A 60th Birthday Surprise That Left the Talker Speechless.
When the doorbell rang, I was in the middle of trying to finish my Friday night dinner on our sunporch with my wife Deb, who was outside with our dogs, who always seem to beg to go out just as her food was ready after a long week at work.
We had Chinese that night, I had gone down to pick it up a little while earlier after waiting for Deb to get home to order it, which should have been my first clue that something was up.
Normally, we would talk as she made her way home from work about what we wanted, and I would have it delivered so it would be here when we were both done working for the week.
At the time though, it didn’t strike me as that strange, so I got the food.
Earlier that Friday, my daughter Kim’s boyfriend Joel had come by to help install a new front door and storm door and when I say help, I mean he came over to install them while I made sure I didn’t screw anything up and ordered lunch.
So, as I got up to see who the heck was ringing the doorbell at 7:30 on a Friday (kids had been hanging around on the street, so I thought one of them might have been playing a trick by ringing the bell and then running off) I was a little annoyed.
I looked out our new front door (I did clean up the area really well, so there’s that), the sight I witnessed took my brain some time to adjust to.
There I saw my daughter Jillian, attempting to hide off to the right side of the house but within sight of my suddenly confused thoughts.
As I panned to Jillian’s right, there was her boyfriend Brandon and wait, who was that smiling ear to ear in his arms but Harper, their 15-month old daughter.
Wait, who is that all the way to my left, my daughter Jaimie and her really tall husband Bill trying to duck down out of sight?
What, what, what was happening?
Sunday was to be my 60th birthday and the kids (two from California and one down the road from us in Torrington) and Deb had conspired in a way that would make any covert organization proud to come visit me in an attempt to blow my mind, a goal they achieved in glowing terms.
As I opened the door to greet them, through our new doors that had to be put on during the day on Friday, not Saturday as I had suggested (another missed clue), I had no words.
The long talking sportswriter was speechless.
Turns out this plan had been put into action months earlier when Jillian and Deb were having a conversation about me turning 60 this year.
From what I have been told by Deb, the reaction went something like this.
“Oh, hell no, we’re coming home,” Jillian said.
From there it was only a matter of time before the plan began to hatch with Jillian getting Brandon, Bill and Jaimie on board with the plan (I heard Harper was all for it as well) and as Joel said the next night at a surprise dinner in Farmington, “It would have suicide to try and say no.”
Once Jillian had something in motion, nothing was going to stop her.
From the moment the kids got into the house, the overwhelming feeling I had was of humble gratitude.
I have never been one to expect or demand a party of any kind, forget one that turned out to be this elaborate.
Especially because Deb and I had already planned and booked a trip out to California to visit with the kids in six weeks!
Why on earth would I expect the kids back East when we were going West in less than two months?
Diabolical in the best way, I tell you.
Once I figured out what planet I was on, another great moment occurred when I asked where the kids were going to stay and let out a huge roar when they said they were staying with us.
Now because of the nature of the event, Deb certainly couldn’t get any of the rooms ready just because, that would have drawn some suspicion, so we needed to spring into action and get beds set up and all the great things that come with having your family stay with you.
As we worked to get a couple of beds set up, Deb ordered more Chinese food, she had to wait until I had picked up the previous order before she called in the next while she was pretending to deal with the dogs (who were apparently in on this too).
All involved had to maintain a strict code of silence on all forms of social media as well. No posts about checking in at the airport or see you soon East coast or anything like that. No one wanted to be the person who messed up the plan.
Even my mother in New York had to avoid contact with me over the last 24-hours so as not to blow it.
I tried checking in with her twice that Thursday to no avail and finally asked Deb to check in with her while I was working a game that night. Little did I know; that could be the title of this story.
Don’t be the one who blows it.
We settled in and hung out on our back porch, a place where we love to spend time and relax after a long day and even though it was crowded, it was beautiful.
I renamed the get togethers “Sun Porch Summits” with none of the seriousness that one might associate with the title.
It was about 2 a.m. by the time we wrapped up that Saturday morning as I looked to soak in every moment I had with the kids.
In our family, Deb and I as usually the ones who plan and pull off parties and get togethers, so it was a bit hard for me at first to not know what was going on but by mid-day Saturday, I decided to sit back and just go with the plan.
Brandon would remind me not to think or worry about anything, they would tell me what was happening next right after it happened.
We hung out most of Saturday, outside on a rare beautiful weekend free of the high heat and humidity we have been stuck with all summer it seems.
Deb had gotten some toys for Miss Harper that she had to hide at Kim’s house until she went and got them on Saturday, so the baby could have things to play with.
So many things went into this elaborate plan with Deb masterfully pulling the wool over my eyes at every turn.
I kept being reminded that the surprises were not done yet and that was just fine by me.
This was fun.
No thinking, no planning, no stress.
I’m sure someone was going to tell me to get dressed and at what time, so I just waited and soaked up the entire experience.
