Last August my family celebrated my Daddy's 88th birthday. Sounds simple enough but don't think that for a moment.
In our combined family there are 7 siblings. My brother Steve didn't come into the family until the late '80's. He had been separated from Daddy since childhood through no fault on either part. My parents married in 1967 bringing together 3 girls and 3 boys but we would all agree that the Brady Bunch was a bunch of . . . well, you get the picture. It was tough. Back then combined families were uncharted territory for the most part and there were a lot of obstacles.
My parents live outside Spokane, Washington. Last year on 01-11-11 my Daddy became very, very ill for an extremely long time. He was in the hospital for over a month. We almost lost him, far too close. But my mother wouldn't allow that to happen. She was by his side every moment of every day in and out of the hospital. She was the mama bear and she was not bucking any interference in making sure that he did not leave us. My brother Darrell and his wife, Julie, stepped up to the plate countless times but they have a business and 4 children. My sister, Pam, flew in from Mississippi and spent a month helping as much as she could. During her stay she, Darrell and Julie came up with a plan. Darrell contacted all of us and asked if we could come to Spokane to celebrate Daddy's 88th birthday. We would all camp out and converge at Mom and Daddy's during the day. It was to be a complete surprise to my father. It took months and lots and lots of planning and working very hard but, unbelievable to ALL of us, we made it.
By Thursday afternoon, 5 siblings, 5 spouses, my son Jeremy and his wife Nicole, 4 other grandchildren and a spouse and 3 great-grands were at the campground. We had our own tent city and sat around the campfire every night talking while the great-grands ran around and played. On Friday morning we loaded up and traveled the 40 minutes or so to Mom and Daddy's house. We parked next door in a very large field with very dry grass and snuck up on the house. It was like trekking through the jungle and the desert and we thought we would never traverse the less than 1/4 mile. It seemed endless. Mom was standing outside looking 20 years younger than any of us! She had managed to get the house to her standards as well as the outside without ever letting on to Daddy who was standing inside the door looking stunned. I asked him later what he was thinking and he said, "I just kept wondering how many more couples were coming through the door." The joy felt by all of us is unexplainable and impossible to put into words. We had actually pulled off something that NONE of us had ever thought would happen.
Dennis and Judy and Steve arrived Friday night and on Saturday we were back at the homestead to celebrate. My uncle Johnny, Daddy's brother, and 6 cousins all arrived. There were over 30 people there all to celebrate Jack Fifield and the Fifield family. Jeremy spoke to Grammy at one point and said, "Look around you. This is all you, Grampy and Uncle Johnny." And it was glorious! Mom had made a huge chocolate cake decorated beautifully and there was food for days. People came and went throughout the house and outside while the great-grand twins stripped to their underwear and danced through the sprinkler with their great-aunt Cindy, as much a child as they are.
On Sunday we were all at the campground including Mom and Daddy. Unfortunately Dennis and Judy had to leave because of work responsibilities but we spent the day together, had a Chinese auction, a seafood boil, wings on the grill and another huge fire. Mom and Daddy were very reluctant to leave but it was late and we were all leaving the next morning in shifts. Goodbyes were hard.
The next morning, Monday, Julie spent hours shuttling all of us to the airport as we departed. Luckily one of my sisters and her husband and my brother, Steve, were on the same flight as Butch and me so we didn't have to say goodbye yet and Jeremy, who was headed on a business trip, met up with us in Minneapolis where we headed out for Raleigh.
We all made huge efforts to be there and did our best to kick in when we got there but kudos go to Darrell and Julie and their children for their hard work, nonstop organization and absolute devotion to this project. I must say that the weeks after coming home were difficult for all of us. I've heard this from several of my siblings. It was like 12 Christmas's at once and then the next day. No one thought it would happen and everyone was a little bit nervous as to how it would go. I repeat, it was glorious, life-changing and unprecedented. And my father and mother have come eons since then from the scary times of last year.
The morning of Daddy's 88th birthday a family portrait was taken. I am amazed by the picture and when it arrived at Christmas, stared at it for hours. I still do. It was a magic miracle moment all of its own. We are again a family and that will never change. While Hurricane Irene was raging through the East Coast, those of us from Mississippi, North Carolina, Vermont, California, Washington State and Arizona were safe and together. Despite the damage to property for several of us I wouldn't change a thing.