Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dad’s 90th Birthday Party

000_2893(Dad wearing my aunt’s shawl because of restaurant air conditioning)

March has been a special month for birthdays all my life.  My father and mother and grandfather had their birthdays on March 26, 27, and 29th, and then at age 40 my mother discovered her real birthday was March 13 (her adoptive parents had changed it) so she celebrated that one, too.  March became a month long celebration of birthdays.  My mother and grandfather are partying in heaven now, but my dad had his milestone 90th birthday this March.

In February my sister called from Denver and asked, “What are we going to do about Dad’s 90th?”  I hadn’t been thinking about it yet but once the seed was planted ideas began to roll through my mind.000_2815                                                                    My sister and brother in law from Denver

Basically, neither my sister nor I could cope with putting on a full scale dinner party.  She lives far away and was flying in for the event and I am busy all week with daycare and both our brothers had other commitments and full schedules.  We decided to have a restaurant dinner for the extended family and a few close friends of my dad’s.  It was easy knowing where because Dad has a favorite restaurant that he attends several times a week.  It has good quality food and excellent service and is absolutely reliable on both counts. [Sayler’s Old Country Kitchen] DSC_02970021 000_2754000_2835

The first thing to do was get an invitation out.  I had an idea of cutting out a large 90 and putting a photo of Dad in the hole of the 9 and the invitation in the hole of the 0.

So the first thing was to find the right picture of Dad and then get copies made.  I have an abundant scrapbook paper supply so finding masculine and Dad-like prints (maps, accounting sheets, travel) was no problem.  I made a pattern for the 90 (joined along the fold line) out of a file folder and traced the 30 invitations I needed. I cut the photos and  invitation wording into ovals to fit the numbers and lightly taped them into place.  Then I tried something new to me: I stitched with my sewing machine the pictures into place, giving a little textural interest.  I have seen this done lately, machine stitching on paper, but I hadn’t tried it myself and didn’t know if my machine would balk.  It worked fine as long as I was paying attention on the curves! (This photo shows a poor sample since I kept the worst one for myself, and now it’s the only one I have to show!  Aargh!)15-06-18-16-31-14 - Copy

The guest list was pretty obvious: at 90 one doesn’t have too many partying peers left.  We four children (with spouses, 8) and 20 grandchildren and 19 great-grands plus his 2 brothers and their wives and a cousin he was in the Navy with and a few long time friends. Since we were hosting we didn’t dare go into the category of everyone who likes Dad although plenty of our church friends would have been happy to come and celebrate him.

I was so thrilled when my uncle in California emailed right after receiving the invitation saying they were coming!  It was my first RSVP and it made it seem like a real party was going to happen.  That was a huge encouragement.

000_2773Dad and his two brothers000_2811

For decorations I was limited to the banquet room proportions and little space on the table because of food.  I thought about vintage toys, like marbles and yo-yos and tops.  I used marbles in old quart glass milk bottles as vases for bright colored flowersDSC_02780008 and scattered small tops and jacks and yo-yos down the tables. (I got them online and painted them.) On Etsy I found a site that made personalized posters of the year one was born including political and cultural trivia and the prices of key items.  That was a lot of fun and gave me my retro black and white chalkboard color scheme for doing a bunting made up of pictures from each decade of my dad’s life.  000_2823

DSC_03030024I went to his photo albums (and his parents’) and took digital pictures of the pictures.  I was nervous about them being second generation prints but except for some trouble with glare it worked pretty well. It was a whole lot easier than trying to find the negatives from 1925 and finding a shop which would print from film! I ended up with about 100 pictures, about 10 representing each decade of his life.  I cut black paper into pennant shapes, affixed the photos and strung them on bright twine.  It made a bunting about 75 feet long which went along the sides of the banquet room.  People seemed to enjoy walking down the wall looking at the pictures and remarking on them.  Since the party, I took the pennants off the twine and collected them into a book for my dad.  He is very pleased to look back over his life these days.  He says he spends a lot of time reminiscing and reflecting.  He bought a box to keep the book, the invitation and his birthday cards in. 

