My parents recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the historic (1797) Wayside Inn located in Middletown, VA and operated by Lois Charon, a charming and very cooperative innkeeper. I was eager to help so I took responsibility for the decorating. And being your typical Type A personality, it didn’t occur to me that
having to travel for two weeks prior to the party might leave me feeling a bit stressed.
Three days before the event I decided I wanted to fill the room with flowers, including hydrangeas. But I was reluctant to actually BUY hydrangeas because every bush in every garden in everyone’s neighborhood was full of hydrangeas. So I decided to pull rank and called my younger sister.
“Lesley, I need you to go get me some free hydrangeas.”
“What’s a hydrangea?”
“Good grief Lesley, everyone knows what a hydrangea is. You see those big fluffy balls of blue and pink flowers in the big bushes everywhere. Do you have any or have a neighbor that has them?”
“I don’t have any, but I think my neighbor has a bush of them.”
“Well, I need a dozen.”
“I don’t know him that well, Kelly. I’m not going to go ask for a dozen hydrangeas from his garden.”
“Well, then wait until it’s dark and go steal them.”
“Don’t you think he’ll notice when he’s missing a dozen flowers off his bush????”
“Well, just space out where you cut them off and he’ll probably never notice.”
“Kelly, I’m not stealing hydrangeas for you.”
“Well, then go find someone that has a hydrangea bush that will give you a dozen flowers and call me when you’re done.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
“Because Lesley, I’m up in Windsor, Connecticut working and I don’t get home until Friday afternoon. I wish I could bring them home with me because you can’t swing a dead cat up here without hitting a hydrangea bush. But they won’t let me on the plane with a dozen of those puppies. So you need to do this.”
“Well, I’ll look around and try to find some for you, but I really think you’re starting to lose it, Kelly.”
To add to the excitement of the anniversary party, we were also getting ready to meet a newly discovered relative. In 1952 one of my aunts gave birth to a little boy and because it was 1952 and she was in her teens, she gave the child up for adoption. Nobody really knew about this boy (named Steve) who of course is now a grown man in his 50’s. That is, until he found all of us! Quite sadly, my aunt had passed away 10 years ago and so Steve didn’t have the opportunity to meet his biological mother. However, he did have several half-siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles to meet.
Through Facebook, phone calls, and letters, we all got to know Steve. We knew he was anxious to meet his newly found family and so my mother decided to fly Steve in from California to attend the 50th Anniversary party.
My parents picked Steve up Thursday evening at Dulles and brought him to their house. I was anxious to find out how the reunion was going so I called my sister from Connecticut. She had not heard anything, so I told her to call my parents and see how everything was going. I also asked her how she was doing with her mission.
“Kelly, I can’t find anyone I know with a rhododendron bush.”
“Oh for the love of God, Lesley. I said HYDRANGEA, not RHODODENDRON.”
“Well, I can’t find those either.”
“Just call mom and dad and see how everything is going. Do you think you can do that????”
“Yes, but I’m telling you Kelly, I think you’re losing it.”
She called me back Friday afternoon and said everyone was having a wonderful time getting to know each other.
I was supposed to fly home Friday afternoon at 2:30 but summer storms kept everyone grounded. I was freaking out at the airport and telling the flight people,
“YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, I HAVE TO GET HOME TONIGHT, I’M IN CHARGE OF THE PARTY!!” Planning ahead, I made arrangements with another couple to rent a car and drive the seven hours back from Connecticut if necessary. Then I called my sister.
“Lesley, where are you?”
“I’m at Mom’s. I really like Steve.”
“Great, but we may have a problem. I’m stuck in Connecticut. “
“Oh dear is right, Lesley. If all the flights get cancelled I’m going to try and rent a car and drive but it will take all night. I may need you to go set up everything for me tomorrow.”
“This is all because you hate me, right?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Listen, better not tell Mom I’m still in Connecticut.”
“Fine, but get home.”
Fortunately, the storms passed and I got home at 10:30 Friday night. On the plus side, sitting in the airport gave me plenty of time to put the finishing touches on the video I was creating from old photographs of my parents.
Saturday morning I got up and collected all my decorating supplies and went to decorate the party room at the Inn. I had broken down and bought those stupid hydrangeas.
At 2 pm I realized that I did not have the extremely important dongle cord necessary to connect my Mac laptop to the television in order to show the video I’d created. I went into panic mode and called Best Buy in Winchester.
“Hi, this is Jeff, how can I help you?”
“Jeff, I am in the middle of a crisis. I have a Mac laptop and I have to connect it to a television in 3 hours to show a video at my parents 50th wedding anniversary and I don’t have that connector thing.”
“Do you know what type of laptop you have?”
“Its a Mac laptop.”
“Ma’am, do you have the model type?”
“No Jeff, I have no idea what the model type is, but I can tell you it is small, silver, and missing the connector thing.”
“Do you need an HGDY connector, a GHYG connector or a LMNOP connector?”
“Jeff, I know you think you’re talking English, but I have no idea what you’re saying. It is a big TV and looks new. Can you just go and ask someone to check and pull the cable I need?”
<music on hold>
“Ma’am, we have your connector.”
“Fantastic, what’s your name again?”
“Well listen Jeff, I’m going to be sending my sister over to pick up the connector. Her name is Lesley. She’s short with blonde hair and she’ll be asking for you. She’ll probably look very pissed off when she shows up but just ignore that part.”
“Jeff, do NOT leave the store until my sister arrives, got it?”
I then sent a text to my sister.
TXT: Lesley, I need you to go to Best Buy on your way here.
TXT: Are you KIDDING me???? Do you know what I have to get done before the party?
