It Really Was A Surprise Party


Two and a half months ago when the Honorary General started planning a surprise birthday party for her mother’s 87th birthday, I thought it was magical thinking. Add to that the logistics of making it happen over a long 4th of July weekend and it had all the elements of failure. There were simply too many possibilities for something to go wrong for me to actually expect the event would take place.

Some folks might be inclined to think there were too many in-laws in the mix for me to actually hope the party would come to fruition. While it is true I have a repertoire of funny stories I could marginally embellish and get honorable mention at an Amateur Comedy Club regarding the General’s family, the shoe could just as easily fit on the other foot. They, too, have a plethora of funny (or not so funny) stories they could share about me and poke fun in my direction. The bottom line, after 47 years there are no secrets concerning the best or the worst.

So what could go wrong? For one thing, her mother’s older sister had been in and out of the hospital in the last several weeks. She, too, lives in Odessa and the General’s mother willingly gives priority to being available with any perceived need for support. Who could fault her for that? That kind of family commitment endears the General’s mother to me rather than pushes me away.

Then of course, there is her mother’s cat. Any number of things could go haywire with the cat and the Honorary General’s mother would cancel the trip at a moment’s notice. She is really fond of her cat. The cat could get sick or the provision of “cat-care” could fall through and so would the surprise birthday plans. She would drop the surprise party plans like a lead balloon, particularly since she didn’t know there was a party. There is nothing like being an 87-year-old cat lady.

Did I mention that I am not a cat person? In my limited experience, it is my belief that cats are passive aggressive creatures. Invariably, whenever I visit anyone owning a cat, the cat winds up in my lap. That is not because I’m coaxing attention from the cat by calling, “Here kitty, kitty. Here, kitty, kitty”. I’m sure that cats don’t really smother babies, but I couldn’t detest them more if they did (Okay, that falls under the category of over-statement and exaggeration).   It defies explanation, but I just don’t share an affinity for cats.

You’re probably wondering how we coaxed the General’s mother out of West Texas for a family visit? We let her know the General’s sister was coming from Florida for the weekend. The General made no reference to her sister’s husband, son, daughter-in-law or two grandchildren. That was part of the surprise.

As it unfolded, it was a joyful surprise for the General’s mother. She was very pleased.

Despite my occasional tongue-in-cheek remarks about the General’s family, I really like sharing time with her siblings and their spouses. The only “wild card” related to the family gathering was wondering how my grandchildren would relate to the grandchildren of the General’s brother and sister. Because Craig and his family have been on one coast or the other for the past forever, my grandchildren had no familiarity with their second cousins. In addition, the General’s nephew was also in the military. He, too, was somewhere other than near extended family for the past fifteen plus years. In addition, his wife is from the Philippines and it took six years to orchestrate getting his wife and their two children legally into the country. They, too, had no familiarity with their second cousins. In essence, the birthday party was going to include a sizable gathering of related strangers.

One of the General’s brother’s grandsons celebrated his ninth birthday on Saturday as well. While they were at our home on Saturday, I engaged him in conversation, I asked him, “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in the past nine years.” He looked quizzically at me like I was nuts. Maybe he was right.

When he didn’t answer my question, I turned to his four year old cousin who was also the General’s brother’s grandson and asked, “What is the most important thing you’ve learned?” Without giving it a moment’s thought he smiled at me and said, “Be kind to one another.”

I was blown away. What an awesome response! Even more amazing, how did he know that? I say this “tongue-in-cheek, “Both of his parents are attorneys. Be kind to one another is not intuitively what I would have expected from a four year old. Add the attorney-client-privilege dimension and it would have been the last thing I would have expected to hear.” Amazing isn’t it?

The party was a huge success. My daughter and her husband hosted the group on Saturday night. The time shared could not have been more favorable. And for the record, it took about fifteen minutes for the second cousins (my grandchildren and those of her siblings) to warm up to each other. From that moment on, the sense of connection and family fun was non-stop.

The last four days have been a marathon. Hopefully one pleasantly remembered by all. In case you’re wondering, I’m ready to go back to the office. I’m hearing the sound-track of Willie Nelson in my head, “Call it a night, the party’s over. All good things must come to an end.”

All My Best,



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