Monday, December 20, 2004

Around the World in 80 Years

The small crowd of about 75, jammed into a small hotel conference room, chanted at the elderly old woman to tell a birthday story for Dolores about their younger years. Jean, Dolores's maid of honor almost sixty years prior to this event, answered the crowd laughingly, "I wish I could, but I don't want to say anything incriminating and get her mad at me! Dolores, we still have to stay best friends for the rest of our lives!" Dolores, in the chair of honor at her 80th birthday celebration, hooted back, "Honey, we're already there!"

This was the atmosphere at my Grandma Smith's birthday party last night. There was a little display set up next to the cake with tons of pictures, which were frequently observed by several of my grandmother's friends and family throughout the evening. I must've met about 30 people over the age of 75 last night, and I sat and chewed the fat with a majority of them. All of my aunts and uncles were there from out of town, and as many of Grandma's friends who could make it were there also. There was just a good feel to the whole night, and with the sequence of events that the party included, how could there NOT be?

First things first: the food was the most delicious catered food I've ever eaten in my entire life. There was this insane chicken breast with a most delightful marinade, and very hearty slices of pork. They also had those mashed potatoes with little pieces of the skin still in them, as well as green beens almondine. Add this to an open bar (wanted a white Russian, but there was no Kahlua, so I went with the Amaretto Sour--I know, it's a chick drink, but I needed something to tasty to accompany my high-class dinner), and you've quite a lovely setup for your taste buds. So we munched at the "Kid's Table," (and no, not the card table we're perpetually stuck at for holiday feasts) and then got on to the evening's festivities.

Kyle, Jenna, Jackie and I sang a Marc Broussard song together called "Save Me." It's about turning another year older, but still having good people to rely on and help you out, even as you get older and older. Then my mother's Madrigal choir came in and sang a few Christmas songs for everyone. This was a huge hit. Take it from me and my own personal experiences singing a capella Christmas tunes for senior citizens--they LOVE it! You'd think they were at a Lawrence Welk party the way they were digging this stuff. I kept waiting for one of the old ladies to hop onto the table and start doing the Charleston to "Snow, Snow, Snow." It didn't happen, but the music was rad. Then, my cousin Dennis, who is training as an apprentice in New York to become a professional composer, arranged a song for the Madrigals to sing called "When I Was Your Age." It too was very impressive.

Then my Dad read a poem he had written, as he put it, "for all the in-laws out there." It was about being so lucky to have his existing family (me and the twins included) accepted so quickly and naturally into the family created and raised by my grandmother. He said that for some people, it's a chore to just take people in and love them just like that, but that he respected her deeply because it was so easy for her. He spelled out the fact that good people come from good parents, and when one of those good parents makes it to 80 years old, you have a good opporunity to let them know what a wonderful legacy they've made for the rest of the world to benefit from. I guess it would be a bit sentimental for most, but it echoed my own sentiments about my family pretty accurately, and I'm sure it meant a lot for the people there to hear that.

My cousin Joanna is in the Peace Corps in Seattle, so she couldn't be there, but she and my grandmother are very close. She wrote a letter for her that my Uncle Mark (her father) read out loud to everyone. I shouldn't say "read," because I couldn't even tell you what the letter was about because he'd read three words and start crying. I think it was just because he was so proud of the insight and maturity Jo showed in her letter. I love my cousin, and I know that she's grown SO MUCH as a person since doing the Seattle thing. I'm sure her letter was meaningful, and Grandma will get to read it later and figure out what the hell Mark was blubbering about. Irregardless of the meaning of the thing, his tears had half of the room in tears, and before anyone could stop themselves, pretty much everybody was letting out light tear flow.

We entertained, reminisced, and ate a damn fine meal. Grandma got to visit with old friends, siblings, children, and grandchildren. Actually, she was probably the only one all night long who didn't cry. My grandma is just tough like that. She didn't let out a single tear for the entire 4-hour visitation when my grandfather died. She's not the most sentimental old broad in the history of the world, but she's seen enough where I'm sure she's probably all cried out by now. She's a remarkable woman, and for 80 years old, she's still remarkably spry. She could probably whoop either of my sisters's respective asses in arm-wrestling (take that for what it's worth). It was just a great night for her, and I couldn't help but leave that place last night feeling really good and very happy for her. To be that old and still have so many people around that care about you so much. I know there a lot of people her age in nursing homes who never get a single visit. But, I can say with confidence that if my Grandma Smith ever ended up in a similar facility (God forbid), she'd never be short on visitors.

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