TXT: No I’m not kidding and I don’t care. You have to go there and ask for a guy named Jeff and he will give you a dongle cord connector thing that you have to bring with you to the party. Or we can’t watch the video I spent hundreds of hours creating.
TXT: Okay, fine. We’ll get the dongle.
TXT: Remember, ask for Jeff. You start asking anyone else for a dongle and you’ll only embarrass yourself.
I went upstairs and showered, changed and was back downstairs by 5pm. I was in my “I’m in charge of the party” mode. I went to the party room to check on everything and found newly discovered relative Steve hanging out. Just by his looks he was obviously a family relation. He tried to engage me in conversation but I was too tense.
“Steve, I don’t want to be rude. The person you see in front of you right now is not the real me. I’m currently in party planner mode, and will be stressed until everyone arrives. I promise later this evening you’ll see the real me.”
“Oh, that’s all right Kelly. I’ve heard a lot of nice things about you.”
“I suppose the words ‘control freak’ came up in those conversations too.”
“Hah. Nah, nobody said control freak, but the words ‘Type A’ may have been mentioned a few times.”
My brother showed up at 5:15 looking handsome and (miraculously) on time. Donnie the family DJ got the music playing. The flowers were all perfect and the table settings lovely. My parents arrived at 5:30 and my mom was wearing dark sunglasses. A bug bit her face and the entire left side was swollen so she kept her glasses on all night. She looked a little like Roy Orbison, but she was very, very, happy. Steve and the cousins came down and all of a sudden all 25 people were there and we were chatting and relaxing. I had another glass of wine. Then I went and gave newly discovered relative Steve a real big hug.
After cocktail hour in the bar we walked through French glass doors into the room where we were eating dinner. The candles were all lit, the flowers smelled wonderful and Nat King Cole was singing. As everyone sat down and the staff brought out the salads, I showed the video, which is 8 minutes long. If you would like to watch it click here. (But first finish reading the story!)
My mom cried and everyone clapped. Then we all ate dinner. After dinner we opened the French doors out onto the private deck, which was awash in approximately 3,000 tiny white lights that glittered in the twilight. The candles flickered on the tables and the music wafted out on the breeze. We all laughed and visited with each other until it was time for dessert. I got bossy and herded everyone back into the room while my brother accused me of being a control freak. I didn’t care, because I got to give the toast. Here is a copy of the speech to read later.
At the close of the toast I asked everyone to open the sealed envelopes in front of their plates. Everyone opened the envelopes and saw the special postcards my very good friend Pat Gardner had designed for my parents. There was all this “ooh and ahh” going on, and my parents were thrilled. We all cried a little.
Then my dad gave a wonderful toast about his love for my mother and his family and that made everyone cry again.
After that, we partied and danced all night long. We sang Karaoke and my brother brought the house down. We took over the bar. There was only one other couple staying at the Inn. I went over and somehow ended up telling them the entire story of newly discovered relative Steve, all about my parents, and proceeded to point out everyone in my family to them. After that, everyone kept talking to them and walking away saying, “It’s amazing how they know so much about us!” When we found out it was her birthday, we all sang Happy Birthday to her and then made her husband sing a Karaoke song to her. At midnight they finally got up and said they had to get to their room. They had their luggage with them at the bar; they had yet to check into their room because they were having too much fun at our party.
At midnight the innkeeper announced last call. My parents went home with some of the older relatives. One of the staff hugged my sister and I and said through tears that we were the best family she’d ever met. Then the rest of us migrated to the front porch of the Inn where we sat, talking, laughing and drinking, until around 2 am.
The next morning we all woke up and most of us were still drunk. Luckily my husband had shown a modicum of restraint, so he drove us to my parents’ house. That is when I realized we’d forgotten my brother back at the hotel.
“Dan, this is Kelly. We forgot you! Are you still at the hotel?”
“Oh my God, Kelly. I think I’m still drunk!”
“We all are Dan, it was a hell of a party. But listen you have to get out of that hotel. The Innkeeper is furious with us. I came down this morning and when she looked at me I expected her head to start spinning around while she hissed ‘get ouuuuuutt, geeettttt ouuuuutttt.”
“Why is she pissed at us?”
“She thought we’d all be gone by 9 or 10 last night.”
“Are you kidding me? Doesn’t she know we’re Irish?”
“You know how it is. Mom and Dad went down there looking all innocent and harmless when they booked the party room, just a couple of helpless 73 year-olds. She had no idea what she was getting into.”
“Wow, when did the party end?”
“Well, she did last call at midnight, which is when I walked up to the bar and said, ‘In that case, give me a bottle of Chardonnay and a straw.’ She didn’t look too pleased.”
“Oh my God.”
“By the way, Mom wants to know where you disappeared to. She said she was talking to you and you just got a funny look on your face and walked away.”
“She said to me, ‘Dan, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this drunk.”
“Were you that drunk?”
“Kelly, I couldn’t even form words at that point. I had a really witty come back for mom, but my lips wouldn’t move. So I went to bed.”
“Good grief, Dan.”
“Yeah, tell Mom what I wanted to say was, ‘Sure you have, Mom. Remember that one time right before you sent me to military school?”
“Heh, good one. But listen I’m serious, you have to get out of that room. Come over here right away. That innkeeper is a woman on the edge. Save yourself while you can.”
After hanging up on my brother, we all sat around and talked about the perfect party. My dad had already made CDs for everyone with the photos from the night before. We kept laughing and telling stories about events that had happened during the evening. Newly discovered relative Steve fit into our family like an old shoe, just perfect. In the end, thanks to the wonderful people I get to call my family, and despite my Type A personality, it was a wonderful, memorable, magical evening and I’m still glowing inside.