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. 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]
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!)
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.
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 flowers 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.
I 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.
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.)
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.People 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. 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.
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.