I’ve never been good at surprises. The excitement of whatever is to come is almost always too big of a burden for me to bear. I don’t like this about myself, but it’s true. I do love surprises, though. I’m just not very good at them. This fact is what makes this story that much more enjoyable to remember.
It was March 2011. I was having a local visa issue, so I needed to leave the country for a week or so in order to work it out. This had to be done by the first week in May or I would be in trouble with the local authorities.
I could do this in Hong Kong and this is what I planned. However, after doing some quick math I soon realized I could do the same trip to America for just a little higher cost. The thought occurred that I could actually use the time to surprise my parents for their birthdays.
My parents were born exactly three years and one day apart from each other. April 29 and 30 are their birthdays, so it is always nice to have them so close together.
After coming up with a grand plan with my sisters, Betsy and Becky, it was on!
I arrived in Atlanta on April 28, 2011 and secretly crashed with Becky and the Bracher clan for the evening. Mom and Dad literally track my flights on the internet whenever I am going back to America, so it was strange to be in America and they not know about it.
Betsy and Becky set the entire weekend up. One of Mom’s favorite places in Atlanta is the Swan Coach House. Though I had driven past this famed tea room a million times, I had never actually been there. I once took a former girlfriend there thinking it would be fun. As soon as we walked through the door and I saw the decorum and clientele, I immediately panicked. It was raging with estrogen and southern genteelness. In a word, I was terrified. She graciously stepped in and suggested we go elsewhere. I was relieved. We left without ever being seated.
Betsy, Becky, and I met at the Swan Coach House at 11:30am to get things lined up. We let the hostess know of the gravity of the situation. We told of Mom’s birthday and how I had flown in from Asia to surprise her. The hostess then promptly assigned us a semi-concealed table in the corner. Betsy and Becky stayed in the lobby to wait for Mom’s arrival at 11:45am, while the hostess showed me to the table.
The room was packed with women of all ages. They were unified, though, in their brightly colored dresses and pearl garnished necks. Seriously, I think the bus boys and I were among the only men within miles, both physically AND metaphorically.
The hostess, a kind woman in her 70s or 80s, was really excited to be a part of our big surprise. I sat with my back to the door, so as to hide my identity from Mom until the last second. However, since we were early, I just sat there feeling and looking out of place. In the process, I could hear the hostess telling people around the room about what was taking place.
“That young man flew in all the way from Asia to surprise his mother on her birthday!” was being told to random tea and cake eaters around this large dining room.
Mom comes in, hugs my sisters, and then is shown by the hostess to a table in the corner of the room. As they were walking towards the table, Mom thought to herself, “that man sure looks like John”. She never expected it was me, though.
The hostess brought her around the corner of the table, I stood up, and Mom about fainted. I kid you not; most of the room broke out in applause. It was like something out of a movie. Not exactly SEC football type of cheering, but downright rancorous for the crowd at the Swan Coach House!
Mom literally had a tough time talking for the first 15 or so minutes of the lunch. It was hilarious. She was in functional shock.
We had a tremendous time celebrating Mom’s big day. We consumed the likes of “chicken salad” and breads of all sorts and some of the best sweet tea known to man. We laughed and caught up. I love spending time with all three of these women as much as any people on the planet. It was a great time for me, and judging for her euphoric disposition, I think it was the same for Mom.
We swore Mom to secrecy, as Becky had set up a birthday cookout at her house for Dad two days later. We wanted to surprise him also.
Though she loved the surprise, I think it about killed Mom the rest of the weekend both not being able to talk about her big surprise AND knowing that I was in Atlanta and she was not able to see me.
It was worth the silence, though.
Fast forward two days. . .
After having a blast surprising Mom for her birthday on Friday, the entire family was excited to do the same to Dad. This time, all of my eight nieces and nephews were there, so they couldn’t wait to see how their “Pops” would react.
Dad is funny in 1,000,000 ways. He is an expressive, passionate man in many ways. We had NO IDEA how he would respond to being surprised for his birthday, but we were all excited to find out.
We had the perfect setup. Becky and Kevin had given their son John Robert a bike for Christmas. In wrapping it, they had a large, plastic gift bag to put around the bike.
They told Mom and Dad they wanted them to see the newly renovated basement. Dad balked, as he had been there earlier in the week. He said he would wait upstairs for the others. Slight panic arose in the crowd.
Becky then said that his present from the families was in the basement, at which he said “bring it up here. . . it’s my birthday, I don’t want to go all the way down there.”
Not to be deterred, they claimed it was too big to bring up the stairs. Dad relented and followed the mass horde of excited grandkids to the basement. On the way down, Dad become more and more nervous. Something was up, but he still had no clue.
As he saw the dilapidated gift sake sitting on the couch, Dad said some funny comments. The grandkids were bouncing off the walls at this point.
Dad started to “unwrap” the gift and I immediately shoved the plastic ornate bag above my body and head.
His face was beyond explanation. Confusion. Surprise. Joy. . . not sure all the emotions at that time, but it was clear there were a ton.
I jumped up, we hugged, and the room erupted in laughter. I think it was more fun for all of us than for Dad, but he enjoyed it also.
Dad said he about had a heart attack. I don’t think he was overstating it, judging from his response.
Well, we grilled out, did the whole cake & ice-cream thing, and had a great time of fellowship. It was a fun time of honoring my parents and sharing in the joy of their birthdays as an entire group of 15.
Though I’m not able to pull off a surprise again this year, it is fun to remember this one. Happy birthday Mom and Dad!