This weekend my family all came into town to celebrate my grandfather’s 80th birthday.  Thing is, he had no idea that he was getting a party on quite that scale when he agreed to come.  I’m assuming he only thought it’d be a small gathering of family, completely unaware that his extended family and friends would be flying in from all over the country to be there for him on this big milestone.  But I probably enjoyed it almost as much as he did.  For me it wasn’t just a celebration of his birthday, it was a family reunion where I got to see cousins I haven’t seen in years.  It was awkward at first, but it all mellowed out and turned into a great weekend.

We all met up at the church on Saturday afternoon.  I thought I was running late, frantically (but safely) driving across town to make it in time, wanting to be sure to be there for the big surprise when Grandpa got there.  I pulled into the parking lot to see three other cars.  I was actually early?  Hmm.  I went inside and helped to get everything setup, and happily greeted the family and friends that arrived over the next hour or so.  The conversations went something like this:

Random lady: “Hi, how are you today?  And who are you?”

Me: “Hi, I’m the real James Dean, didn’t you know?  I have a blog.  *insert imaginary business card here*  I’m doing swell.  And you?”

Random lady: “Ah, James Dean.  I remember you well.  Last time I saw you was when you were three years old playing with [random toy] at [random place].  Remember me?”

Me: “Of course I do.  You were the only person I ever met when I was three.  You made such a lasting impression.  You and lincoln logs.  That’s what I remember from my childhood.  I’m so glad you could make it.”

That happened about eight times.  When my grandfather actually arrived and saw the dozens of people there waiting for him, for the first time in my life I saw him cry.  I saw a sensitive side of the Navy man I’ve known my whole life, and it only made me respect him more.  He walked around saying hi to everyone, occasionally seeing someone he hadn’t yet noticed and getting choked up all over again.  All the cousins just watched in awe, seeing him as we hadn’t before.

My Aunt Sue’s partner, Regina, made a wonderful 12 minute picture slideshow DVD that we played before lunch, and once more my grandfather broke down and cried, and my grandmother did as well.  It was pictures spanning back to his youth, and included pictures of all his kids and grandkids and friends.  It was moving even to me, and I didn’t know half the people I saw on there.  When it was over, a few people stood up and shared some memories of my grandfather, each moving in their own way.  When that was done, a magnificent cake was brought out, and we all started migrating towards the food and spent the rest of the afternoon mingling.

Everyone took pictures together to commemorate the event.  I’ve only seen a few so far, but the one of my grandparents and the one of my family came out quite nicely.  I can’t wait to see the rest of them.

We had dinner together as a family later that night, then headed back to the hotel where everyone was staying while in town.  We camped out in the breakfast room, claimed it as our own, then stayed there for hours playing poker and Catchphrase just having fun.  I had intended to play a little poker, but I got so caught up in Catchprase that I lost track of time and never ended up getting into a poker game.  I loved it so much, I already went and bought it myself to take to Thanksgiving this year to play with the other side of my family tree.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend.  Happy 80th Birthday Grandpa.