DSC_02820009Hanging the buntingDSC_02890015

DSC_02910017DSC_02920018DSC_02940020DSC_03110028Dad brought a collection of his mementoes that he had been pulling out and giving to me for weeks for the party.  He was very excited about it and keen to participate and curious about every detail.DSC_03220033

For flowers I took my cue from the marbles and went as bright and colorful as I could get.  Fortunately, daffodils and tulips were in season.  I tied the milk bottles with twine and teeny tiny black pennants saying “Frank” and underlay them with colorful circles of paper.

I ordered a cake from a favorite bakery in Portland—they have done several wedding cakes for the family—and it was delicious.  When it was time to blow out his candles, all the waitresses from the restaurant came to sing “Happy Birthday” and wish him well. (This is not normally a sing-to-you type restaurant, but he is a great favorite of the staff and he loves them all, too. This was very special treatment.)000_2869


The dynamic of the evening is what made it so special, and it’s not anything that could be planned or orchestrated. People were so genuinely happy to see each other, the adult cousins and the little cousins. Brothers and sisters.  Old friends.000_2764People moved around the room freely between courses visiting with each other, my uncle and aunt from Los Angeles, my sister and brother-in-law from Denver, and all the friends we don’t see often enough.  There was a lot of chatter and laughing.  One of the things I enjoyed the most was seeing how the oldest generation and the youngest children had fun together and were genuinely interested in each other. 000_2868 There was just a lot of love going all around that room.  It was wonderful!  You can set a table, you can make decorations, but they aren’t the life of the party.  Only the people can make that happen and it’s magical and priceless when it does.000_2790



000_2827^Singing Happy Birthday to Great Granddad000_2840


000_2907My brother, my sister, my dad, and me.  We’re missing a brother in California whose wife was recovering from surgery.


Postlude: Sharing funny stories about Dad:000_2898

The party was more than the sum of its parts, and I’m so glad we have this very happy memory for Dad and us.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Tea at Gracie’s




Yesterday I went to a tea party at my friend Gracie’s.  She and her sister Angie were celebrating the April and May birthdays of some of the youth group “girls” from the 1960’s and 70’s.

Not too many people have ties as far back as we do.  Some of us grew up in the same church but have gone on to other churches with the changes that family life brings; some of us got to know each other at summer camp and that led into a young people’s group and a college age group that was combined from several churches.  We went to conferences together and retreats and then group dates and eventually twosomes.  We were at each others’ weddings and sometimes baby showers and over the years our children have gotten to know each other through summer camp and youth group events.  We are now at the stage of going to the funerals of each other’s parents, and  in spite of the loss at such a time there is a deep connectedness and support for each other that lessens the grief.  At these funerals we remind each other of the fun we had in their homes as kids, the lively interest shown in us by their parents, and we have a deep sense of  having been blessed as we say an earthly goodbye to one of our parents.  What a heritage! 

Yesterday I said to my neighbor at tea, “Look around this table.  How rare to have a group like this who are so privileged to have what we have! Families, and a home, and friends and even the privileges of education.  We are so fortunate even to be able to read compared to the majority of the women in the world!”

But we don’t just rest in the lap of luxury.  In the past year we have dealt with unemployment, cancer,15-05-30-15-56-44 hip replacement, job displacement, spousal retirement, divorce, and upside down mortgages. Life has challenges for all. Our conversation was directed towards the needs of the city where we live, a diversified urban culture that is liberal and draws street people and young wanderers here (one of the slogans you hear is “Portland is a city where young people come to retire” i.e., not work.) We talked about how to meet the needs of a society that is rapidly changing and no longer accepts the presuppositions of our 1950’s upbringing.  How to make the gospel accessible to people who don’t want the confines of a church, to women who can’t read and don’t speak English, to a youth culture caught up in video gaming.

As we sat at the table, a stranger went in and out of Gracie’s garage.  When it was pointed out to her, she said oh yes, he lived there in a corner of their garage.  He is a pan-handler up the street, able to read and write, thirty something years old, homeless.  He used to hold up a sign at the freeway entrance but now he just stands and reads.  Some of the neighbors aren’t too happy about his being given refuge in their garage corner, but this is their conscience towards him.

Maybe this is what our faith is all about, respecting our fellowman who is also made in the image of God , and being to him an expression of God’s love as seen in Jesus.

James 1:27  
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and
to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.