Thursday, May 29, 2008


She never had a clue. The surprise was total. Her reaction was priceless. Her surprise birthday party was both a party and a surprise. It couldn’t have worked out better.

About three weeks ago I figured I had to do something special for Mary’s birthday this year. After all, your 60th birthday is something of a milestone, not unlike your thirtieth. At thirty you pass into real adulthood; at 60 you pass into senior adulthood. So it is definitely worth noting in some special way.

I am not usually one to take notice of birthdays and anniversaries. In fact I have landed in the doghouse any number of times for forgetting some special occasion that I didn’t think was so special. I don’t typically do the card thing or lavish presents on the celebrant. I’m not cheap, just indifferent. I hate it when anyone makes a big deal out of my birthday, so I would be a hypocrite to treat others the way I don’t want to b treated.

But for some reason I thought some special effort was required this time. Sixty is a milestone worth noting. So I jumped in with both feet and started planning a surprise party for her. I have never done anything like this before so I was flying blind here. The first thing I did was contact the people I knew she would love to see there. I had to judge if there was actually any interest. Everyone I contacted was thrilled to be part of the surprise. So now I had to actually come up with some kind of party.

The next concern was the best time to spring this surprise on her. Since her birthday was actually on May 19th ( see, I’m not a total loser. I do know when her birthday is), and we were in California that weekend, I had to find another weekend when everyone would be able to be there. Since Memorial Day weekend was the next weekend, figured most people would have some flexibility with the extra day off. So I settled on Sunday and everyone seemed good with that.

The next question was where to have this shindig. Memorial Day weekend is typically spent at the lake, so if this surprise was going to be a surprise I figured we couldn’t deviate from the norm. So Sunday at the cottage was the place to be. The fact that our lake cottage is a two hour drive away didn’t deter any of the intended guests. I think the fact that they were all willing to make that effort for Mary says a lot about how much they think of her.

Most parties like this require food and refreshments of some kind so that was my next concern. Since this is Wisconsin, you can’t have an outdoor picnic without brats and hamburgers as the main entrĂ©e. I think it may actually be against the law to not serve brats anytime there are more than three people in a backyard. So brats and burgers was the obvious choice. I ran to the deli and scored a cheese tray and a veggie tray and bought a whole truckload of junk food snacks. Since most of the expected guests were winos, I bought a case of various wines to satisfy that vice and added some beer for those of us who favor more traditional liquids with our brats. Naturally I threw in some sodas for the younguns and teetotalers in the crowd.

Next problem—logistics. I couldn’t just load the van for the weekend with all the party goods and not expect her to see them and know something was up and spoil the surprise. So despite $4 gas, I made a quick run up to the cottage on Thursday to deliver the food and drink. I put most of the stuff in a cabinet in the garage that she would never think about going into. The food that needed refrigeration I put in the neighbor’s refrigerator. I drove the 2 hours there, spent twenty minutes unloading, and drove two hours back to be home before she came home from work . When she asked me what I did that day, I told her I vacuumed the house and washed the floors. Ok, so I told a little white lie. It was for a good cause.

Sunday arrived right after Saturday the way it always does. Jon and Katie (son and daughter-in-law) came up on Saturday so Jon and I could get in a round of golf. They told Mary that they had to leave by noon on Sunday to go to a friend’s picnic back home. So at noon they got in their car with their stuff and their dog and drove out of the driveway. They actually just went to town to buy the ice we needed for the drinks. I had arranged with our next door neighbor, Judy (Mary’s best friend in the whole world), that she would take Mary out for lunch at noon on Sunday so we could get her out of the way for an hour or so. That also solved the problem of getting Mary dressed and presentable since she likes nothing better than to lounge around on Sunday in her pajamas, reading the paper and drinking her coffee. I didn’t want her to be embarrassed as well as surprised, so lunch with Judy solved two problems. We had some serious party prep to take care of while they were gone.

As Judy drove Mary out of the driveway for their lunch, I was on the phone calling Jon and Katie giving the code “the hen has flown the coop”, so they would know it was ok to return. Then while I grilled the brats and hamburgers, they decorated the place and got all the other food out and prepared. Pete from next door brought over a bunch of extra lawn chairs that he had cleaned up for the occasion. I stapled the sign I had made to the mailbox so the guests would know they were at the right place. We managed to get pretty well organized by the time the first of our guests arrived at 1:15.

By t he time Judy brought Mary back from lunch most of the partiers were there. As they drove in the driveway Mary saw the sign and it didn’t really register that she was going to be the center of attention. Then the first person she saw standing in the driveway was her brother, Joel, whom she hadn’t seen for three years. She gasped, screamed, bent over at he waist crying in joy and excitement and proceeded to nearly break his spine with a hug. It still hadn’t dawned on her that there was anything more unusual than a visit from her brother going on. Then as she noticed more people in the driveway and on the deck greeting her with birthday wishes she finally got the idea. But the surprise wasn’t over just yet. She thought she had seen everyone there when she walked into the cottage and three of her good teacher friends and colleagues from school were hiding in the kitchen waiting for her. She shrieked in astonishment and literally wet her pants. (I promised not to tell that part, but I lied) By then she realized that all this was for her and she settled into the party, enjoying being the center of attention. As the afternoon progressed, more friends arrived starting the cries of surprise and joy all over again. Just witnessing her reaction was worth all the effort that went into making this a celebration she won’t soon forget.

My efforts on her behalf also garnered me scads of husbandly points. I may actually be on the positive side of the ledger for the time being. I am enjoying her grateful attentions. Unfortunately, a sixtieth birthday only happens once, so I will have to come up with some new excuse for throwing a party or some way to stay in her good graces for awhile. It was all worth it and I would do it all again just to see her joy once more.

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