This is a two part post about my mother’s 80th birthday party last year on June 8, 2018. Tomorrow she turns 81 and I’ve been reliving the party, photos and memories from the preparations to the actual event.
My mother has never had a surprise party. She turned 80 years old last June and I thought it was way past time. So armed with a great theme – Around the World in 80 Years – I got started surprise party planning!
Months earlier, I’d been talking about how mom had a milestone birthday coming up with my youngest sister, Kanista, and she said wanted to be in Alabama for that. She lives in North Carolina. That got the ball rolling and we thought – what if we could get all of “the sisters” together, along with their husbands and kids??!! I think the last time we were all together – me, my sisters and mom – was when my nephew Adam got married in 2015. So this became a bit of a mission with that realization! I contacted my sister Helena who lives in Texas and she was on board, as was my sister Laurie who lives in Illinois. Helena and Laurie put the word out to their adult kids too. My mother’s friend, Jenine, visits each year from Colorado so I contacted her to make sure she could make her arrangements for the party. We set the party date for Saturday, June 8 to make it easier for everyone to travel. Mom’s actual birthday is June 6.
As the guest list started to grow, I began looking for a cozy venue to host the party. That was probably the biggest headache. I couldn’t get the invitations ready until I had a place, right? And I really didn’t want a restaurant for the party because it didn’t feel cozy enough. I remember calling one place and the lady who answered got a little snarky with me and said “well, you know it’s wedding season…” Which translated to, “good luck finding what you want, lady!” That’s when I decided to just have the party at my house. Done! On to the invitation…
I’d been working at my mother’s house for several weeks helping her clean out when I found a box of old photos. Honestly, I don’t even know if mom knew they were there. So I secretly put the box in my car so I could go through and copy them. That’s where I found the photo I used for the invitation. Such a sweet picture of mother when she was five years old. It was perfect! I debated on getting the invitations professionally printed and then decided to do them myself at home. In the invitation, I also requested that people send cards with a special memory about mom to me to compile. My plan was to have a box of memories on index cards that she could pull and read throughout her 80th year.
With the venue and invitations out of the way, I needed to find a caterer. Again…wedding season…but then I remembered a friend who had started a food delivery business and had just opened a storefront. I gave her a call and she put me in touch with her chef – Wendy Bowman. So, this is probably a good time to talk about the theme I chose – Around the World in 80 Years. This was a nod to mom’s travels over her lifetime. Born in Oneonta, Alabama, she moved around a lot growing up and eventually ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio where her parents finally settled for two years so she could complete high school. After that, they traveled to Cambodia for my grandfather’s work and that’s where she met my dad and eventually they got married. Throw in living in Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Maryland, Chicago and finally Alabama, you can see why the theme fit so well. When I explained this all to Chef Wendy, she created a wonderful menu incorporating all mom’s travels. It was wonderful!
When it came to ordering a cake, I knew it had to be special and I knew it had to come from Louise’s Cakes & Supply in Hoover, AL. Over the years, this little shop has created some beautiful cakes for my family. The theme was firming up with maps, suitcases, globes and flags. so I asked about getting a suitcase cake made with decals all over it showing places where mom has lived. I did find a few examples on Pinterest and we worked together to come up with the perfect design.
I mentioned all the places my mother has lived and I wanted to find a way to showcase those places. That’s when the idea of a directional sign came up like the one they had on MASH – the tv show! I found arrows in the Target bargain area for weddings and decided to spray paint them tan and brown and then write the locations in red. My husband made the stand and then we used a nail gun to attach the arrows. It was the perfect touch and we placed it in our foyer next to an old suitcase that collected all the cards and well-wishes for mom. I also added string flags around the foyer, hallway, dining room, family room and kitchen that I had left over from a previous event.
My friend, Sherree, who is a whiz with plants and florals, created four distinct arrangements for the party. The orchid was for my parent’s wedding photo and was used on the dining room table with the food. There was also a bright floral arrangement for the living room where guests could share memories for mom. The one I really loved was a desert scene with cactus next to a globe to represent the Southwest and New Mexico. She really outdid herself!
The final pieces of the party plan? I wanted music across the decades that meant something to my mother. My sisters were wonderful working on this and sent so many suggestions from our time as children living in Puerto Rico. I created a playlist on Pandora called “Mom’s 80th Bday” and we kept adding to it. We had songs from Andy Williams, Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others. We also included music from musicals like South Pacific and The King & I. But the most important song to include – Where or When – was my parents song. When they were dating in Cambodia and would go out to a particular nightclub to enjoy the band, the band leader would see them walk in and immediately start playing that song for them. It reminds me of a scene out of a Doris Day movie…. We ended up with several hundred songs on that playlist. I still love listening to it.
Part Two of Around the World in 80 Years shares how I got my mother to the party after the surprise was almost revealed and her reaction to everything.