Aunt Audrey's 70th Birthday Surprise
How to REALLY Celebrate Your Birthday and Your Life
My Aunt Audrey was never one to seek the spotlight. She didn't need the attention of others. From what I've been told she was always that way. Not that she wasn't personable. She just had no desire to follow the crowd. After high school she enrolled in the well respected nursing program at Hahnemann Hospital, in Philadelphia. Upon graduation, she entered the United States Navy.
Audrey is my father's sister. So at age five, when my parents divorced, I began seeing less and less of that side of the family. But I would always get to spend parts of Thanksgiving and Christmas with my dad's clan. Although Audrey wasn't there due to her naval commitments, she'd often send a reel to reel tape describing her latest exploits. She always seemed to have a smile in her voice for the "folks back home". Thinking now I'm sure that couldn't have always been easy. These were the Vietnam war years.She'd been recording those tapes while seeing first hand that war's carnage from a naval hospital in the Philippines and aboard the hospital ship, USS Sanctuary.
But no matter where she was or what she was doing, she "never" missed my birthday, or those of my cousins. We always got birthday cards "with money". When she retired from the Navy, she stayed in San Diego to work at Balboa Hospital. No one was surprised when she returned home to care for her ailing mother. When my grandmother passed away, Audrey, true to form, kept busy doing volunteer work in her church and stayed active with the Navy Nurse Corps Association.
In July of 2007, my wife and I received an invitation to attend a party for Audrey's 70th birthday.It had been sent by her friend Elinore who'd lived across the street from the old house.Elinore had kept an eye on my grandmother after my grandfather died. The party was to be held at "The Blue Orchid", the restaurant operated by Elinore, and her husband. The invitation stressed that there were to be "No Cards" and "No Presents". Anyone who knew Audrey knew this wasn't an uncharacteristic request.
On that beautiful Saturday, August 1, 2007 we pulled up to the spacious old country hotel that was now "The Blue Orchid". We were directed back to a lush green lawn, surrounded by sturdy old oaks, maples, and weeping willows. There were a few decorative shrubs and some Japanese cherry trees just for effect. I can't do it justice, the setting was perfect.
Making it more perfect were the people observing our arrival, aunts, uncles, cousins, now with spouses and kids, and at least two dozen old family friends, some whom I hadn't seen since my grandfather's funeral in June 1989. The effervescent and entertaining Great-Aunt Anna who'd married a man with more money then Luxembourg, had come in from Florida and was of course holding court at one of the prominent wrought-iron and glass tables. My wife and I worked our way around that beautiful shaded lawn, making introductions where necessary, reminiscing, and catching up.
So focused on working the lawn, we hardly noticed, the efficient, polite, yet all business, female wait-staff showering us with a seemingly endless supply of drinks and hor's devours. It wasn't even my birthday yet I felt like a VIP. And there was Audrey, patiently letting us get acquainted and reacquainted before she came over to thank us for coming.
That's when it hit me. She'd paid for it all. The hor's devours, the drinks, and every sinful offering that would be on that dessert cart. My Aunt Audrey was throwing herself quite a party. She was in essence "taking us out" for "her" birthday. But she wasn't done..Later she would ask my wife and I to follow her to her car. Out of the trunk she pulled a unique American flag blanket with the words to "God Bless America" dyed into the material. That was for me. For my wife there was a large glistening glass Moravian Star.She'd done her research. .
We weren't the only one's that day who would make the trip to Audrey's car to receive some "birthday presents". I'm sure they all came away the same way we did grateful, humbled. but more than anything, awed by the simple, yet grand gesture, of a simple yet grand "birthday girl". It was such an amazing event even Great Aunt Anna seemed a bit reflective.
When I look back on Aunt Audrey's 70th, I can't help but smile. Not for any touchingly emotional reason. It's just an awfully good feeling to know I was there. I'd always suspected that Aunt Audrey had been hogging most of the "Class & Wisdom" DNA on my paternal side. On that day I knew I'd been right. That was the day all those weathered references about giving being superior to receiving stopped sounding so cornball and trite. Seeing Audrey celebrate by thanking us all for being in her life, regardless of how small a part we may have played, was a lesson in "Gratitude" I will never forget
This year Aunt Audrey turns seventy-seven. I've decided to send her a copy of this. But to do that will require a large envelope and postage because Aunt Audrey doesn't do E-Mail. She doesn't have a computer. Which makes perfect sense, because she still has no desire to follow the crowd. Which, come to think of it, is yet another lesson she's taught me without even trying. But that, doesn't surprise me at all.