Surprise!

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. – Dylan Thomas

Those “decade” birthdays can be enough to kill a guy. I remember when I turned 30; I was in the midst of a divorce and had a fever of 103 because of strep throat. Had anyone even come close to making a “you’re over the hill” remark, I believe I would have killed them.

I was a bit worried about my 60th, because, well, SIXTY. But as it was, I was rewarded for my longevity with a wonderful party in which professional chefs taught my grands and me to make pasta. And I’m a long way – ages, really – before I have to face my 70th.

But my sister Jen is looking right into the eyes of her 60th. She will celebrate that big event on September 14, when her birthday actually falls. However, a couple of months ago, her daughter Maggie had a brainstorm. Really. The light bulb went on over her head like in a cartoon. Why wait until September to celebrate? A landmark birthday like that should be celebrated early and often. She began planning a surprise birthday party for her mother during the time that she and her family would be visiting from AZ.

The key word in this whole scenario is “surprise.” You see, Jen is just short of being psychic. Let’s just call her intuitive. Extremely intuitive. I don’t think she has been surprised about anything in 40 years. For this reason, we were all sneaky to the point of being paranoid with the planning of this event. Not a word to Austin and Lilly. No text messages, lest Jen accidentally spies one.

Perhaps it was the fact that it was July 8 and not September 14, because why would anyone be thinking surprise birthday party in the middle of summer when you’re birthday’s not until – as Nat King Cole would say — the autumn leaves drift by the window?

Using a complicated plan that involved Maggie’s husband Mark claiming a friend of his was in town and this alleged friend wanted to meet Mark’s wife and children, they were able to get Jen to come along by promising dinner at a favorite restaurant across the street from the actual party site following this introductory meeting. The plan was full of holes, and yet, it worked. The look on Jen’s face when she walked into the restaurant only to see friends and family pop out with masks made out of a frighteningly surreal Jen-Baby Heads was priceless……

It took Jen only a few moments to get a handle on what was happening to her. As for her family, Mark and BJ were relieved to be free from their responsibilities, Maggie was just short of throwing up from nervousness, Austin was mortified (as only a 6-year-old boy can be) to have everyone staring at him, and Lilly, well, she was just happy to have a reason to party…..

Our stepmother Shirley was one of those present for Jen’s surprise party.

The party was held at Los Tarascos Restaurant in downtown Fort Collins, where the staff couldn’t have been nicer. They didn’t even tear up that much when glitter was sprinkled onto the bar. Really, their sobs were barely audible. Following a delicious taco bar, it was time for cake. Or, cakes, really. A lemon raspberry bundt cake and a double chocolate bundt cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes. As we were putting out the cakes, Maggie said to me, “Mom says she doesn’t want anyone to sing happy birthday. What do you think?”

Here’s what I thought, and Lilly too…..

As poet Dylan Thomas suggests, we won’t let Jen go gentle into that good night. It’s only July. We still have a few more months of celebrating her 60th!