Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004
If having plenty of free time had to come at any other time, it couldn’t have been any better than it was on last week, the second week of my retirement as far as celebrating a birthday was concerned.
My son, Mark Wall, was born on July 12, 1971, and on Monday, he celebrated his 33rd birthday. I had been wanting to do something special for him since he has been my support since his daddy, my husband and my mother, his grandmother had both died within two months of each other in 1998, and now my daddy, his granddaddy, is in a nursing home. He had always insisted that I wait until he got home from work because I don’t feel comfortable driving on the highway at night
One morning on my way to work, I was jamming with Tom Joyner on the radio and a commercial came on advertising about celebrating your birthday in a famous restaurant so you won’t have to worry about serving the food and the cleanup after the celebration was over. I then began to think about giving Mark a party and where I was going to have it. I also thought about how Mark went all out to please me when I threw myself several parties in the past. One very special party then came to my mind – my 56th birthday celebration in January 2000.
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My birthday is January 27 and I scheduled that big bash to be held at the Disabled American Veterans building on S. Saratoga St. on the Saturday before the big day. Two days before the big event, we had the worst snow storm ever. I asked Mark what should I do and he told me to go on and have it since I had already sent out all the invitations, had obtained the caterer, and had many decorations and party items.
On the day of the party we went to the location to decorate and my heart sank when I saw how much ice was around the building. I looked for Mark but he had disappeared. When I looked outside for him, he was carrying a gigantic shovel cracking and shoveling ice. He left a huge clear path to the front door of the building. He then came inside and continued working by moving table chairs and helping others hang decorations. That’s it, I thought, I will also have his party at the DAV Building.
All of a sudden, I became a little skeptical when I thought about what he would think if I told him I wanted to give him a party because he values money. So I decided that I was going to surprise him.
During the third week in June, I talked to a friend, Ann Harrell, about giving the party and she informed me that she loved to cater banquets and parties. She is a cafeteria worker at Kings Fork Elementary School, and I knew she was capable of helping me select the right menu and preparing the right amount of food for the people on my list. In the end, we decided that she would go with me to purchase the food and we would keep it all at her house. But just how in the world was I going to find the time to go shopping?
I got the invitations out and decided that I should give the party on July 10 since his birthday fell on Monday. Now the time was getting near and all I had done was book the location. My retirement came and now all I had to do was use that time to my advantage and plan the perfect party.
I arose at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, July 1 so that I could pick up my sister, Shirley Lee, so that we could meet Harrell at Wally World at 6 a.m. When I told Mark what I was going to do he said, &uot;OK.&uot; On Thursday, July 2nd I arose early again to pick Harrell up at 9 a.m. so that we could purchase more items for decorations. That is when Mark began to get a little suspicious. Shirley said that he called and asked her what she got at Wal-Mart and she couldn’t think what to tell him. Since things were getting a little complicated, I told them to tell him that they were planning a retirement party for me. However, things got more complicated when he told me that he would be working at home that first week in July instead of at his office in Hampton. I began to wonder did he think I was going off the deep end because I kept going out and coming back with nothing. I thought that maybe he wanted to stay home so that he could keep an eye on me because he had asked Gail Hinton what was wrong with me since I had been acting a little strange.
The party was scheduled to be held from 7 p.m.-midnight on the 10th and when Mark walked through the door, the first person he saw was his college roommate at The College of William and Mary, which he attended from 1991-1993, Jeff Whitlock, and his parents Stuart and Carolyn. They had traveled here from Richmond. Mark had expressed several times how he wanted to see him because he had not been in contact with him for two years. I took advantage of the extra time to track them down plus I also got in contact with his cousin, Galen Sneed, from Washington, D.C.
We had a delicious dinner, program and disco dancing activity and I am grateful for program participants Michelle Simmons, Cliff Edwards, Gail Hinton Copeland, Luefras Robinson, John Cayetano, Jason Evans, Charlene Banks; Ann Harrell, caterer; Shirley Lee, servers; Benford Hunter and David Cooley on the video; and DJ Barry &uot;D&uot; who provided the music during the disco part of the celebration. I am also grateful for the clean-up assistance of Stacey Buko, John, McIsaac, Jason Evans, Victor Bowe, and Nick Gay, Thank you Leon Williams, DAV member, for your assistance in helping our occasion to run smoothly.
When my son had first entered that room as he walked through the doors of his surprise party, his eyes were as big as saucers when he spotted all of the people who meant the most to him. I have never seen him that excited and happy in his entire life.
I was relaxed and relieved that Mark now knew that when I left the house early on those mornings only to return with nothing, I truly wasn’t really &uot;Off The Wall&uot;
Evelyn Wall is a former News-Herald reporter. Her column appears on Wednesdays.