In my family, I am known for having a sunny, optimistic personality. I am the person who always looks for the best, and I truly enjoy creating lovely events for the people in my life. My dad used to say:
It’s wonderful that you don’t dwell on all the bad things that have happened to you, but I sometimes wish you could remember them. You always think things are going to be different.
And so I did. I decided to plan a delightful surprise party for Mother’s 80th birthday. If you have read much about Mother here, you already know that was a terrible idea. My first thought was that I would create a memory book which I would present to Mother on her happy day. Again, if you have read just about anything here, you know she didn’t have any happy days, but let’s proceed.
I sent out beautifully decorated stationary with instructions to write about a special memory or, failing that, just write a happy birthday wish. I also included a stamped addressed envelope for returning the precious thoughts. The first person to return the paper was Billy Taylor, Mother’s favorite cousin in the world. He wrote a long letter stating that he didn’t know what to write since all the memories Mother shared with everyone when they got together were simply not true! In many cases, he had been in California with his parents during the time she insisted they had tricked Aunt Lily or ridden in Uncle Emery’s car.
He said he didn’t mind pretending to go along with her when she told these stories, but he certainly could not write them down since he had not been there. While this was disappointing, it was not unexpected. Mother had always had a problem with the truth, and her stories of growing up in the small town always sounded more like Lake Wobegon than Marengo.
So, I was sitting with less than one entry for the book. I wrote mine, made my son write his, and got pages from my sister Lindy, her husband Charles, and their daughter Fiona. However, I was still about twenty pages short. I sent out reminders to a deafening silence.
In the meantime, I had invited Mother’s sisters and her brother to a family birthday party. And yes, again, this had disaster written all over it.
After some applied pressure, I had a few entries in the book and I was ready to plan the marvelous surprise party. My sister and I arrived in Southern Indiana one night. We took Mother and husband number three Tom out for dinner and presented her with the birthday book. She hurriedly flipped through it to Aunt Marty’s page.
Mother’s response to this page was acidic:
Oh, why did you have her write? You know I can’t stand her. Where’s Judy’s page?
Judy was her half-sister who refused to mail her page back. She later claimed she didn’t have the money to attend the birthday party or mail back the good wishes. Since my sister and I were paying for everything and since the birthday page had its own stamped envelope, I’m not sure what she was talking about. Several people in that family have a problem with the truth.
The next day Uncle Bob, Aunt Jean, and Aunt Marty were scheduled to arrive. When they got there, the threesome was in no hurry to see the Birthday Girl.
We’re going to the glass factory.
they announced to a flabbergasted Lindy and me. We were stuck with Mother for the entire day. That evening we brought Mother in to the lovely Magdalena’s restaurant where her brother, his wife and her sister were already seated.
we all yelled. Mary glared at Aunt Marty and then made a wildly enthusiastic rush for her brother.
The meal was memorable only for the long periods of silence followed by Mother’s questioning of Aunt Jean and Uncle Bob. We took Mother back home with her squawking about how dare we invite Aunt Marty and where was Billy Taylor. That night Aunt Marty shared a hotel room with us and she was none to happy with her less than cordial reception. And again, you could have told us that the two sisters were a toxic combination.
The next morning Uncle Bob had managed to plug up the toilet at the Hampton Inn and he came running through the breakfast area with a plunger.
I’ll be right down!
he yelled. Lindy and I couldn’t wait for the weekend from Hell to be over. We all trooped over to Mother’s to tell her goodbye. Aunt Marty kept saying:
I’ll be back one more time Mary…one…more…time..
and by that she meant that she would be back once Mother was dead to attend her funeral.
The 80th birthday party had not turned out as I expected. It wasn’t wonderful and my mother did not enjoy it. I guess it made me feel good to know that I was trying to help her celebrate her birthday and give her a vacation from Far From Normal.
Unfortunately, she was way too at home there.