When I was a child, I remember looking at my parents and thinking how very old they seemed to be. I lived with a false belief that I would never become as old as them. That growing up to be 30, not to mention 40, years old seemed like an entire lifetime away, something that would never happen, that I would somehow perceptually stay young. But, as is the obvious truth, we do in fact grow a day older every day.
April 23rd, 2020 was Mel’s 40th birthday. Several months ago, when I asked her how she wanted to celebrate her entrance into the 5th decade of her life, she told be she wanted to celebrate by visiting her close friend, Ruth. Ruth and Mel have been close friends since middle school and Ruth was even a Maid of Honor at our wedding. Several years ago, Ruth and her family moved to Tennessee. In December 2019, Ruth turned 40 and Mel was unable to travel to visit her friend during that time. So Mel had it in her heart that she would instead visit in April 2020 and they would celebrate their birthdays together.
As life has unfolded during the past few months, we found wisdom in suspending our road trip to Tennessee and sheltering in place for a season. This also meant the postponing of the 40-year-old friends celebrating their over-the-hill experience with each other. When I asked Mel how she felt about this, she told me she was sad about not seeing Ruth for her birthday and that she even had a cry over it as she let the desire go and mourned the lost of being with Ruth for the big 4-O.
When mid-April was upon us and it was quite obvious we would not be traveling any further east, I asked Mel, “So, what do you want to do for your 40th birthday now?” As we discussed this question, she mentioned wanting to go out to eat at a Mediterranean restaurant. Knowing that restaurants are still closed, she consented to instead allow me to cook a Mediterranean meal for her birthday. After mentioning this to our friend, Kash, he asked if he could host a “small” party at his place. I told him Mel would be thrilled.
As the day approached, I became intently focused on shopping, preparing, and cooking. I was in charge of making the baklava, hummus, tzatziki sauce and drinks. I learned first hand the intricacies of making Baklava. 40 sheets of paper thin dough, each individually hand brushed with butter and layered five times with crushed nuts (sunflower seeds by request of the birthday girl). Once out of the oven, it was then drenched in sugar syrup, honey and lemon juice, then drizzled with dark chocolate. It was a labor of love that turned out perfectly.
Then April 23rd, 2020 came. In the morning, our children confined Mel to our bedroom as they finalized her first birthday wishes of the day. Leading her into our living room, the kids wished her a very happy birthday and shared with her gifts they had made.
Among the gifts were cards, a cat made from recycled materials (Asher’s masterpiece), a phone case decoration (Lydia) and a special birthday wish from our Lego friends from Antarctica (also a display created by Asher).
Not much after that, a surprise breakfast was delivered to our door of fresh baked cinnamon rolls from the Homestead bakery.
Most of the afternoon, Mel spent talking on the phone with family and friends calling to wish her a happy birthday and get caught up on life. I continued to run around and finalize the last details for the evening party. Our friends were also hard at work. Mid-way through the day, I received a text with a sneak peek of pictures of their contributions to the party.
When dinner time was upon us, I drove our family to our friends’ house and Mel, once again, was asked to “hang out” in the front yard as we finished completing the Mediterranean feast in the backyard.
The menu consisted of a Greek salad, fresh baked pita bread (made that day from the Homestead bakery), hummus, tzatziki sauce, labneh, an olive tray, stuffed peppers and mushrooms, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, and grilled chicken. Mel was given a drink (Fresh mint, ice, carbonated raspberry flavored water, and simple syrup (sugar)), and lead to the outdoor party buffet.
It was a party fit for a queen. In fact, I believe it was the greatest party in Waco that day (literally).
And what party would be complete without desert; a layered cookies and cream cake and the baklava.
As the party came to an end, Mel had forgotten about any sadness she might have once had about not being in Tennessee and thanked everyone present for participating in the celebration of her life. She exclaimed in complete truthful sincerity, “This was the best birthday ever!”