June 24, 1981, was to be my father’s 60th birthday and my mother decided to have a surprise party for him at Cherokee Steakhouse in Gallatin, Tennessee, a few miles from their home.
Steve and Josh had things going on that they couldn’t miss, so I drove to Tennessee with baby Kelsey to be part of the festivities.
I’d had a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” even worse than Alexander’s famous day. I’d ordered a cake from a person who came highly recommended. I gave her sketches of what I wanted, showing her that I wanted to honor Daddy’s various jobs—a tractor for the farming, a Bible for his faith, music notes for his singing and playing talent, and beakers or a chemistry book for his teaching. When I picked it up the night before, I was shocked and heartbroken. That cake was the biggest mess I’d ever seen!
Her response to my dismay: “Well, I didn’t know how to make a tractor, so those are green peas there. And I couldn’t figure out how to draw a Bible…” I didn’t wait for the rest. The cake was paid for and I took it, but no one but Steve would ever see it. I was sure of that!
That night I baked a sheet cake and the next morning I iced it, putting on it what I’d wanted in the first place. I’m no expert at decorating, but it sure looked better than what she-who-will-remain-unnamed did. I left that wreck of a kitchen for poor Steve to clean up—frosting in various colors, pans and bowls all over the place. Nothing worse to clean up than frosting inside piping bags, but I left it all, and by the time I returned home he’d cleaned it all without complaint.
I hurriedly packed, grabbed our camera (remember those?), and headed south. I met Mother at home and was careful not to leave any hint that I’d been there so I could surprise him with other friends and family at the restaurant.
The evening was lovely. He was truly surprised at how many people had come to honor him.
And what about my pictures? There were none. The camera was empty! I had no idea that it would show a count on a camera without film in it, but that one did. When I got home to take out the roll of film to have it developed—no film! I was do disappointed!
Later someone sent me a few pictures they’d taken, but it was not the same. I comforted myself with knowing that all of us, especially Daddy, had lovely memories of that evening, even without pictures.
Then last week a strange thing happened. Three very poorly executed pictures from that party fell out of a shelf on to a counter in our office. I have no idea where they came from, but here they are.
Those three pictures prompted the memories I just recounted. My brother Larry wasn’t there, but he sent me this picture of his son Pat, Daddy, and my brother John. Interesting to see what they looked like in 1981.
My father died of a heart attack on March 18, 1984, almost three years later. I’d just had my 39th birthday and now he’s been dead 39 years. It’s hard to believe I’ve lived without my father as long as I did with him. He is still one of the greatest influences on my Christian life, and I’m writing this as a memorial to him.