#217 In which our hero finally wraps up his story about a hectic week.
Finally, Mom’s birthday party.
My sisters and I started talking about this thing late last year. Mom is 75 this year, and if that isn’t a milestone, I don’t know what is. Three-quarters of a century. Holy shit.
We originally wanted to do a surprise party, a real surprise party, but it was quickly decided that it just wouldn’t work out. Not considering that we wanted to invite a ton of people. So we told Mom that we were going to have a family party, her, my sisters and I (plus our assorted spouses, children, and boyfriends). We told her we’d have it at the city party, at one of the picnic tables available for rent.
Meanwhile, we started the real planning. I rented the community center at the park (completely enclosed, air conditioned, attached kitchen) for the entire day… for a cost of $200. Which, compared to renting a hall at any medium to large city is laughable. But I didn’t exactly grow up in a booming metropolis. Matter of fact, my home town was downgraded from “city” to “village” with the last census.
Then I engaged into a secret alliance with a friend of Mom’s, and a former teacher of mine. I made a flyer with all the details (including the fact that it was a SURPRISE party, more on that in a moment) for her to distribute to… well, lots of people. Mom may be 75, but she hasn’t slowed down a bit. So we invited her garden club, and her golf league, and her bowling team; as well as everyone from the neighborhood and a few odds and ends of people that were just friendly with Mom.
Then my middle sister and I started thinking about food. Our initial thought was to have it catered. I asked my hometown spy for a recommendation, and she gave me the name and number of a woman in town who did a lot of catering. “She’s really, really good,” I was told.
I let my sister handle the details, since she’s done party planning stuff before and, honestly, I didn’t want to bother. I mean, the party would have been fine if it was hotdogs and potato salad (which was a serious consideration for a time) so I didn’t care. My kids will eat damn near anything, so I knew I didn’t have to worry about that. But, since the caterer was “really really good” I was hoping that we could put on an elegant, exciting meal for Mom.
And boy, was I ever wrong. My sister shared the menu options that the caterer sent her, and it was everything you’d expect at a free, all-you-can-eat buffet at a Motel 6. Baked ham. Roasted chicken. Potato salad. Jell-O salad. Chips. Soda. I mean, Jell-O salad? Come on!
I guess I was expecting something like the buffet we catered for my wedding. We had cucumber-armored smoked salmon, roasted fingering potatoes, hand-carved roast beef, petitfours in three flavors… it was very elegant and really tasty.
But, I tried to consider the environment… small town Ohio is vastly different from Cleveland (not that Cleveland is New York City or New Orleans, but you get my drift). We hoped Mom would be pleased.
And while middle sister was finalizing the details with the caterer (do you provide silverware, or do we have to bring that? How about flowers for the tables? Linens? Will you be there for clean-up? Etc, etc.) I had to buy Mom’s birthday present from all of us kids.
This is something that was discussed at length, too. What to get Mom? Seventy-five is a big deal, we need to get her something more than a gift certificate for Red Lobster. It was decided that we would get her a new washer and dryer.
Mom has a perfectly fine washer and dryer already… but they’re in the basement. And at 75, we’re thinking that Mom doesn’t need to go up and down those steps. Plus, it’s a big ‘ole set from when we kids (well, at least me) were still in the house, so it’s a lot bigger than what she needs now. So we decided to get her a stand-up stacked thingie. Y’know, like this:
There’s a little-used second bathroom upstairs, so we could stick it in there. Plus, there’s already plumbing.
I was going to compare costs and see what was available the week before Mom’s party. Then, I found out I was going to NYC for two days. This accelerated the process, so I basically did a little online browsing, then bought the cheapest one I could fine at h.h. greggs. Now that I wanted Mom to have a crappy appliance, but my surfing revealed that there’s not a lot of difference in stand-up models. Most places even had similar pricing. So I bought the thing, had it delivered on Thursday, and we presented it to Mom on Friday when everyone was up. She was very surprised, and liked it a great deal.
Anyway, back to the party.
So my sister starts getting RSVPs from people (again, she had experience with party planning and I couldn’t be bothered) and it looks like the party is going to be fairly big; about 50 people in the end. So that’s cool. Mom deserves a big to-do.
She also got a fair number of “sorry, can’t come, wish I could” sort of calls, including one from our uncle. Which would have been fine, except that our dumbass uncle also called Mom to say he couldn’t come.
Remember the “surprise” part of the party? Apparently our uncle did not.
I get a call from Mom, and she says that she just got a strange call from her brother. He called to say that he couldn’t make the party--he’s in Florida, so no real surprise there. Apparently the rest of the conversation went something like this:
DUMBASS UNCLE: I really felt moved to call to make sure you knew I wasn’t coming. Because when I get a formal invite to a party, I feel like I have to call if I’m not going to be there.Sigh. Jesus, guy, didn’t I put “SHHH! It’s a SURPRISE party!” in a freakin’ starburst on the flyer? What’s unclear about that?
MOM: Oh, there were invitations?
DAU: Oh yeah! You kids did up these great invitations and mailed them out!
Mom tells me that not only did she hear this from her brother, but that she had also heard another person, someone who she would never expect to be invited, that “your invitation is on my refrigerator right now.” So Mom says that she thinks she “smells a rat.” I tell her that she shouldn’t look any further into it, and let it go.
Finally, Sunday comes and The Scientist, the girls and I drive down for the party. We go straight to the party center to help set up. Which is no big deal… a few balloons, a cake (which I got in Cleveland and brought with me), flowers for the table, the catered spread on a buffet table.
Finally I drive up to fetch Mom. We’ve really been downplaying things, telling Mom that we’re just grilling out at a picnic table, nothing fancy. For the most part, Mom seems to buy it. When I drive her down to the park I tell her that I left The Scientist and the girls at the playground, which is conveniently right next to the community center. “We’ll pick them up right quick then head over to the picnic tables,” I lie.
Once there, I ask Mom if it would be okay to stick my head into the community center, since I’ve never seen the inside since they renovated it (which was true up until the moment I arrived to start hanging balloons that morning). She says okay, we walk into the room and, ironically, as soon as she sees the caterer she knows what’s what.
There’s plenty of people, and more arrive as the day wears on. Mom is blissfully in her element: surrounded by people, all listening to her tell stories.
All in all, a good day. Everyone seemed to have fun, the food was… well, honestly, even more boring in person than it sounded on paper, but there’s plenty of it and everyone seems to agree that the caterer “always puts on a great spread.” People bring presents, which really surprised me. I didn’t mention anything about presents on the flyer, but at 75, I guess I just assumed people would know that Mom has pretty much all the stuff she’s ever going to need. But still, free loot, so that’s cool. My girls ate a ton of chips and cake, but it’s a party so I don’t care.
We discussed going back to the house to hang out a bit, but Mom dissuades us from this. “Eh, there’s so many damn people in my house already,” she says, “You’re better off avoiding at the ruckus. Just go home.”
So we do.
The girls sleep through most of the trip--including the part where we stopped to get ice cream. Are we bad parents because we were very careful not to wake them, so they wouldn’t ask for some? Yes, probably.
I was really glad we could do this for Mom. She seemed to have a great time.
And I told her that for her 90th birthday, we were going to do something really special.