The surprise party
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 by Ron Cruger
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         She didn’t know exactly, but she could tell something was up. Her daughter, Marilyn, had flown in from San Diego two days previously. The telephone rang a bit more than usual. Her son, who lived in the same house as her, had become busier during the past week or so. She could tell that her family was slightly on edge. After all, living ninety five years should give a person some kind of awareness for how the people around you are acting.
          Friday came and passed. Mary was one day away from her ninety fifth birthday.
          Her sons and daughters started getting ready hours before the one o’clock time for the surprise party to start. Mary went along. She acted as though she was going to lunch with her two sons and two daughters. Just a quiet family lunch at the local restaurant to celebrate her ninety fifth birthday.
          The twenty minute drive to the restaurant was quiet. Mary sat in the car and relaxed. She watched her son Bob drive. He was fidgity. She noticed.
          The others had arrived at the restaurant fifteen minutes before Mary and Bob would appear.
          Her family sat and waited inside, chatting with each other.
          Outside, in the restaurant’s parking lot, Mary’s daughters Jacki and Marilyn waited for their mother and brother to pull into the parking lot. They would help their mother walk into the restaurant.
          Inside, Mary’s oldest son Tony, waited with his wife, Gail. Mary’s brother Frank talked with older brother, Joseph and his companion Grace. Mary’s charming and attractive sister Frances reminisced with Mary’s niece Jeanne, editor of the local newspaper.
          Mary edged out of the car seat and slowly walked to the entrance of the restaurant. She wasn’t sure, but she felt something was going on.
          Inside, her family rose from their chairs and stood.
          At ninety five it wasn’t easy to walk any distance. Her legs ached. But she felt safe and she was happy, her children were around her.
          Through the restaurant’s front door and down the aisle towards the rear tables Mary walked with three of her children.
          Mary’s hearing had been failing her, but she heard the applause and she saw the rest of her family standing at the long table. Her brothers and sister were in their eighties. Her children were in their late fifties and sixties. The family remained standing and began singing “Happy Birthday to Mary.” Soon, others in the restaurant joined in – singing and applauding as Mary walked by.
          At the long table, her family walked towards Mary and took turns hugging her and offering her their warm wishes.
          Mary thought, “So, this was the surprise. Wonderful. My family.”
          Her family is Italian. They all live within five miles of each other. They talk on the phone a lot. They stay in touch. Each has a special feeling – a closeness to Mary. Her children knew her as a loving, dedicated mother, who raised her children the right way, the old fashioned way. Her brothers and sister knew that Mary was more than their sister. Mary, because she was the eldest, had helped each of them during their childhoods. She was the big sister who substituted for their mother at various times of their lives. Mary was always special. She didn’t just love them all – she cared for them. She had helped them grow up. And they had all grown to be honest, sympathetic, loving and decent citizens. They all knew that Mary had a lot to do with they way they had grown up.
          The birthday cards expressed their feelings.
          Her sister, Frances wrote, “To my wonderful sister, I love you with all my heart.”
          Brother Joseph and Grace wrote, “Dearest Mary, we wish you blissful and pain free days.”
          Mary’s niece Jeanne, wrote, “Dear Auntie, Ever since I was a little baby I felt safe and loved by you. I am so lucky to have you in my life. You’re sweet, gentle ways and your loving wisdom and your wonderful sense of humor – you are the best!”
          Her daughter, Jacki, wrote, “To my beautiful and wonderful mother and best friend. Thank you for all you have done for me throughout my life. I love you always.”
          All of her many birthday cards offered deep reverence and love.
          Her youngest son, expressed what he bore in his heart by writing, “Thank you for being the best mother in the world.” He meant it.
          The family members enjoyed their lunches and then the birthday cake was presented and “Happy Birthday” was offered again. Once more the other diners joined in and applauded when the tribute was finished.
          Photos were taken and more feelings of love and gratitude expressed.
          Mary had photos taken with her brothers and sister. They hugged and kissed each other. Their hearts were filled with decades of memories.
          Soon the long table was vacant.
          Members of the family were heading to their homes.
          Mary’s daughter asked, “Mom, did you know? Was it a surprise?”

          “It was a surprise. A wonderful surprise. Thank you.”
          Later that night, sitting on the edge of her bed, Mary thought, “It was all worth it, all ninety five years.”