It’s incredibly difficult to surprise my mother. In fact, I will quote one of her childhood friends, Mary, confirming this:
“My earliest memory of [Carolyn] took place on your birthday. I don’t remember which one, probably around the tenth, so this was about fifty years ago.
“Anyway, your mom, Emma, had arranged to invite all the girls your age home from church for a Sunday meal and surprise birthday party for you. This was no small feat. It meant lots of extra food had to be fixed, and lots of telephone calls to invite everybody and to arrange rides. And because there were A LOT of us girls born in 1952, at least seven of us who were standard, plus a few others who might have moved in by that time, this kept your mom pretty busy.
“My parents were one family who drove along the highway past the Hostetler farm on the way to our own farm up on Flint Ridge. If I remember correctly, a bunch of girls squeezed into the Miller family Chevy and got dropped off after church to surprise you.
“When we walked in there was a lot of excitement in the air as you realized what was in store. We sat down to eat one of Emma’s delicious Sunday meals. Among other things there were shoe string-fried potatoes. This is very clear in my memory because of your comments, Carolyn.
“(Aside to Carolyn’s children: Part of the fun of making a surprise for Carolyn, was that you had to be very clever about it, or Carolyn would sniff out the conspiracy ahead of time. But you already know that, I think.)
“So at the meal, you, Carolyn, declared that you just KNEW something was up even the day before. But what PROVED it was a chance happening only that morning. According to the story you were telling, all the Hostetler family had been in the car ready to go to church, but oops, somebody had forgotten something, maybe a Bible? So you were dispatched to run back to the house to get this forgotten item, and when you did, you happened to look up at the top of the cupboard and there you SAW IT: the largest Tupperware container FULL OF GRATED POTATOES, READY TO BE FRIED right after church!!!! That could mean only one thing and you were bursting to tell us all about it.
“Your mom did a great job of pulling off that birthday party, Carolyn. You did a great job of sniffing out the conspiracy. I will never forget how pleased you were that you had figured it out ahead of time.
“I do hope your daughters manage to pull off a BIG Surprise for you for your 60th. Knowing you, you’ll KNOW something is up, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY anyway!”
So early this year when my sisters and I were talking about what to do for Mom’s 60th birthday, we had no idea how we were going to be able to pull off a surprise. Ten years ago, for her 50th birthday, she suspected something so when she drove to Grandpa’s house as her sister’s request to look at a piece of furniture and saw everyone in the yard waving, she just drove right past and went back home.
Since both of my sisters live in Ohio, we had several conference calls and a few hundred emails trying to get all of the plans made. We decided that Labor Day weekend would work the best for the party. My sister, Megan, and her family would come to Iowa (my brother-in-law was going to install new windows in my parents’ house anyway) and my sister, Carla, would have to help us from Ohio since she’s due any moment with her first baby.
As the only daughter here in Iowa, I will admit I got stressed out about this party. Carla was amazing and did her party planning work on putting together the menu (and even a grocery list for me!) and delegating who does what. Megan, my other sister, made all of the baked goods prior to coming. My aunt Judy had a plethora of decor and china that she let us use. By chance, Mom’s friend, Priscilla, was going to be in town this weekend so her and Aunt Judy decided to have coffee with Mom on Saturday morning and were responsible for getting her to Grandpa’s house where the party was. I even got my younger brothers to help out with drinks, but first they had to sneak out of the house Friday night to help me set up at Grandpa’s. The conversation regarding the set-up was priceless:
Meanwhile, Mom discovered that Jordan and Payton were gone and became very inquisitive about where they were. It’s not unusual for Jordan to be mysteriously out of the house, but for Payton to be with him??? Well, that’s not normal. Dad called me and said if we can end up pulling this off, it will be a miracle because Mom wouldn’t stop asking questions about my brothers. Dad gave them permission to lie; they could make it right the next day.
Megan and her family made it to Iowa around midnight and her and I met at Grandpa’s house early Saturday morning for final food prep and decorating.
Our drink menu included Baby Bellini and Sweet Sunrise mocktails as well as coffee and tea.
We had an assortment of mini foods for brunch including frozen fruit slush, blueberry muffins, cinnamon rolls, zucchini bread, cake pops, baked parmesan tomatoes, crab & cream cheese crescent rolls, and quiche. (I had several people ask for recipes so I will post those later.)
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that we actually DID manage to surprise Mom. Jordan and Payton snuck out again Saturday morning to come to Grandpa’s house and they had our nephews got tell Mom they were hungry to get her into the kitchen so they could leave unnoticed. (And Mom never even knew they were gone until she saw them at the party!)
Priscilla and Judy played their roles perfectly when Mom threw a wrench into the plan and told them to come to her house for coffee instead of going out. At exactly 10:30, my dad and brother-in-law were in the midst of putting in the new kitchen window and making a huge racket. Priscilla and Judy said it was too noisy and they didn’t want Mom’s food (haha!) so they were going to Kalona for coffee instead. Mom’s face was priceless.
In my online research, I saw someone else had put together 60 envelopes of memories for their dad’s birthday and had him open them one by one and read the memories his friends and family had mailed in. I suggested that to my sisters and they loved the idea. So we hacked Mom’s email and got her contacts and all of her Facebook friends as well as some neighbors, old high school friends, and anyone else we could think of. I sent out an email to all of those people asking them to write down one (or more) memories of Mom and mail them to me.
The letters and emails that came piling in were…astonishing. It gave me a whole new perspective of my mother. Of course, I’ve only known her as my mom, but all these other people knew her as a baby, a child, a teenager… It was remarkable!! We wanted an easier way to keep these memories together long-term (rather than loose envelopes) so I decided to put them all together into a book for her instead of envelopes. Carla scanned all of the hand-written notes in so that we could keep them in their original form and those are mixed throughout the book with the emails that I had received. It was perhaps one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever given (with many, many thanks, of course, to all of you who contributed to it!).
Long after many of the guests left, we sat around the table talking and looking through old photos of Mom and laughing at all the memories we had of various stages in her life. It was such a fun way to celebrate my Mom’s life!
Happy early 60th, Mom!!!!! No more lies. We promise.