Eighty Trips Around the Sun

By on September 13, 2017

By Carol Anderson—

I take the flowers and arrange them one by one in the blue crystal vase that my mother loves; today is her day. I have plotted and planned for months and enlisted five of my closest friends to create a surprise birthday party in honor of her 80th year.

Invitations had requested that all the guests bring a gag gift and to be prepared to tell a story about my mother. I want her to know firsthand what she has meant to the people in her life—to hear her eulogy while she is alive.

She is dressed in turquoise polyester pants and a short sleeve knit top with stripes of pink and blue. Her lipstick and nails match – in a shade of plum that compliments the whole outfit. Her shimmering white hair is plastered in place with half a can of Aqua Net, and she models her outfit as though she is going to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune rather than just go to lunch with me.  

“Where are we going, Honey?” 

“I thought I would take you out for lunch to Hungry Jack’s in Ann Arbor; but before that, I want to show you the new vinyl siding on my house.” 

When we arrive, I lead her around to the back. 

“Look at the windows and the beautiful job they did on the corners and the way they attached the gutters,” I said, my heartbeat drubbing faster with each step. 

The videographer is stationed just the other side of the bushes where we turn the corner. I faintly hear his camera start to roll. Five, four, three, two, one more step and … 

There we are, face to face with dozens of guests of all ages, smiling from row upon row of folding chairs that fill my back yard under a tent bigger than the garage. A rousing chorus of Happy Birthday erupts out into the neighborhood.

My mother is dumbstruck. She has experienced many difficult and painful surprises in her life. Here, though, at last, under blue sky and shining sun, amid the heartfelt love of fifty friends blessing her life, is the truly joyous one I have been aching to give her.

With her comfortably seated in my grandmother’s rocking chair, the guest of honor’s spot, the festivities begin with another surprise. I have flown her oldest, dearest friend of 55 years from California to Michigan for this momentous celebration. Mom’s eyes widen and I hear her whisper, “Oh Caroline,” as she catches a glimpse of her from behind the lilac bush. The advertisements of youthful lovers racing toward each other in slow motion under sun-filled skies pale in comparison to the sight of these two octogenarians teetering toward each other in real slow motion, outstretched arms ready to embrace. 

After a long, tight hug, both sit side-by-side facing the crowd and Caroline begins to speak

“Remember Montique?” she asks with a mischievous smile. My mother’s hand flies to cover her mouth, as she rolls her eyes and giggles loudly, sending a wave of laughter through the crowd. We’re all imagining their adventures in the Roaring ‘20s, taking cruises around the Great Lakes, frequenting dance halls on Saturday nights and attending church services on Sunday mornings in search of eligible young men.

One by one, the guests – young and old friends, relatives, and pals of mine – take the chair next to my mom to tell a story about her. It is a love fest. At the end of the day, with the potato salad gone and only a handful of sandwiches and a few double chocolate cake crumbs remaining on the beige plastic platters, more than bellies are full.

When all the guests have left, my mother, Caroline and I sit in my tiny kitchen and watch the top of the tent droop lower along with the setting sun. I am grateful for the wonderful turnout and that no one passed out from heat exhaustion. As we rise from the table to go into the living room, my mother leans over to me, takes my hand in hers and whispers.  

“This was the best day of my life.”


About Carol Anderson
Carol E. Anderson is a life coach and former organizational consultant. She has traveled the world extensively for work and pleasure, most recently to Kenya on a photo safari and to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a philanthropic mission. She holds a doctorate in spiritual studies, and master’s degrees in psychology, organizational development, and creative nonfiction. She is the founder of Rebellious Dreamers, an eighteen-year-strong non-profit organization that has helped women over thirty-five realize dreams they’d deferred and women of all ages come into their own. Anderson’s debut memoir, You Can’t Buy Love Like That: Growing Up Gay in the Sixties, comes out this fall. She lives with the love of her life and their sassy pup in a nature sanctuary in Ann Arbor, MI.

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Eighty Trips Around the Sun