Do you remember a Kodak commercial that featured Paul Anka singing a song entitled “The Times Of Your Life”? It was written by Bill Lane and Roger Nichols, whoever they are, and I’m guessing that it was designed to remind us to take pictures so we don’t forget the “times of our lives.”
As many of you realize, I am nothing if not the person with a camera – pretty much all the time.
So last weekend I did what I always do when I’m surrounded by people I don’t know – I hide behind my camera.
We were in Virginia for Tom’s dad’s 95th birthday. On his 90th birthday, Tom’s sister Deb tried to plan a surprise party, but I don’t think it was much of a surprise. I think at the time I pointed out when lots of people who aren’t part of the family begin sending birthday cards – and especially when Granddad (what two generations call him) begins getting calls to ask for directions to Deb’s house, you can guess the cat was out of the bag pretty quickly.
This time Tom’s dad wasn’t shy about it. He told Deb he was expecting a party for his 95th birthday. And why not?
I wasn’t sure Deb could top her last effort on his 90th. But she definitely did not disappoint. She is a proficient cake maker and five years ago made a cake that looked exactly like an old-fashioned Ball jar. This time I was there in time to watch the creative process as she made a cake that looked exactly like a fire truck – Tom’s dad was a career fireman with the Norfolk (Va.) Fire Department. I must say I was truly impressed. The fire truck included all the hoses, tires, dials, shiny windows, axe and even a fire hydrant – all made of edible fondant. It was real work of art. In fact, most folks were reluctant to eat it at first – several made the comment it was too beautiful to eat. But what’s a birthday cake if not to eat it?
The party was everything we had hoped for. All told, despite threatening weather (there were tornadoes sighted nearby later that evening), about 70 people came. And, just as it was 5 years ago, we marveled at the stories we had not previously heard about my father-in-law – stories of the great captain he was to generations of firemen; stories of his kindnesses to other firemen – even one relatively young fireman who declared, “When I was recovering in the hospital after surgery, Capt. Charlie Britt was the only one who came to check on me while I was there"; stories of neighbors who benefitted from his generous heart – babysitting kids of military wives when their husbands were deployed, helping with home repairs on his street, mowing lawns for neighbors who weren’t able to do it themselves; and, as I reported five years ago, a recap of the story of Granddad’s bravery in saving a 5-year-old from a burning house on his street – long after he was retired from the fire department. (The family whose house burned down now came en masse from their home in North Carolina to acknowledge what a life-changer Tom’s dad was in their lives.)
It was wonderful to see his face light up with each new guest. Many of his neighbors from over the last 60 years have either died or moved away, so it was fun to see their families attend and catch up with everyone’s lives.
Sometimes Tom’s dad gets a little down when he thinks of the things he can no longer do at 95 and the many friends who are no longer with us. The birthday party reminded him again of how much people love and appreciate him – and haven’t forgotten his importance in their lives.
In some ways our party reminded me of University Hospital’s efforts on behalf of Dr. Curly Watson. I think at 95 they threw him a huge bash, inviting everyone who was delivered by him (only about 15,000, as I recall), as well as friends, family and patients. I remember saying to Rebecca Sylvester, director of strategic marketing and promotions at UH, “After this blowout, what will you do when he turns 100?” I’ll admit, it was a good problem to have.
And I look forward to trying to top this party for my father-in-law in 2024.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue recording “the times of our lives” whenever and wherever I can.