Dad’s Big Birthday Bash

(Excerpt from Finding the Rainbows: Lessons from Dad and Mom)
June 21, 2016
Dad’s (Dee Molenaar‘s) big 98th birthday bash was yesterday. I spent the week before the party trying to get the house ready for our guests – dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, washing curtains, washing windows, battling cobwebs, pulling weeds, planting flowers, de-cluttering, and policing every horizontal surface in the house to make sure no new piles of stuff started growing on them. But frankly, when one lives in a house full of active, busy people, it ain’t easy to hang onto one’s feng shui. By the day of the party I was completely wiped-out.

And my house was still… well… how shall I put this? Let’s just say my house is not something you would find in “Good Housekeeping” magazine. It is not a show house. It has been lived in, and it looks like it: The ottoman has chunks out of it from when the dog was a puppy; the ceilings have hand-prints from the sons jumping up and tagging them; and the windows on the french doors have perpetual smudges at about the same level as the dog’s nose.

A couple hours before the party I went to fetch my parents and bring them back to the house. When I returned with my parents I found my sons, Andrew and Xander, and my eldest son’s girlfriend, Sierra, had arrived and were ready to help in any way they could. The sons moved furniture around for me, and, with the flip of a sheet and a strategically-placed pillow, Sierra was able to turn a battered old chair into an attractive piece of furniture. Then the three went outside to set up the volleyball net (because what is a summer party without volleyball – am I right, or am I right?), my husband, Scott, put the salmon on the grill, and Mom and Dad got comfortably settled to await their guests – who soon began to arrive.I hadn’t told my parents about most of the guests.

I hadn’t told them about Dad’s nephew who was flying in from Chicago; Dad’s niece who was coming up from San Francisco; Mom’s niece and her husband from Oregon; one of Mom’s nieces and her husband from Vancouver (Washington); another of Mom’s nieces and her husband from Seattle; and the daughter of a niece, and her husband, from Tacoma; Fred, Bill, and Roger, Dad’s old climbing buddies from Seattle, and Fred’s wife, Dorothy; Roland, who’d worked as a mountain rescue volunteer in King County; musician Tracy Spring – the daughter of Dad’s old friend, Bob, the famous photographer; Mark Schoening, the son of the man who had saved my dad’s life on K2, and his wife, Emmy; my old high school friend, Rita, who years ago had taken a trip to California with Dad and me, and Rita’s husband, Skip; and the two young women who worked for Mountaineers Books and wanted to return original artwork from Dad’s book, The Challenge of Rainier.

And then there were the people my parents HAD been expecting: My brothers, Pete and Dave; Pete’s girlfriend, Sheila, who immediately manned the kitchen for me and kept the food coming; Dave’s children, Claire and Casey, and Claire’s boyfriend, Michael; our old family friend, Jack, whom we’ve known for more than 50 years; Rick and Jana and their daughter, Cindy, who are like family to us, and Cindy’s friends who had been in the same orphanage in China that Cindy had been in before they’d all been adopted and brought to America; my neighbors and fellow mountain people, John and Mike and Cliff; and Dean, a former colleague, and his wife, Ruth – both big time mountain aficionados.

The house was soon packed full of people. Interesting, well-traveled people. Fun people. Amazing people.

I forgot all about the aesthetics of my house – my focus shifted, instead, to all the generous, wonderful folks who had taken the time and made the effort – some of them traveling hundreds of miles! – to be with Daddy on his special day. I was overwhelmed by the kindness of that.

Near the end of the festivities, Tracy Spring got out her guitar and sang for Dad a song she had written herself. It was the absolutely perfect song for that time and that place and I started tearing up when Tracy got to the last verse. Then Roland brought out his guitar, and he and Tracy strummed the song Summertime, while I sang it.

Ohmygosh. It was such a fun day!

At the end of it all, as Dad was sitting in the car, waiting to be driven back to his apartment, I asked him if he’d enjoyed his birthday bash. He said yes, he had. But he was surprised. Had all those people come for him?! Why?! “Because they love you,” I told him, and kissed him on the cheek. He blinked at me, trying to process it all.

At some point – a couple hours into the party – two or three different people came up at separate times to tell me what a “beautiful home” I have. I thanked them, but… yeah, I was surprised. They saw my puppy-chewed, son-tagged, dog-smudged house as “beautiful”?! Wow. That was very nice for them to say, but… really?!

This morning Mom called to tell me that Dad has been asking her all morning if yesterday had just been a dream. Each time he asked, Mom assured him it had all been real.

I thought again to those comments about my home and had an epiphany. My home HAD been beautiful – not because of its physicality – but because it had been packed full of beautiful people. It had been filled full of love. How could it NOT have been beautiful?!
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

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