at (times) liking surprises

She doesn’t like surprises, I warned my nephew; but Andrew had a vision for his grandmother’s birthday and is not easily deterred.  So, on a bright Saturday morning in October, I find myself huddling with a crowd at the Vestavia Hills High School football field under the beneficent sun.  There is a professor of theology sporting a baseball cap; robust seniors from the church shimmying into T-shirts. There are the handsome young neighbors with little Andrew and Luke who come sing How Great Thou Art for Mr. Bill,  and dip hungry hands into my mother’s bowl of green apples.  Then I spot Laurie, the hospice nurse who is showing up on her day off.  And off-duty caregiver, Marilla, too, wanted to come.  Now I see the contractor who has taken care of my parent’s house for 25 years, down to putting in a wheelchair lift and constructing an accessible bathroom.  Friends who share their home-made, lip smacking BBQ and custard pies are grinning and game. There is my beautiful niece and her new husband, who drove from Louisville into the night to polish off the surprise.  Darting through the crowd is a young girl I do not know, but who has an affair of some great affection going with my father, and wonders how soon he will arrive.  I see a close ally whose husband was lightning struck with a heart attack not long ago, taking one my father’s dearest friends.  The pastor, newly retired, has not forgotten his colleague.  It is a small crowd growing quickly into a kinesthetic congregation.

Around our huddle, a larger crowd streams in.  Wheelchairs are common, and those in them uncommonly still; friends navigating their passage.  It is the Alabama Walk for A.L.S.

As per plan, Andrew pulls up in a white van and disgorges two wheelchairs:  one my father navigates down the slim ramp; the other is set up for my mother’s frail legs. They have no idea why they are here.  I wheel her around to face the crowd of beaming faces, a large birthday banner draped in front of them, as they break into birthday song.

Well, she may not like surprises, but you wouldn’t know it now.  My mother is lit up with this simple incandescent moment, the faces of her many friends, the sun warming her cold shoulders.  Behind her my father rolls up, eyes twinkling with surprise, and they grasp hands, chair by chair, as the singing spontaneously slips into for he’s a jolly good fellow; the back row raises a caricature of his professorial face.

Then, we are off to the races.  My father has never had the chance to break loose on his wheelchair; until now, that is. He zips along the track in speedster mode.  My mother reigns from her birthday throne.

There is no competition here.  No finish line.  Only the family lunch back on the deck which Andrew has also orchestrated.  The perfect vision of a day, conceived and manifest by a grandson who believed that surprises could be salubrious.  Andrew raised $6500 for the ALS Foundation that day.  And he invited all of us to exercise the muscles of love, once more around the track.

~ by Susan on 11/14/2011.

7 Responses to “at (times) liking surprises”

  1. Oh, how we love our grandfathers!!! What an amazing demonstration of that special love!!! Great job, Anndrew!!!

  2. “And he invited all of us to exercise the muscles of love…” Wonderful post!

  3. How good it was to see Billy (Dr. Hull) and Wylodine laughing and enjoying the celebration. It has been a year since I was in Birmingham and visited with them. Time passes. Convey my warm regards. Newton Malony

  4. Bravo Andrew! Bravo all who joined and sang and walked and rallied and donated and surprised. Brings back wonderful memories of a cold cold day early last April, at the Greensboro ALS walk, where Nancy’s Naughty Neurons team gathered around Nancy in their purple t-shirts and marched along, although mom’s motorized wheelchair had significantly less horsepower than your dad’s. She was chilled to the bone, but her heart and spirit were warmed beyond description. Only one month later, her life’s walk was over, but buoyed to the very end by the kind of outpouring of love and joy that Andrew orchestrated here. Fabulous!!

  5. Just beautiful! I was privileged to visit recently with your parents, and they told us this story. What an outpouring of love! Wish I’d been there!

  6. Wow!

  7. Belatedly catching up on your blog, Susan. Wonderful story and wonderful celebration!

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