportion, covering some 42 acres. Despite a respectable number of planned activities, everywhere I looked, folks were doing—well, a few decades ago, we’d have said they were doing their own thing. Which covered a lot of ground in this, the largest gathering I’ve ever been part of that wasn’t political in nature.
I happened to be in Austin on the right weekend this year, and the decision to attend was relatively spontaneous. But I was a little fuzzy on the details of Eeyore’s original party, the one written by A.A. Milne nearly a century ago. I did know that Eeyore is one of the gloomiest creatures in children’s literature and a particularly unlikely icon for spring revelry, so I asked a few folks about the particulars. They weren’t really sure either, though balloons were generally mentioned.
I went back later to the source material, my own four-volume set of what I always think of as The Pooh Books, the Dutton 208th printing from 1954 with Ernest H. Shepard’s wonderful drawings.
And I discovered that Eeyore’s party actually took place off the page, though it was reported to be quite nice, in an afterword to the story “Eeyore Has a Birthday.” That the only balloon mentioned was one which popped when a running Piglet put his foot in a rabbit hole and fell. That Pooh intended to give Eeyore a pot of honey but accidentally ate it first. And that Eeyore, the ultimate master of Making the Best of Things, took the empty pot and busted balloon and turned them into a toy.
Strictly speaking, this could be considered bad writing. Telling about the party rather than showing it. Spending so much time leading up to the denouement that it had to be squeezed into a couple fast paragraphs at the end.
But what it really means is that Milne left the entire party to be conjured up in whatever fashion the reader might choose. Which the English students who held Eeyore’s first gathering back in 1963 took full advantage of, serving honey sandwiches with lemonade and beer, and dancing around a maypole. Folks have been improvising and elaborating on that basic theme ever since.
In 2012, some tie-dye-attired attendees seemed old enough to have been college students half a century ago, when it all started. And there were just as many infants as octogenarians, with every imaginable celebratory age in between. The drum circles for which Eeyore’s party is known were enormous and free-flowing, with participants joining in, drumming in communal rhythm for a spell, then drifting away. Little girls in perfect party dresses carefully carried balloons, while adults danced in sophisticated professional costumes. Body painting ranged from random smears administered onsite to elaborate art tableaux, frequently showing a great deal of skin, it being nearly May and already over 90 degrees. And the athletic events ranged from the traditional egg toss to a team sport I’d never previously encountered, touch football on unicycles.
Touch football on unicycles.
Which goes to show that sometimes what you leave off the page can be every bit as amazing as what you include.