Marion's 70th: A Surprise Party in the Loving Arms of Family.
It was late morning on Saturday, January 23, 2010. It would be a day that Marion Connors -- my sister, and sister to our siblings Ruby, Victor, and Reggie -- never expected, had longed for all her life, and would certainly never forget.
She had been packing and getting ready to fly the next day to California to spend a few weeks with her daughter, Nanci. Her mind was on all that she had to do plus going out to eat later in the afternoon with her son, Jimmy. Around noon, he called.
He said that James and Emmalee, his two kids and her grandkids, had made something for her birthday out of clay. Although the clay hadn't yet fully dried, Jimmy earnestly explained, the kids were all excited to present it to her. Could she take a break from packing and stop by briefly?
These are two kids Marion loves to pieces. She would do anything for them and, of course, Jimmy knows it. In pulling this off, he had to be one devious and manipulative con artist -- and he rose to the occasion.
Not only that, he enlisted James and Emmalee as co-conspirators. When Jimmy and Marion arrived and were walking up the driveway, the two of them ran out babbling about the great gift they had made with their own hands for their Nana. It was all a big story.
And Nana swallowed it whole.
When she opened the door, she saw a houseful of family shouting happy birthday and blowing horns. James and Emmalee were jumping up and down, giggling, and loving the look they saw on their beloved Nana's face -- of utter disbelief.
Marion's shock quickly gave way to a teary smile. And then, with tears rolling down her cheeks, Marion was engulfed in a swarm of tight, prolonged,loving hugs.
Oh, did I mention that there was another schemer behind all this? Daughter Nanci was a principal in perhaps the most mischievous plot of all. Shortly after Marion arrived, the phone rang and it was Nanci calling from California. Marion of course was thrilled to get the call and the two chatted away when another shocker unfolded.
Nanci walked into the room. She wasn't in California at all! She was outside making believe she was. The two fell into each other's arms. Besides being thrilled to have Nanci right there at her 70th birthday party, now Marion didn't have to fly out to California alone the next day. Nanci had arranged for them to fly together. Below Nanci gives her mom a huge hug.
The two master planners in all this were Jimmy and his wife Janet. They made all the phone calls, sent all the e-mails, provided the food -- a banquet if there ever was one -- and, of course, provided their home. Jimmy also acted as master of ceremonies. As a "gift from family and friends," he presented his mom a big, fancy new TV to replace the little one she has had forever.
He invited people to come up and wish Marion a happy birthday. The first to come up was a guest whose presence made this 70th birthday party truly historic. For Marion, she was literally a life-long dream come true: family, real family, which Marion never had growing up.
Marion spent her entire childhood in foster care, as did her four siblings, Ruby, Vic, Reggie, and me. We had no mom, no dad, no aunt, no uncle,no cousin, not a living soul. And now, thanks to Vic's curiosity and diligence, we have discovered our long-lost family.
So when a little white-haired angel named Aunt Lillian stepped up to wish her a heartfelt happy birthday, Marion melted into her aunt's arms. It was something she had missed and longed for all her life. It was the birthday gift of a lifetime!
After the longest hug, after much wiping of tears, Aunt Lillian said to her niece Marion words that Marion never thought she would ever hear: "I'm so happy to have you in my life."
But it was not just one aunt there celebrating Marion's 70th birthday. Aunt Barbara was also there. Though it was too physically difficult for Aunt Barbara to walk up, she and Marion hugged, talked, and enjoyed each other at the party. Another chance to be a niece! Here are Aunt Lillian and Aunt Barbara in their party hats.
Jimmy called me up to wish Marion a happy birthday and say a few words. I gave her a big hug, saying, "Did you ever think you would see such a day? From no family, look around. You're surrounded by family who love you."
First Lillian and now me tugging at her heart. She wiped the tears.
I started to talk about how hard it was for Marion finding her way without family of any kind, how one reason she went into nursing was to get a roof over her head ...
"You're done," she said, cutting me off.
Here I was going to speak for at least a half hour, maybe more, and I get the hook. Me, the family patriarch! In front of our entire extended family! By the way, all five of us were there having a hell of a time, as you can tell from this photo of us.
I immediately knew that Marion was right. That was then. This was now. She and the other four of us have found our way. This was not about the pain of the past. This was a celebration of Marion and the family love she was enjoying now.
Here is a photo that says it all. That's me lifting up Aunt Lillian. I wanted to show everybody how strong I am at nearly 72. Judging by the look on her face, Aunt Lillian didn't mind being swept off her feet by an aging swain.
Now she, and all five of us, have not just Aunt Lillian and Aunt Barbara, but cousins: Lillian's daughters Ginny and Nancy and Aunt Barbara's daughters Christine and Kathy and cousins Cheryl and Brenda. They also gather Marion into their loving arms. Here cousin Ginny is shown with her mom, Aunt Lillian.
Like rock stars, Marion and Ruby pose with Aunt Barbara and Aunt Ruby while the paparazzi click away. Aunt Lucy is not in this photo because she is in a nursing home and was unable to come to the party. She was missed, thought of, and we hope to visit her soon.
Next, we move to the cutting of the cake, Marion blowing out the candles and making a wish, and receiving fun gifts. This is a photo of the scene.
By this time, Marion was over the initial shock and was done crying with joy. Now she wanted to just have fun, laugh, and do a little cutting up with family. Ruby brought a shopping bag of fun gifts that she presented to Marion. One was a glasses frame in the shape of the number 70. Here Marion wears her new glasses. Ruby obviously thinks she looks great in them.
Below Marion, Ruby, and Aunt Lillian admire a gift. The three have become a bit wild. After a recent visit at Ginny's, the three of them rented a hotel room and went out on the town -- with no chaperon. No one knows where they went or what time they got in. Ruby and Aunt Lillian are running off to Aruba in May. Shocking.
Not to be left out of the fun, the two young co-conspirators, James and Emmalee strut their stuff. Emmalee gives her uncle George one of her famous sassy poses. James proudly shows off the big poster starring himself in uniform on the football field.
So, yes, this was a 70th party for Marion that was both historic and a lifetime coming. For her,it was an impossible dream come true: at long last, in addition to Jimmy, Nanci, James, Emmalee, and four siblings, she now knows the loving arms of a wonderful, long-lost family she never knew she had.
Here's the whole gang at Marion's 70th birthday party:
Jimmy and Nanci made it all possible. And so it is fitting that we now wind this down with a photo of them with the birthday girl. Jimmy and Nanci, great job! Marion, happy birthday! We all love you.
So long and keep moving.
P.S.The next morning, Marion flew to California as planned. In the seat beside her sat Nanci -- as unplanned. Ruby will join Marion in California later and fly back with her. Nice to have family. And nobody knows that better than Marion.