Birthday has come and gone. And as the old trucker's song says "Another day older and deeper in debt." But that is far too morose for the joy that this birthday was.
The idea began as a gleam in my eye. I realized that my family might do something for me. After all we had put together something for others celebrating. But what about some of the others that I wanted to meet each other. I have this wild eclectic gang of friends. The only common denominator is me. How would they interact with each other? What terrible stories might they have about me? And the idea began to grow. The easy way to extend the invitation was to email my blog list. But then in the normal scheme of things that would put it in front of my Facebook friends. And what about Twitter? And there were others that I thought might be curious and eclectic enough to poke their noses in.
So the invitation went out. Responses with the request for a password came in. And the response surprised me. To put it mildly. Okay I knew I had a lot of cancer friends. But others came from the far flung corners of the world. New Zealand. The UK. Across the country. From old family friends to folks that I had only met in the last few months. It was overwhelming.
I started to sweat a bit. Pratt's aren't known for their garrulousness. And their hosting abilities might leave a little bit to be desired. But I had been doing a lot of zoom stuff and I had an idea about some things that worked (and some that didn't.) So after a restless night before. A computer update left me scrambling to restore sound on my laptop. That led to a small amount of panic. I was scared.
A quote from a friend reassured me. It was from Tim Gunn, author of "Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work." He says,
“Entertaining shouldn’t be about showing off. It’s all about making people feel comfortable and setting a stage for everyone to have a good time, make new friends, and have stimulating conversations. You want to leave a party thinking: If I hadn’t gone to that, I never would have met this wonderful person, or had that delicious meal, or felt that sense of camaraderie with the people I met at the dessert table.”
I didn't have the desert table or even a meal. Just an old well-past- expiry-date angel food cake with one lonely candle. But I had a lot of interesting people and if I could get them telling stories that would be a thing.
At 3:55 I opened the zoom room. And sat waiting. I had told people that I would open the room early so we could solve tech problems. That didn't happen. The first gent to roll in was the man who taught me to play baseball. Retired high-school-biology-teacher and mandolin-playing Icelander to boot - Vern. He falls into the category of old family friend.
Shortly after my parents brought me to Canada, Vern rolled into their lives. He wanted to be a veterinarian so he followed my dad around. He gathers stories the way some people collect stamps. He managed to shock everyone with his story of introduction to my father. He learned right up front what being a vet meant. The tale centered around euthanizing a dog. What most people didn't realize is that I have a similar story. I have told it on occasion to illustrate my father's deep love of animals. That love clashed with his professional obligations though. Vern had a marvelous story of the children all being taught to eat properly. We were being prepared for a family trip to England. He learned lessons too at those meals that stood him in good stead in later life. And they have stood me well too.
Then people started showing up. Family. My cousin from Coventry, my uncle from Ottershaw, my second cousin from New Zealand, my son from Edmonton, my brothers, my sisters, Mom. And friends, church friends, poetry friends, AA friends, AlAnon friends, cancer friends, and wacky Facebook friends. My regret is that I didn't keep a log of people as they were coming and going.
I had a few photos from folks and had put together a few of my own. So I told a few stories about living under the bridge, about some of my job sites, some of the places I had been. And then others started telling their stories.
Apparently the first time I met cousin Johns' daughter I sat with her and read her a natural history book. Though it was a complicated book I read it in a way that enthralled her for thirty minutes. Not quite the "Scottish Grandma reading Wonky Donkey"(Google it. It's hilarious.) But entertaining to all within earshot. I don't remember the occasion but reading to children is in character.
Cousin Mark had no memories but we shared a grandmother. He described his driving experiences with her. It reminded me of my England trip after my mother died. Grandma J determined to make the most of having someone else to drive her Austin Maxi. Despite the fact that I had to drive on the wrong side of the road - remarkably easy when you are sitting on the wrong side of the car - and shifting with my left hand, we survived. Mind you there were a few roundabouts that we circled a extra times as we tried to figure out what exit to take.
Uncle Richard reminded me of how scandalized Grandma J had been by his gift to me - a trip to see "Jesus Christ Superstar." And I reminded him of how much I had enjoyed the experience. To this day I can hear echoes of the dying strains of the musical...
My family though are the ones that I worried about. They had the inside stories but they kept it clean. Colin had a funny story about cooking trout in foil on the manifold of the truck. Not so much the cooking but the aftermath of leaving the remains in the truck door for three hot summer days! That lead to a fishing discussion about how much fishing had changed. Not like it was when I was a kid.
There was a spectacular singing of Happy Birthday a la Zoom. And there is a recording here. I left the recorder running accidentally . It caught some poignant moments of story telling. There was the usual complete ignoring of social boundaries while discussing medical matters. And those stories were surrounded by some reflections on fishing.
My wonderful Mom - Sandra - finished the story telling. Not so much with a story but with a reflection on my inability to keep things simple. Better said her comment was a wonderful compliment. Her observation on my desire to see and then impart those thoughts. She said, " Angus never sees just an apple but a red rosy apple."
A birthday blessing bestowed by Pastor Aaron completed the formal part of the party. The next day as I was reading Psalm 86. I found myself grateful for all that God has given me.
But you, O God, are both tender and kind,
not easily angered, immense in love,
and you never, never quit.
So look me in the eye and show kindness,
give your servant the strength to go on,
save your dear, dear child!
Thank you so much for making a milestone special. For those of you who didn't drop in. Oh well, it was your loss. I hope that in some small way I have given you insight into what was a truly marvelous occasion.