Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 15, 2013
"Now I'm glad I came!"
Last May, Aunt Kay turned 90. To celebrate her becoming a nonagenarian, husband Art and I flew to California and spent a few days with her and Uncle Stan.
This week, it was Stan's turn!
But with a twist.
While he knew Art and I were coming, he didn't know that for months, Kay had been planning a surprise party.
Time certainly treats people differently. While some die well before they reach such a milestone, others remain pretty frisky well past the 90-year mark. Stan and Kay are definitely in the latter group. We flew out late Wednesday, so the first order of business Thursday morning was deciding how to spend the day. The eventual choice was the Descanso Gardens in the Los Angeles suburb of La Cañada. Its camellia trees, cacti, palm trees, coast live oaks and other plants stretch across 160 acres, and we walked quite a bit of them. A trolley was provided for "old folks," but we "youngsters - 68-year-old Art, 90-year-old Stan and Kay and 59-year-old me - covered the grounds the old-fashioned way, putting one foot in front of the other across the hilly ground.
The surprises began on Friday, but Kay only knew about some of them. Art said he had to meet a relative of his while he actually sneaked off to the airport to meet my brother Dave, who flew in that afternoon. Stan kept fretting about what conditions Art was experiencing on the 405 Freeway, so I knew he had no clue that Dave was coming. Tax time is the busiest part of the year for Dave, who is a certified public accountant. Neither thought he could take time off and so were completely surprised when Dave walked in with Art.
"I've come to do your tax return," Dave said. We all laughed.
The next surprise involved my cousins Bob and Jeff and Jeff's daughter Jackie. They had flown in to another airport, so while the five of us sat in the living room chatting, I texted the trio to meet us at a local pizza place that Stan had picked for supper.
At the restaurant, Art and I had our backs to the door, so Dave nodded and winked when they came in.
"Hey, Stan, do you recognize these people walking over here?" Art asked.
Stan looked around and was dumbfounded when he saw them.
What he didn't know was those were just the lead-up surprises to the main event Kay had planned. Some 80 friends and family were to gather in their church's fellowship hall the next day at 1 p.m. to recognize Stan's milestone. This surprise came with a lunch and some entertainment. Art and I wondered how Kay planned to get Stan down to the church without arousing his suspicions.
The next morning, we all met at Stan and Kay's for breakfast. It was then we discovered Kay didn't have a plan! As the clock edged nearer and nearer to 1 p.m., Art kept expecting she'd improvise something.
Suddenly, Art jumped up and said, "Let's go down to the church. I've seen it from the outside, but never the inside."
Stan, always quick with a quip said, "OK! But I've seen it before. I'll just stay here and do my exercises."
Art momentarily panicked.
To make matters worse, Kay said, "Well, OK, if you don't want to come ..."
But as everyone headed for the cars, Art kept saying, "Come on Stan. Let's go."
At first we thought he might have some suspicion and was feigning he didn't want to go to watch us squirm. But as we approached the church, it was obvious that wasn't so. When he saw the full parking lot, he commented they must be having a street market next door and people had parked in the church lot as usual.
The only thing he seemed confused about was why we took the sidewalk to the fellowship hall instead of the church.
But he never had time to really think it over. And when the door was pulled open and people began clapping and singing "Happy Birthday," it was obvious that it was a complete surprise.
Soon, Stan was going from table to table, talking individually to each person who had come.
While Stan was "working the crowd," Art noticed one of the two cakes had a golf motif. Stan began playing almost 70 years ago, so Art suggested he should look at the cake before it was cut. As Stan walked over, he turned to Art, grinned, and said, "Now I'm glad I came!"
After we ate, Art showed a DVD he and I made that presented Stan's background from his birth in Colorado in 1923 to the present. Then Kay corralled various friends and family members to take the microphone and share anything they chose about Stan. Friend Leon joked that most of the other 90-year-olds he knew were "cemeterians."
The time passed all too swiftly. By early evening, it was again just the eight of us back at Stan and Kay's place, talking about the day, reminiscing about times long past and eating some of the leftovers from the party.
The next day, Bob, Jeff and Jackie had to leave, so Stan, Kay, Art, Dave and I made a day of it by visiting the place where Stan's brother - my Uncle Bob - and Aunt Hazel had lived, the cemetery where they are buried, the home that Stan and Kay lived in for so many years when I was young and the place where the company Stan had worked 37 years had been located.
Then it was back to their home for a final supper together before our departure the next day. That time was frequently interrupted by calls from well wishers, including one from Mom and another from his World War II buddy in North Carolina.
As the evening came to an end, I presented the birthday "boy" with a book of letters from people who shared their impressions of him. In many of those letters, his sense of humor was mentioned and that humor came out again just as we were about to head out the door.
"You know," Stan said, "if I had any idea there were going to be so many surprises, I would have looked forward to turning 90!"