NDJ:1 Patricia Martin

Creativity  In Daily  Life

I have never given a surprise party. I feel that to surprise another is not a thoughtful gesture. Yet, as my father-in-law, Al approached his 80th birthday, the family wanted to show its appreciation and host a big party. Al agreed to “a small dinner at your home with the family and a couple of close friends.” The immediate family consisted of his son, stepson, niece, three spouses and four children and, at a stretch, two out-of-state cousins and their wives. This would be fourteen in all, besides he and his wife, Hedda.

But close friends: therein lay the problem. Since arriving in this country five years earlier, Al and Hedda had accumulated innumerable close friends. Reserved and somewhat shy by nature, the thought of inviting even half of this group of loyal supporters would have given Al cause for alarm – even panic. He would surely have insisted, no party. So how would we construe an 80th birth­day party and invite not just the family but also all those whom we knew would appreciate an invitation? Eventually, the list included almost fifty. Except for a few out-of-towners who could not make the trip and another couple who were abroad everyone else was available. My home, the venue for the party could comfortably accommodate the forty people who accepted. But I did not own enough chairs, tables, china, glasses nor flatware for an elegant dinner party. The simple solution: get in Select Party Supplies. No problem, the caterer assured me. The linens, furniture and tableware would be delivered during the day prior to the party.

The appointed day for delivery arrived. Five o’clock was rapidly approaching. No supplies. Anxiously, I called the caterer reminding her that I had specifically requested that delivery be before five o’clock that evening. At that hour, I had explained, I had invited my in-laws with a few out-of-town guests: Al’s son from Australia and a cousin and wife from Massachusetts to an early dinner before they would be off to the Symphony. They would be in my home for one-and-a-half hours.

As fate would have it, the grandparents, as we lovingly call Al and Hedda, drove down the driveway at five o’clock that Friday evening. Following them, only moments later was the large supply truck bearing the words Select Party Supplies in enormous red letters sprawled on each side. My heart pounded. How would I handle the preparations for the coming day’s festivities without Al becoming aware of the magnitude of the event?

All neurons swung into action – think quickly. Go greet the grandparents, shower Al with birthday hugs and kisses while quickly guiding him through the kitchen door. Invite everyone to have a drink in the kitchen while mumbling some innocent excuse that the dining room table has not yet been set and oh, isn’t the garden looking nice – as I stalled for time to duck out front to ambiva­lently greet the delivery man. He had not been advised either regarding a before five o’clock delivery, nor changes in certain items and size of one of the tables. Simultaneously, my husband was able to discretely explain to the doubtlessly puzzled others just what was going on.

I directed the deliveryman through the front door at the other side of the house, and into the study where I had planned to close off the connecting door to the dining room. However, the food was cooked, time was racing by and din­ner had to be eaten. I could stall no longer.

I invited the guests into the dining room and sat Al in a seat facing the lake over which the picture window in the dining room looked, while emphasizing his right as the evening’s celebrant to the best seat at the table. Normally, Al would have sat in a seat directly facing the deliveryman’s path through the lounge room. Fortunately his seat for this evening faced away from the delivery activi­ties. The delivery went on and on and on. The deliveryman was a large, strong individual, but being alone, he had a lot of items to carry in bit by bit by bit. It was often hard to keep Al distracted – to keep him the focus of conversation; to keep his mind on the dinner; to admire the groundhog in the yard and the geese on the lake, and not to be distracted by the activities in the background.

Fortunately, the deliveryman waved and winked. I let out a quiet sigh. There was a twinkle in each eye around the table: I’ll never know who appreciated the challenge or who was oblivious. But each was a sport and the grand party the next evening was truly a blast and Al coped with “all my wonderful friends – I’m so glad you could all make it. I’ve never been so honored in my life.”