How to surprise a 90-year-old

By Kris Ferrazza | Jul 05, 2019

The voice on the phone was a little quiet, a little sad.

“So, I guess it will be just the four of us tomorrow. They’re taking me out to dinner,” my father said faintly.

“Well, that’s what you wanted, so I guess you should be happy,” I said.

“I know,” he said.

“But you don’t sound happy,” I said. “I still say you should have had a party.”

“I didn’t want a party,” he said firmly.

“Right. But now it kind of sounds to me like maybe you wanted a party,” I pressed.

“Nah,” he said sadly. “This is all I need.”

Clearly he was sulking. My father, soon to be 90, was filled with birthday regret. You know somebody for 51 years, and there’s no mistaking it. This guy wanted a party.

“So what are you guys doing this weekend?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Eh, the usual. Working around the house. We’ve always got projects going,” I replied.

The trap was set. My dear old dad had no clue that not one, not two, not three, but all six of his children were in cahoots to throw him the biggest house party of his life. It’s a good thing we ignored his protests, because this was a guy who was ready to celebrate.

For weeks we had been planning a series of elaborate surprises. We colluded, laughed and fantasized about how we could surprise him. In one scenario, a bellydancer might surprise my dad. In another, my brother would arrive wearing a full gorilla costume. It is Providence, after all.

We baked, wrapped gifts and even invented a trivia game similar to “Here is Your Life” with my father as the star. This was going to be good.

When the big day arrived, we loaded up our pickup and headed south. There were three of us in the front and three in the back. A few towns away, my sister was doing the same, filling her car with pies, presents and as many family members as possible.

Four hours later, our truck rolled stealthily up my father’s street. It was high noon on Saturday, and Phase 1 of Al’s Big Birthday Surprise was about to unfold. My 13-year-old daughter and her 7-year-old cousin donned authentic Girl Scout vests and sashes, complete with badges. Carrying a box of Hannaford brand “Thin Mints,” they strolled up the sidewalk toward his door.

This was perfect.

“Remember to hold the fake cookies right up to his face so he sees they’re fake,” I instructed.

As a retired cop, my father often suspects everyone in the city is “running a racket.” I wanted him to sense there might be a scam afoot, to throw him off his game.

To complicate things for him, his granddaughters have grown and changed drastically since the last time he saw them. My daughter had gotten contact lenses, changed her hair and grown 6 inches. This was going to be good.

“Ding-dong!” went the doorbell. I hid in the bushes near the mailbox while my sister-in-law crouched on the other side. Our phones were recording the whole thing for the guys, who were back at the truck.

“Hold on a minute,” I heard my father say through the door. “This must be a package.”

The door swung open and there was the birthday boy in all his cranky glory. My daughter held the generic cookies right under his nose.

“Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” she asked sweetly. Her adorable little cousin grinned and nodded eagerly.

He took one long look at the cookies, then at the girls, and closed the door firmly in their faces.

I doubled over in silent laughter. My sister-in-law laughed and shook her head. He had reacted just how I expected he would. We had planned for this very scenario, so my daughter sprang into action, aggressively ringing the bell again and again.

“All right, hold on,” he said, opening the door again. He peered closely at them. I started to get concerned. Might he know who they were? He appeared to be searching the street for familiar cars. Probably vehicles with Maine license plates on them. I started to get a little nervous. Should we abort the mission? I stayed silent and hidden.

“I have to apologize,” he said, then lied through his pearly whites. “I was expecting my nieces, but you aren’t my nieces. How much are the cookies?”

“They’re free if it’s your birthday!” my daughter sang. “Surprise!”

We jumped out of the bushes and danced around, cheering and laughing. He was stunned. It was adorable.

Inside the house, we said we decided to take a “girls’ trip,” so the guys were back home working.

“That’s too bad,” he said. “But I’m glad you came.”

That reminded me to call and let the men know we womenfolk had made it safely down to Rhode Island. I spoke with my husband, who secretly was just up the street, and then he got on the phone to wish my father a happy birthday. Moments after they hung up, the doorbell rang again.

“Now this must be my package,” my father said, jumping up to answer the door.

We all stifled laughter as the door opened.

“Do you want to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” the guys asked.

My father closed the door in their faces too, then turned to collect himself. He appeared to be getting emotional. Back at the door, he cursed them out and let them in, hugging both six-footers tight.

With Phase 2 now complete, all we had left to do was get him to the restaurant that afternoon. The other three siblings and nearly all of his grandchildren would be waiting there.

Needless to say, Phase 3 went off without a hitch. He was shocked and very happy to have everyone together. We ate salad and bread, chicken and macaroni until we were stuffed, then went home to an epic party at his house. When he blew out the candles on his Boston cream cake, I could tell he was the happiest man alive.

“This is the best party I’ve ever been to,” he said, later, adding, “It’s the best day of my life.” Happy birthday, old-timer.

And the beat goes on.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jul 05, 2019 13:25

WOW, thanks for sharing, I am wiping the tears from my eyes! A great read....


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