Friday, May 6, 2011

My Mother's 90th Birthday

My Mother’s 90th Birthday

My mother’s 90th birthday was approaching and we were all discussing what to do about it.

On her 80th birthday, she had taken all of us to Las Vegas.  We suggested a repeat, or a cruise, but her heart was set on having a party for just family and close friends.

“How many people are we talking about?” I asked.

“Maybe 15 or 20,” she replied.  “I don’t want your sister and you to pay a lot.”

“Where would you like to have it, in your clubhouse?”

“No, if I have it in the clubhouse uninvited people could come and eat,” she replied. “Its in the Association’s rules, even if you have a private party anyone who is a member can come in, you can’t keep them out”.

The clubhouse was out, so we started looking around for a place that would accommodate about 20 people.

My sister and I researched a few places that had a private room.  Meanwhile my mother was compiling her guest list.  Over a period of a couple of weeks we went from 20 to 25 to 30 to 35 and finally 40.

“How did you go from 20 to 40?” I asked her.

“Well, I couldn’t leave out…….,”a litany of names followed.  “Then I had to invite all the board members.  You know how important I am and how they would be offended if I didn’t invite all of them.  Then there is the sister of this one and I can’t have this one without that one.” The list seemed to grow before my eyes.

“Is this too much?” she asked?  “Will it be too expensive for you and your sister?”

“No, it’s alright.  Invite who you want, you don’t get to be 90 every day” I answered.

“That’s another thing.  I don’t want to let them know how old I am.  I tell them I’m in my 70”s every year,” she said.

“Do you really think they think you’re in your 70’s?” I asked. 

“Why, do you think I couldn’t pass for 70?” she asked archly.

“Its ok with me,” I said.

“What about music?” she asked.  “I’ve been to parties where you just sit around eating and it’s boring.  I want music and dancing.  Don’t worry I’ll pay for the music.  My friend’s son plays the accordion.”

“Music is fine, but your friend’s son with the accordion I don’t know.  We’ll look for a DJ,” I replied.

My sister and I had set up a preliminary budget based on what we had found out from the places we had spoken to.  We also discussed the DJ and got a few names which my sister researched.

My mother suggested a restaurant in Boynton called Benvenuto’s, about 15 minutes away from the condo which the Association had used for luncheons in the past.  My sister, brother-in-law, mother, Barbara and I made an appointment to see the place.  My sister had gotten information from them and they were within our price range.  We went there on a Sunday Afternoon.

We were met by a nice lady who was the catering manager.  My mother as past president of her Association seemed to think she deserved a discount and said so.  The manager was very pleasant and took us around to see the different private rooms.  We sat down in one of the rooms and looked at the menus which were available for the luncheon party we were planning.

After much discussion, we settled on a menu.  There would be an appetizer, choice of 3 main courses, dessert, coffee and cake. The question of drinks came up.  We decided to offer a Mimosa and soda and a Sparkling Wine toast.  Anyone wishing wine or a cocktail could order one from a cash bar.  These were people in their 70’s and 80’s, how much would they be drinking at lunch we reasoned?  Turns out we were wrong, more of that later.

The party was set for July 25, a few weeks after her birthday, from 1-4 in the afternoon on a Saturday.

Our next step was to send out invitations, finalize the DJ and get my mother an outfit.  We made plans to do that.

A few nights later, I got a phone call from my mother.

“Are we going to see any other places?” she asked.

“No, we picked Benvenuto’s,” I answered.

“Why are we going there?  I’ve been there before.”

“Ma, you wanted Benvenuto’s.  You picked it,” I said.

“I did?  Why didn’t we visit other places?”

“You didn’t want to”.

“Another thing, why did you put Hungarian Goulash on the menu?” she demanded.  “I don’t want Goulash”.

“We’re not having Goulash.  Where did you get that from?” I asked.

“I was there, don’t lie to me, you put Hungarian Goulash on the menu and I want it off!”

It occurred to me she was mixing up Beef Stroganoff with the Goulash.  I tried to tell her but she was insistent.  I finally agreed to “take off the Goulash”.

I told my sister about this and she said she got the same routine that Saturday in person.

We had about 4 months to go so we felt no pressure to put out the invitations.  My mother had other ideas.  She wanted the invitations mailed May 1st.   We felt this was too early, but we wound up doing it to appease her.

