Have you ever been invited to the birthday party of a complete stranger?
Stranger things have happened to me in my life, but this one ranks right up there. A few weeks ago I got a phone call from Graham Painter – himself a stranger to me – who asked me if I would come to his mother’s 80th birthday party. He explained that she reads my column faithfully, and not only that, she discusses them with family and friends.
For the record, I think that makes her my first groupie.
Graham explained to me that his mother, Margaret Loomis, was a professor at San Jacinto Community College where she taught English for 50 years.
“As a teacher specializing in English and American literature, she has been feasting on your columns for the last two or three years and speaks about the things you write about frequently,” he said in an email. “My wife and I thought it would be a lovely surprise if you could be there to lunch with us! She, herself, is quite the writer – and we want to encourage her to keep going.”
The last time an English teacher paid any attention to my writing, she was bleeding red ink all over my schoolwork. English was not my strong suit in school. In fact, I’m reminded of a movie quote that best describes my mastery of the English language:
“Well, he don’t know talking good like me and you, so his vocabulistics is limited …” – Rocket Raccoon, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
The flattery of being invited to a faithful reader’s birthday party, coupled with my curiosity, led me to accept the invitation.
On Sunday, Aug. 26, I went to The Legacy at Long Meadow in Richmond where I met Graham and his lovely wife. A few other guests were arriving about the same time. I awkwardly shook hands and met people from different parts of Margaret’s life. Finally, the time came when she left her room and came to join the party. Graham brought me over to her and asked if she knew who I was. Apparently I don’t look much like my picture that accompanies my column because she gave a blank stare and shook her head.
When Graham told her my name, her face lit up. She was very thrilled and happy to have me there. We spoke for a little bit, but there were so many other dear friends there that her attention was divided. That was fine with me. This, after all, was her day, not mine. I didn’t want to be a distraction from her time with so many friends and family members.
Some of the guests got lost on their way to the assisted living center, so Graham left to find them. In the meantime, Margaret had everyone introduce themselves and talk about how they know her. Most of the guests were former colleagues from San Jacinto. I know they all had juicy stories to tell – and it’s probably to Margaret’s benefit that discretion prevailed.
Regrettably, I kept looking at the time on my watch. I only planned on staying 30-60 minutes as I had another commitment to get to. I have never been to the birthday party of an 80-year-old before and didn’t know what to expect. After an hour slipped by and the introductions were complete, I had to sheepishly excuse myself.
I hated to leave early, as I was very curious to visit with her and find out more what it was about my writing that she enjoyed. I was also fascinated to learn about her. College professors can lead some very interesting lives. Not all of them are bookworms in tweed jackets, and I gather that Margaret was far from fitting that stereotype. Perhaps another time I’ll be able to pay her visit when we can talk without all the distraction of a party.
On a side note, Aug. 26 is my brother’s birthday. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Don Southern. He’s the middle child of the three of us Southern boys. Happy birthday, bro!
Speaking of birthdays, last Sunday would have been my mother’s 79th birthday. She passed away four years ago. Also last week, my father and Barbara, his wife of nearly three years, laid to rest Barbara’s father, Bob Hanlin. I only met him a couple times, but found him to be a remarkable man and a true American hero. He served aboard the USS Enterprise during World War II and was wounded in battle. He carried shrapnel in his body from a kamikaze attack the rest of his long life. After the war he became a pastor and a hero of the faith. He also made news back home in Colorado last September when, at the age of 94, he married again.
Dad and Barbara, I know you are reading this, so I just want to say what an honor and privilege it was to call Bob my (step) grandfather. Sandy, the boys, and I wish we could have been there for the funeral.
We couldn’t be there because we are in the process of buying a house and all of our time and finances are tied up with that. It’s a local move, so we’ll still be in Rosenberg and our boys will still be at Terry High School. This is Luke’s senior year and Colton’s sophomore year. I can feel my hair turning a little grayer just thinking about that.
The way things are going, before you know it I’ll be like Margaret, celebrating my 80th birthday and having my kids invite friends and strangers to my party. Hey, you never know – stranger things have happened.