Send in the Clowns

I was talking with my sister a couple of weekends ago, and we both realized that our mom would have been 90 this month, if she was still alive.  And just to show that time does heal, we were able to have a little chuckle at her expense (Mom, if you’re watching from heaven, forgive us!), talking about how weird it is to celebrate someone’s birthday when they’re gone. Kind of like celebrating your wedding anniversary years after your spouse is gone.Which we’re experts on because our mother would get furious with us every year if we didn’t send an anniversary card to commemorate the day, years after our dad was gone. Which I consistently refused to do, with the result that I celebrated her anniversary by getting an earful every fall.

OK, so I was a bad daughter.  And it gets worse. I pointed out to my sister that if Mom was still here, we would have been tensely planning yet another birthday celebration for her.

I know, I know, I’m horrible.But her 85th birthday party almost did us both in.

We were good daughters and we carefully planned a lovely luncheon for her. Surprises for people in their 80s are generally a bad idea, so we worked with her on the attendee list. Instead of bringing gifts, we asked guests to bring memories, along with a small remembrance of the event.

The day of the party came. It was February and it was Cleveland. So we slogged through the snow and ice to the restaurant. My sister, Joan, and I had cooked up a little memory of our own to share, but we knew we’d need several glasses of wine first to pull it off.

The room was filled with chattering ladies, many of whom were of a certain age. I was politely chatting with someone whose name I didn’t remember, when my sister, Joan, took my arm in a death grip and pulled me away.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, not really that sad at being rescued from a conversation I was totally lost in. “Oh my God,” Joan responded. “Do you see that lady over there, the one in the purple? Well, I couldn’t remember her name or who she was so I asked her the most innocent question: ‘How’s your lovely family doing?'”

She paused to take a big gulp of wine before continuing. “And do you know what she said? She said that her husband died last month and her son died three months before that and that her daughter-in-law had a stroke!”

Another gulp of wine. “So then I went over to talk to that lady – the one in the plaid skirt. Because I’m an idiot, I asked her the same question. And she told me that her only child died last fall and she’s all alone in this world. Now I’m terrified to talk to anyone!”

Together we drained our wine goblets, and decided it was clearly too treacherous to make nice chit chat with people we don’t know. So it must be time for the happy birthday ceremony. We clinked wine glasses and got everyone settled down for lunch and birthday cake.

After everyone ate, sang and cake slices were passed around the table, Joan and I left to get ready for our big close-up moment.

Years before, we celebrated yet another birthday with our mom by taking her to a spa in Cleveland for the works – facial, massage, hair and make-up. What we didn’t know was that we had apparently chosen a spa popular with Ringling Brothers, because the make-up we received was so thick and dreadful that we looked like clowns. You could scrape it off with a credit card…

As a family, we’d had many belly laughs over this experience, and so to properly share it with our mom’s friends, I had bought clown outfits for us – big shoes, big horns, red noses (although by then we had enough wine that those really weren’t necessary), wild wigs. Giggling so hard we were in danger of peeing on ourselves, we emerged from the ladies room to bewildered stares.

Well, we OWNED that moment! If I do say so myself, we had the whole room convulsed, and all memories of dead family members were tucked away for awhile. It ended up being a wonderful party, and a good time was had by all. Although I’m certain some of her friends still think we’re more than just a little whack.

But my sister and I agreed: we were traumatized by the hidden pitfalls of chatting with nice old ladies. And if we had to do this again, we would simply run away to circus. After all, we had the perfect outfits to wear.


6 Responses

  1. wonderful, you always make me laugh, thanks!

  2. Thanks, Ann!

  3. Terry – this was just what I needed. My Mom would have been 74 in January and she has been on my mind…this made me find my own funny memory 🙂

  4. LOL–Great story and wonderfully told!

  5. Awww, cute story Terry! I can only imagine your Mom’s facial expression!!

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