Barbara wrote a great poem inviting people, Patricia my daughter-in-law printed up the invitational poem and my daughter Ronni addressed the invitations.  We mailed them out with a number to call to RSVP.  People raved about the invitational poem and my mother took to promising Barbara would do the same for them if they had a party.

My mother would call every once in a while and add another person to the list.  We would send out the invitation.  After a while, my sister would have to tell them their “original invitation” must have been lost in the mail.  This continued right up to 2 weeks before the party.

We next started working on my mother’s new outfit.  I looked up some shops that catered to women of her age group and we chose a Saturday to go. 

Barbara and I arrived to pick her up.  She insisted my sister come with us.  I think she was afraid I would force her to take a particular outfit.  We set off.  She informed us she wouldn’t spend more than $99.  There was no way we would be able to get something decent for that price, but we pushed on.

We went to the first store.  I pulled the sales lady aside and told her to tell my mother the cost was $99 no matter the real cost.  I would make up the difference.

The first item she tried on was perfect.  It fit her perfectly, it was a great color pink, it looked great on her and she could use it again.  I was ready to buy it and go home.

The gods must have been laughing at my innocence. 

Just like my daughter’s wedding dress, the rule is “you cannot buy the first thing no matter how perfect it is”.  We proceeded to spend the next four hours going from place to place not finding anything near as good.  At the end of the day, Barbara and I went back to the original store and bought the original choice.  My mother was told it was “$99”.

Gee, that sounds just like my daughter’s wedding dress adventure.

The responses were in, the day was fast approaching, and just about everyone had said yes.  Cousins were coming in from out of town.    We had about 46 people coming.

A few days before the party, my mother called.  We had already gone through the Goulash conversation a couple of times so I thought that was laid to rest.

“Don’t get mad, but I want to invite someone else,” she said.

“Ma, don’t you think it’s a little insulting asking this person 2 days before?   What are you going to say, how come we haven’t heard from you?”

“Why yes, I was going to ask you or your sister to do that”

Why didn’t you invite her before?”

“I don’t like her sister, but I feel bad about not inviting her, what do you say?”

“Ma, I don’t care if you invite her, but I’m not doing it and I don’t think Regina will either.”

“Oh, alright, I’ll have to tell her the truth.  Fat lot of help you two are.”

“Ok, good night, and Ma, don’t worry no Goulash.”

“You think you’re so funny,” she retorted and hung up.

The big day came.  Barbara and I arranged to pick her up by 12:15 figuring to get there by 12:45.  The party was scheduled to start at 1:00.  We picked her up and proceeded to Benvenuto’s.

We quickly got a phone call from my sister.

“Where the hell are you?” she said.

“We’re almost there, why, what’s the problem?”

“They’re all here and have been since 12:00” she said loudly.

“12:00, why are they there so early?”

“They said our mother told them to be there early”, she replied.

“Ma, what time did you tell people,” I asked?

“Oh, 11:30 or 12”, she said.

“Why would you do that,” I asked?

“That’s the way we do it. We all show up early so we can get hors ’doeuvres and mimosas in the lobby.”

I had no answer for that and we arrived at the Benvenuto’s.

There were still some people in the lobby, but most had gone into the room and sat down.  The catering manager told me she expected the condo crowd to show up early.  That’s SOP for their affairs.

The maitre d’ approached me and informed me they had all entered the room, sat at their assigned tables and ordered wine for everyone at the tables. He wanted to know who that should be billed to.  Of course that would be me and my sister.

Who’d have thought they would all drink wine at 12 PM in the afternoon.  They just assumed it was part of the luncheon and so had ordered it.

The party was a huge success.  Everyone had a good time, the DJ played songs everyone could dance to and they did.  The food was good; there was lots of laughing and good cheer.

My mother was very happy.  She looked great and felt great. She danced, kibitzed with everyone, and made the rounds of the tables. Lots of pictures were taken, and she assumed her usual place as the center of attention and for once was completely happy with my sister and me. 

Her friends talked about this party for months afterward.  They even loved the thank you poem Barbara made up and we sent out as thank you cards.  People told us they saved both the invitation and thank you cards.  I’m sure some sons and daughters got some pointed suggestions about future parties for their mothers and fathers.

A month later, my mother who was in perfect health, had a heart attack and died.  We were all very happy she had had her party and it had gone off flawlessly.  Our last gift to her.

 All of us know she would want to be remembered they way she was at the party. She is a legend at the Condo.

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