A Special Occasion

The Guest of Honor  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

The Guest of Honor | Image: Laura Messersmith

The maternal side of Mike’s family has a tradition of making memory books for Special Occasions – proper noun – like birthdays and anniversaries. Each person in the family gets a page to capture their thoughts, record funny stories, collect pictures, poems, Bible verses, and memories deemed worthy of the memory book.

This past weekend was one such Special Occasion: the surprise 93rd birthday celebration of Eleanor Fleming, Mike’s grandmother.

You might be wondering: why 93, not 95 or three years ago at age 90?

Lucy, Mike’s mom and plan mastermind, pointed out that we never really know how many years we have left, so why wait for a number that’s a multiple of 5? Why delay an opportunity to celebrate the life of someone who lived through the better part of the 20th Century, raised 7 children, and is the grandmother to 12? Why wait to honor a person who continues to avidly follow the exploits of the Baltimore Orioles, clean-up at Jeopardy! night after night, listen to opera, and can still recite the poems she memorized as a schoolgirl?

I can’t think of a good reason to wait either, especially when there are so few occasions that bring the people we love together in one place.

The deception to throw off any suspicion from the real party in the works began with a ladies lunch on Grandma Fleming’s birthday. Meanwhile, people from across the country – Kansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia – arrived and were ‘stashed’ in hotels and guest bedrooms around town. Everyone pitched in to make the big reveal memorable and personal – gathering pictures for a slideshow, baking cupcakes, reading poems, and of course creating pages for the memory book – a salute to Grandma Fleming’s life and the role she’s played in theirs.

When the appointed time arrived and Grandma Fleming stepped out of the elevator to the greetings of her children and grandchildren she was definitely surprised. The look of amazed joy that her family would go to the trouble to show her she is loved is something I will remember for a long time. Well worth the effort to maintain the secrecy.

As the evening went on there were lots of laughs, a few tears of deep emotion, and the buzzy, semi-chaotic activity that comes when a large family is all in one place - hallmarks of a truly Special Occasion.