I learned that Jaimie had secured her own domain on line with the goal of getting her considerable writing skills out into the world.
Jaimie is one superb writer, always has been. She had the most creative of all of our imaginations and could tell you a great story about that pen you’re holding, and you would have hung on every word.
She has a gift and it’s going to be fun to watch where it takes her.
I started really late in life with my writing, I’m thrilled she’s starting earlier.
As the afternoon turned towards evening, Jillian made her famous quesadilla’s at about six and if that was the night, I would have been thrilled but I noticed little pow-wows on the sunporch between Deb and the girls or guys at times, so I knew something else was coming.
At one-point Bill, a rather reserved young man, sat down next to me at the table and asked if I would like to take in a round of golf on Sunday morning with Joel and Brandon.
Sounded great to me, the girls wanted me out of the house Sunday morning and playing a round of golf with the three guys sounded great.
I knew Bill, Brandon and I were marginally terrible at the game, so we hoped Joel would carry us along, which he did.
Suddenly about 7 p.m., the get dressed notice came from the group.
Now, I usually know what time and where we were going and try and move folks along knowing the time and distance but on this night, I had no pressure.
Just go with the flow, as Brandon would remind me.
I was hoping whatever we did would involve the one daughter I had not seen so far during the first full day, Kimberly, who had worked Friday night and all-day Saturday.
Kim and I had birthdays six days apart in August and always celebrated our birthdays at the same time for most of her childhood and we kind of liked it.
Nobody said we were going to see Kim and the weekend before at another family birthday party, she had told me that we would celebrate our birthday’s over the Labor Day holiday, the weekend after.
Oh, the devilish planning…
So, the kids took off a little bit before us and Deb and I made our way to Butchers and Bakers in Farmington, with me simply following turn by turn directions without over thinking or caring where we were going or if we were on time.
We arrived first and after a bit, headed inside and were greeted by a large ‘60’ balloon and Kim and Joel. Another great moment.
It was eight thirty by then and the place was thinning out, allowing Harper, one of the happiest babies you will ever meet, to have free run of the joint and she entertained the remaining patrons and us the entire night.
We burned the midnight oil till at 1:30 Sunday morning, most of it on the back porch before settling in for a bit of sleep until golf at 9:30.
After a fast breakfast, we were off to chase the little white ball if we could find it.
The good news was we didn’t hurt ourselves or anyone else and made it through nine holes before preparing to head home.
It appeared we finished a bit too early though and the boys were instructed to stall so we stopped at the Litchfield Saltwater Grille for a couple of cold ones before heading home.
I knew we had been removed from the house for a reason but wasn’t thinking too much of it until we pulled up and saw a tent, chairs, my mother, sister, brother in law and my niece working on setting up a party with the girls.
Our front lawn never looked or felt better as I settled in and soaked it all in.
Deb’s niece Meghan and her son Kamden pulled up soon afterwards and joined the party, we had just celebrated his third birthday the week before.
He’s the best three-year old gentleman I have ever met, and he and Harper hit it right off.
That’s cousins for you.
The guys worked on the grill while all kinds of snacks and salads came out.
All was perfect in the world for me. I had my family around me and I just watched and marveled at who they were.
It’s pretty cool realizing that you have amazing children, each of them different but all of them strong young women in their own unique ways.
Nothing could have made the afternoon better until it did.
I saw Deb smiling at someone out in the road as they made their way towards me.
It was my friend, Peter Montesano, an old Frito-Lay teammate and the first guy we threw a fundraiser for many years ago as he bravely battled Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
His wife Susan, who helped het husband through some pretty tough times was also there and it was tremendous catching up with them both.
But wait, there’s more.
Who appears over my left shoulder but Frankie Graziano, his wife Colleen and their seven-month old son, Charlie, or Charlie Bear as he is officially known as, our Friend-son (we made that word up and we’re keeping it).
I have known Frankie most of his adult life, attended their wedding and consider them members of our family because they have always cared about ours.
But wait, there’s more.
Like at most birthday parties, there would be cake.
So, as I was called over to blow out the candles, one final unbelievable occurrence took place.
I looked down on my cake, only to see my mug smiling back at me in a San Diego Padres jersey that I had purchased years ago when Deb and I traveled out to see Jaimie and Bill for the first time since they moved to Cali.
The organizers had put my face on a replica of the Litchfield County Sports magazine, with help from our designer, Sydney Ash (thank you Sydney) with all the bells and whistles that we put with stories.
Blown away. Speechless once again.
I have often said that I may be the leader of this family but I’m not a dictator. I like my family to find their own way, fall down, get up and then do it all over again knowing that they will always have my support.
If this remarkable weekend taught me anything it was simply that I must be doing something write so count on me family to continue to try and lead by example.
I fall down, make mistakes but never fail to get up.
I love you all for a period in my life that I will never forget.
You made the 60-year journey all the more special to this forever grateful husband and father to some truly amazing young ladies and a great extended family.
Just don’t think you can get me again….