35: Grandma’s Surprise Party

35: Grandma’s Surprise Party

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

Grandma’s Surprise Party

A neon envelope glowed between magazine circulars. Hmm, a letter, I thought. Anything other than junk mail and bills in the mailbox was rare these days, since most of my communications came by telephone and e-mail.

I examined the square envelope. The writing was unmistakably Grandma Caryle’s, but why would she send a card? My birthday wasn’t for another two months.

What’s she up to this time? I wondered.

I ripped open the envelope as I walked back to the house. Inside was an adolescent-looking party invitation with the words “Happy Birthday” on the front. Opening the card, I read:

You’re invited
To a surprise party
At Grandma Caryle’s house
On August 9 from 2-4 P.M.

Laughing out loud, I ran to the house. My eccentric grandmother always liked celebrating. In fact, her birthdays usually lasted all month, with many lunches, dinners and visits with friends and family members.

I dialed her number.

“Hi, Grandma, I got your invitation in the mail just now,” I said.

“Oh!” she exclaimed in an exaggerated tone. “Did you call to RSVP?”

I giggled at her mock coyness. “Of course I’ll be there. But it’s customary that someone other than yourself host a surprise party when you’re the guest of honor,” I teased. “After all, you won’t be surprised if you plan the party.”

Grandma paused. “Well, you know how I love parties. I’m sure we’ll have lots of surprises,” she replied. “And if we don’t, I promise to act surprised.”

We both laughed and hung up the phone. Grandma had never planned a birthday celebration for herself and certainly never a surprise party, but then she’d never turned seventy-five years old either.

During the next few weeks, I tried to think of ways I could make Grandma’s birthday special.

“Let me bake a cake,” I offered.

“I already ordered one,” she answered.

“What about decorations? May I decorate your house?”

“I’m using potted chrysanthemums,” Grandma said. “Less to clean up, and I can plant them in my flower beds afterward.”

Since she was planning the entire event, I wanted to do something extra to add an element of surprise. I decided to write on her driveway with sidewalk chalk and bring helium balloons. That ought to surprise Grandma, I thought.

Finally, Grandma’s birthday arrived. I called that morning and sang “Happy Birthday.” After the song, I playfully asked, “Are you surprised?”

“Oh, yes,” Grandma said with glee.

Thirty minutes before the party, I chalked “Happy Birthday, Caryle” on her driveway. I attached balloons to the front yard trees and mailbox. Gifts and more balloons were unloaded from my car, and I rang the doorbell.

“Surprise,” I shouted as she opened the door.

Grandma laughed. I put her gifts on the hall table and started into the dining area with the balloons. We always celebrated birthdays around the dining room table.

“Don’t go in there,” shouted Grandma as she blocked the doorway.

“I thought I’d tie the balloons to the dining room chairs.”

“Take them into the living room. I don’t want you to see the cake just yet,” she instructed. “After all, this is a surprise party!”

Perplexed, I obeyed.

Soon, Grandma’s best friend, sister-in-law, niece, stepdaughter, daughter-in-law and her other granddaughter, my sister Shelby, arrived. We sat in the living room, talked and snacked from party trays.

“Where’s Dad?” I asked. My father, her only child, was conspicuously absent.

“Not invited,” she replied. “It’s a girls-only party.”

We all laughed.

“Say, Caryle, I could see your yard decorations from down the block,” remarked Aunt Gay.

Grandma looked confused.

“Come see,” I said, gently taking her arm. We walked outside.

“Are you surprised?” I asked.

“Oh, yes!” answered Grandma.

Back inside, someone suggested opening gifts. Grandma sat down, and Judy, her daughter-in-law, handed over a gift bag.

“Open this one first,” she ordered.

Inside was a rhinestone tiara.

“You’re the birthday queen,” proclaimed Judy.

Grandma’s eyes glowed with excitement as she unwrapped the packages. Inside, I felt regretful that I’d never thought to throw her a party and that this one wasn’t really a surprise.

Once the gifts were opened, Grandma announced, “We have cake in the dining room.” She got up and led the way.

“That was abrupt,” remarked my sister. “She must be hungry.”

We filed into the dining room. On the table was a quarter sheet cake with the word “Surprise” on it and seven small boxes of various sizes.

We took our seats and Grandma began. “As you know, today is my seventy-fifth birthday and I’ve invited you here to celebrate with me. For many years, you’ve been a part of my life. I love you and although I’m not planning to die anytime soon, I want you to have something to remember me by.”

We sat speechless.

“This is not a surprise party for me, but for you.”

Grandma gave each of us a box.

“Stacy, you go first,” she instructed.

I removed the lid. Inside was a diamond ring that I’d seen on Grandma’s finger.

“It belonged to your great-aunt Hazel,” she said quietly. “I inherited it when she died twenty-five years ago. I want you to have it.”

Tears pooled in my eyes.

“Are you surprised?” mimicked Grandma in an attempt to lighten the mood.

“I thought sidewalk chalking was a big surprise,” I said, hugging her neck. “Thank you so much. You’re amazing.”

On that, her seventy-fifth birthday, Grandma gave away her wedding ring set, her mother’s strand of pearls, and several heirloom rings and bracelets. As each box was opened, she quipped, “Are you surprised?”

And indeed, we all were. Not only was the party a surprise for us, but a reminder of her generosity and love. Every time I wear that diamond ring, I think of Grandma Caryle and the legacy of fun I inherited from her.


~Stephanie “Stacy” Thompson
Chicken Soup for the Grandma’s Soul

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