70 Candles

On Sunday my brother Grant and I threw a surprise birthday party for my mother, who turned seventy on Monday. I cannot believe my mother is seventy, as she is as youthful and energetic as a woman half her age. As dead singer Aaliyah sings (sang), age ain’t nothing but a number. Grant, his wife Evelyn and I organized a get-together with twenty of my mother’s friends and family members at the Mandarin restaurant. When we asked her where she would like to go for her birthday dinner, all she wanted was all-you-can-eat crab legs. A few phone calls to buffet restaurants gave us the Mandarin, and the restaurant on Dundas Street and Winston Churchill Boulevard is one of the most attractive in the chain.

Earlier that day Grant took Mom out antiquing in Barrie, a city north of Toronto on Lake Simcoe. While she was away I went over to my mother’s place and decorated. I left with one finger bandaged and two others with water blisters on the fingertips: such are the casualties of blowing up and tying dozens of balloons all by yourself. My adorable boyfriend Mark picked up the cake that I had ordered:

In another episode of surreptitious sneaking into my mother’s house, while she was at work (she is semiretired) I took four photos of my mother as an infant and as a young woman from an old album to have screened onto the cake. Mark picked it up on the way over to the restaurant.

Mom did not know where we were taking her, yet while we were driving to the Mandarin, my sister-in-law Evelyn started to receive text messages from guests who had already arrived. They were asking her what they should do: should they wait in their cars in the parking lot until we entered the restaurant, or should they go to our reserved table and surprise us? This was a surprise party, yet there were various ways to pull off the surprise. Since my mother was in the car with us, we could not communicate verbally with one another. Evelyn handed me her cellphone from the back seat and I read the texts. I was totally helpless in trying to figure out how to send a text message back to these guests. I might have phoned China in an attempt to send a message back. I could only communicate with Evelyn in one-word vaguenesses. I said “Lot!” –one word only– which was a signal to her to send a text back [1] that the guests were to wait in their cars in the parking lot.

No one entered the restaurant until we found our table, and my mother was shocked, weak in the knees she told us, that the table we had reserved had taken up half the room. Then one by one and family by family, the guests poured in. I told my mother where to sit so that she could have a view of the arriving guests, and it was like an episode of “This is Your Life” as they all passed through the doors.

Mark and I left a few minutes early in order to set up the cake and plates and to put the coffee and tea on. I had strewn balloons all over the floor so that a walk through her living room would be like a walk through an unraked lawn in autumn. When Mom came home it was surprise number two as balloons, banners and decorations marked the special occasion. The cake was a total hit and no one wanted Mom to cut into it, so the candle-lighting was delayed as twenty people gathered round to take pictures. The main birthday present from Grant and me will be a luxury trip to Las Vegas in the autumn. My mother works for a chartered accounting firm so there can be no vacation time for her till Canadian tax season is over at the end of April. Then I am off in Halifax the first week in May, and so on and so on, and the best time left for a family trip is September.

Happy Birthday Mom! xoxo

[1] Please note that I am not (yet) using “text” as a verb.

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