Last Monday was Darren's birthday, but we were on our way back from Door County so we didn't make a big deal of it. And let's face it, he is not like me. He doesn't really want anyone to make a big deal for his birthday anyway. But I think he should still succumb to our ministrations and let us sing to him and buy him presents and make him a birthday dinner.
So, that's what we did yesterday evening. We all decided to meet at my dad's house because today he'll be going into the hospital for a reconstruction of his spine. I packed up the food--Italian beef, pasta salad, Mrs. Fischer's potato chips (evil, evil, addictive food item)--and the cake: orange crunch cake decorated with salted pecans to look like Miss Cleo Marple the cat, who hates all of us except Darren. More on that later. Oh, so much more.
Chuck and Rome came too, and Rome brought cinnamon rolls like my mom always made for birthdays and also apple-parsnip soup, which was made on her show this week.
We all gathered around that table for the first time since my mom has been gone. While I was setting it, I wasn't sure what to do with her place. Should I sit there? Should I leave it empty? I ended up rearranging everything so that it just wasn't there anymore. But it was OK.
After dinner, the girls were so excited for Darren to open his presents. Before we left this afternoon, Lucy had written poems on typing paper and taped them all over the patio door for him. At dinner she had a card she picked out herself at Target and written her own message. The girls and my dad all gave Darren different types of bird feeders and bird food, because that's what he wanted--basically, my dad has turned us all into bird-watcher nuts.
Elaine was doing a little dance of impatience beside him because she couldn't contain the secret of her card any longer. First, she had actually written "Daddy" on the envelop and "Elaine" on the inside all by herself. But the real reason was that when Daddy opened the card (which she did for him) it played, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" This was also something she picked out at Target. Actually, she first picked out a cat in a tutu that when you opened it, it played "Dancing Queen," but I convinced her that she probably liked that a lot more than Dad would. So, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" it is.
The rest of the evening, she would sneak up on Chuck with the card and play it because he couldn't stop singing it either. While we were doing the dishes he said, "Now I'll have that stupid song in my head forever. I just got rid of 'The Entertainer.'"
I said, "The Scott Joplin song? How did you get that stuck there?" and he said, "No, Billy Joel's 'The Entertainer,'" which called for us to belt out together:
I am the entertainer,
I come to do my show.
You've heard my latest record,
It's been on the radio.
Ah, it took me years to write it,
They were the best years of my life.
It was a beautiful song.
But it ran too long.
If you're gonna have a hit,
You gotta make it fit--
So they cut it down to 3:05.
Then we took some turns playing on the piano, and the girls begged Darren to play "Heart and Soul" with me, which he's supposed to play the plain, boring bottom part, but he always showboats and tries to steal the limelight from my showy top part.
When we got home and I tucked the girls in bed, Lucy said, "Mom, I have to tell you something I just want you to hear. You know, I think people are like llamas."
I wanted to burst out laughing because it was so random, but she was very serious so I kept it in check.
She went on, "You know how when llamas get married and one llama dies, the other one is so sad. People are like that, too. We're just better together, aren't we?"
"Yup, Luce," I told her. "People are better together."
Then Elaine piped up from her bed, "Mom, why is Packa going in the hospital tomorrow?" and I explained to her, "You know how Packa took such good care of Manga while she was sick? Well, now his back is all worn out, and he needs to get it fixed. Like when you make a tall, straight tower out of blocks, but then you knock it over? That's what Packa's back is like. And the doctors are going to make a nice, straight tower out of it again for him."
"Do we get to keep any of the pieces?" she asked.
So today, Chuck and Rome and I will be at the hospital with my dad while Darren holds down the fort here. The surgery will take about four and a half hours they say, so if you think of it, prayers are appreciated.
At least we'll all be together--we know we're better that way. And if you hear anyone singing "Who Let the Dogs Out?" you'll know why.