A 100th Birthday Extravaganza

Properly planted and girded by embellished half-truths, rumors race across a community faster than the truth on roller skates. When a rumor-starting pro like my Uncle Mort sets ‘em up, they move still faster, swelling and swirling with tornadic force.

Take Mort’s one hundredth birthday extravaganza on July 4th in the thicket as Exhibit A. It was at the core of community conversations for at least two months – just as he’d planned. He “set the table” for the magical event – his way.

Uncle Mort hits the 100 Mark.

Would there be aerial fly-overs? Would Elvis show up? Did guests really need to bring pockets full of silver dollars? Would the lights for TV cameras light up the skies? Was it even remotely possible that both presidential political candidates might show up? Could Mort actually entice the Boston Pops Orchestra to appear?  Would there be a recipe of great import shared?  Such were the rumors that swelled and swirled.

Uncle Mort threw everyone a curve. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when a couple of hundred relatives and friends showed up. He greeted everyone, asking if they’d like to toss a few silver dollars into his “offering plate,” actually a five-gallon bucket.

It was a cooler than usual July 4th in the thicket. Game tables were set up under trees, with vats of lemonade twenty or thirty yards apart and fishing poles awaiting the kids. Ice cream freezers growled in the background.  Old Glory rippled in the breeze atop a fifty-foot pole; those who know Mort best were surprised he sprung for a flag big enough for a car dealership.

Guests were asked to silence their cell phones; electronic games were stilled. Eureka! Genuine “how’ve-you-been conversations” began as cards and dominoes shuffled and fishing lines plopped lazily into the creek. Still, everyone remained uneasy. After all, the only “usual Mort thing” so far was his collection of silver dollars at the gate.

As sunset closed in, Mort sauntered to the portable mike. Choking up a bit, he thanked God for giving him long life, much longer than he deserved. “God’s good at overdoing it,” he said. Then he thanked everyone for being his friend.

Was that all, everyone wondered as they belted out Happy Birthday, ready to cut their own cake slices – “as big as they wanted.”

Then, from across the hill came a rickety bus carrying three dozen kids from a community church two counties away. They sang the National Anthem, followed by This Is My Country, Battle Hymn of the Republic, God Bless the USA, Yankee Doodle Dandy and their finale, God Bless America. We all joined in the singing at the last, then a 10-year-old boy played Taps, quavering – but quickly recovering – on the final note.

There were no fireworks, but fireflies pierced the first shades of darkness.

We drove away, feeling closer to each other, and more thankful than ever for Uncle Mort. For a couple of magical hours, we adhered to a biblical admonition. We were still and knew that He is God.

At Mort’s gate, there was the bucket, filled with silver dollars. A little sign read, “Take as many as you brought, and give ‘em to charity,” the note urged.

Back home, emptying pockets before donning PJ’s, I opened the little envelope I’d gotten at the party. Sure enough, it was Mort’s promised “secret recipe” – the one he claimed to be “the very best for preparation of possum.”

It instructed thusly: “Upon procurement of the possum, hopefully on a day with a chill in the air, prepare it as per usual in a big sauce pan. Then, instead of placing in the oven, put it on your neighbor’s roof for a good overnight chill.” The P.S. cracked me up: “Be sure not to put it on your OWN roof, ‘cause if you do, somebody might steal it!”

Ah, the final words remind us of the Uncle Mort we’ve grown to love. May he have many more birthdays and continue to brighten our days along the way. (Oh, me! Almost forgot. There was a picture of Uncle Mort in the recipe envelope. Maybe the editor included it somewhere on this page.)

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Website: www.speakerdoc.com.

Don Newbury is the author of When The Porch Light’s On …

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