The Birthday Surprise

I had pret­ty much giv­en up on find­ing an appro­pri­ate gift for my dad’s 82nd birth­day; the last thing he need­ed was more stuff. So I head­ed off to the fam­i­ly lake cab­in for the 4th of July hol­i­day (also his birth­day week­end) with the thought that I’d fig­ure out a clever cel­e­bra­to­ry idea at the last minute. Maybe some kind of game that every­one would enjoy?

The prob­lem with that was the “every­one” involved. My brother’s four kids each brought a friend along, so 13 to 20-year-olds made up the clear major­i­ty. All of them trav­el at a speed that far out­dis­tances their grand­pa, and their lives revolve around com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al touch­stones. Not to men­tion that two of them seemed to have self-iden­ti­fied as space aliens sent to cat­a­log the pecu­liar behav­ior of earth­lings, sit­ting apart and observ­ing the rest of us with a dis­sect­ing air. What kind of game could I pos­si­bly come up with that would work for this mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional (not to men­tion mul­ti-plan­e­tary) crew?

Out of des­per­a­tion, I decid­ed to just go for it, and I scratched out a series of 10 ques­tions about Grand­pa. What major world event rad­i­cal­ly changed his life when he was a kid? What dan­ger­ous ani­mal did he cap­ture when he was a teenag­er? How many col­leges kicked him out? How did he meet his wife (the Grand­ma we were all still mourn­ing)? In oth­er words, ques­tions that trans­lat­ed Grandpa’s life into the con­cerns of a 13 to 20-year-old. Then I told the kids that they were going to work as pairs (grand­child plus friend) to answer the ques­tions, and who­ev­er got the most cor­rect would win a small prize. Part­way through the game, each team would have a chance to pri­vate­ly ask Grand­pa to share sto­ries to pro­vide two of the answers they didn’t know.

ph_lb_dad_erinThey’re good kids. I fig­ured they would hide their eye-rolls and play along for courtesy’s sake. Mean­while, Grand­pa would be the cen­ter of atten­tion for a few min­utes, get­ting to share a few of the details from his first 81 years, and it would make him feel like we’d at least tak­en notice of his birthday.

In all my wor­ry about find­ing an appro­pri­ate way to cel­e­brate my dad’s life, I had inex­plic­a­bly for­got­ten the pow­er of his sto­ries. I’d momen­tar­i­ly over­looked sto­ries’ facil­i­ty for bridge-build­ing — their capac­i­ty to cre­ate a con­nec­tion between some­one whose child­hood was altered by the bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor, and the grand­son whose child­hood was shaped by 911. My lit­tle quiz turned into a fierce bat­tle for sto­ry suprema­cy; even the space aliens couldn’t get enough. Every­one was a winner.

And this children’s book writer went home from the week­end with a reminder about the impor­tance of the work I do on an every­day basis. Just wait, world: have I got a sto­ry for you!

8 Responses to The Birthday Surprise

  1. David LaRochelle August 18, 2016 at 3:56 pm #

    This sto­ry brought tears to my eyes, Lisa. What a won­der­ful idea…and you would­n’t even have to wait till an 81st birth­day to do this! Thank you!

  2. Lisa Bullard August 18, 2016 at 5:07 pm #

    Thank you so much in return, David – that means an awful lot to me, com­ing from some­one who I know is both a pow­er­ful sto­ry­teller AND an inven­tive game creator!

  3. Joanne Toft August 19, 2016 at 10:38 am #

    What a great idea! We just cel­e­brate an 80th birth­day with a group of 7 lit­tle ones in tow. This would have been per­fect. The two small­est of our group would love just being in a sto­ry cir­cle and the old­er ones would have loved hear­ing the tales of Grand­pa. Maybe this is our Thanks­giv­ing game! Thanks for much for sharing!

    • Lisa Bullard August 19, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

      I’m so glad that it inspired you, Joanne – I hope that your fam­i­ly enjoys it as much as mine did!

  4. Jane Heitman Healy August 20, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

    Absolute­ly won­der­ful! Thank­ful that all play­ers were will­ing to play and share and learn and grow togeth­er, and thank­ful that you shared this great idea with us!

    • Lisa Bullard August 21, 2016 at 11:05 am #

      Thank you, Jane, for this love­ly feedback!

  5. Lynette Christensen August 22, 2016 at 9:49 pm #

    Lisa, Great obser­va­tions about the group assem­bled and I have to know…what dan­ger­ous ani­mal did he cap­ture and how did he meet your mother?

    • Lisa Bullard August 31, 2016 at 12:46 pm #

      Good ques­tions, Lynette! When he was still a teenag­er in Texas (per­haps because he WAS still a teenag­er and there­fore his frontal lobe was not yet ful­ly con­nect­ed), my dad was trained in how to cap­ture rat­tlesnakes by a man who sold their ven­om for med­ical study. It’s a good thing that I was a low-risk kid, since it did­n’t exact­ly put him in the posi­tion of lec­tur­ing us about “safe­ty first” issues once he was a father him­self to teenagers! My mom’s col­lege room­mate was from the same town in Texas (my mom was from Min­neso­ta), and short­ly after grad­u­at­ing my mom moved there for a change. The col­lege room­mate knew my dad and set the two of them up on a blind date for a foot­ball game. The rest, as they say, is “his story.”

Leave a Reply to David LaRochelle Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: