Taking Time to Celebrate – and some other fun shit!
At this very moment I’m on a plane flying home after a few days with my family. Gazing out the window below me sits some of the most majestic rolling hills in this beautiful country. You’ll recall that I grew up in rural South Dakota – check out 10 crazy things – so it may not come as a surprise that the weekend was filled with a lot of people who were also born and raised in rural South Dakota. Most importantly is my Grandpa Mel. It was his 80th Birthday celebration, however, it more aptly it should have been coined his “80th Birthday EVENT”. Who else would have a two page program/agenda for said celebration that included hand-crafted plaques for winners of the “Fat Man Foot Race”, Best Beard, Potato Race and more than a handful of other contests – if you’re wondering, the answer is: my Grandpa Mel!
Over 500 people were expected but due to rather poor weather that included wind and rain we only saw about 300 in the city park at Wasta, South Dakota (population 80 according to Wikipedia and honestly I think that might be a generous count).
Back to the attendance, yes, you read that correctly, roughly 300 people came to a “town” of 80 to celebrate my Grandpa. And since Wasta isn’t necessarily on the way to anywhere most traveled several hundred miles for this birthday party which told me that my Grandpa means a great deal to a whole lotta people, including myself.
Here’s basically how the day’s activities went:
8am – Pancake feed sponsored by the Wasta Volunteer Fire Department which would explain why I didn’t feel like I recognized anyone – I didn’t. But they sure did know how to make a good pancake!
10am – all SIX of the chuck wagons were set-up and had fires burning to make “Cowboy Coffee” (aka: coffee that is strong as hell served straight off the fire)
And lunch prepared and served from the chuck wagons including several hundred pounds of beef, beans and potatoes – remember, we were expecting 500 people!
This is where I feel compelled to interject the fact that it was cold as shit! I’d left Dallas, Texas on Thursday morning in 95+ degree heat and by Friday morning in Wasta, South Dakota it was 50 degrees with rain and wind. #FrozeMyAssOff Luckily I had my sweet nephew Hank to keep me warm. He is just a little over 7 months old so he needed to be held the majority of the day – Aunt Erika to the rescue. Hank is also a mini heater AND more than likely needed a blanket to ensure he didn’t get cold – which meant that Erika had a “job” to hold Hank…and try to stay warm! Not to mention he’s also one of the happiest babies I’ve ever been around – his smile and laugh could turn anyone’s rotten day into a much better one.
Somewhere between the hours of 11a and 2p there were races, contests and other shenanigans that could earn some lucky winner’s plaques for their efforts. Who doesn’t have contests with awards for the 80th birthday? Amiright!
We also had music performed by ridiculously talented people like my cousin Riley and other natives but the real excitement came when it was time to partake in the goods our chuck wagons had been working hard to prepare for us. Highlight of said meal: the very best carrot cake of my entire life and I feel pretty qualified to say it is THE BEST because I’ve had my fair share of carrot cake! The food judges agreed with me and the dynamic duo who made it were awarded Best Dessert in a strong competition.
As the day drew on I saw more and more people who I hadn’t seen in ages, mostly because I haven’t attended an Anderson family reunion in a decade or more. It was abundantly clear that I have not been around for such an occasion in far too long when more than a handful of people came up to me and asked if I was “Audey’s Daughter” and/or “how I know Melvin”. It was equal parts disappointing and also intriguing because I’ve clearly created my own little world where I THINK a lot of people know me but when it comes right down to it, the people who are family and probably saw me running around in diapers didn’t know who I was or what I was doing anymore.
In my defense, I’ve been busy. Busy doing some important shit. But was I REALLY doing the important things? I mean, when the subject of Grandpa’s birthday event came up along with the date I initially said I didn’t think I would be able to make it – because I’m busy. In hindsight, is anyone REALLY that busy to celebrate their Grandpa’s 80th birthday? He only does this once, right!
During the latter part of the event people would get up and offer Grandpa memories of their interactions, best funny story and even some “roasting”. Grandpa very unexpectedly handed me the microphone so with absolutely no forethought what-so-ever I was addressing a few hundred people who were all eyes and ears on the stage (no pressure). In these moments I usually draw on something funny but truth be told, Grandpa is one of the best story tellers and there is ALWAYS a punch line that will leave everyone doubled over laughing, so that’s a tough act to follow. Better come up with a plan B and in a hurry!
I introduced myself and simply told the crowd what was on my heart; that it was an honor and a blessing to be part of such an important day to my Grandfather. About half-way through this by-the-seat-of-my-pants speech I looked down to see that Grandpa Mel had tears in his eyes…at which point I had to compose myself to keep the show moving forward but holy shit that as emotional. Here’s one of the strongest men I know with tears in his eyes and I’m just trying to think of the next thing to say without falling apart.
After my short tribute to Grandpa, the lessons I’ve learned along the way thanks to him, and extending my gratitude for everyone’s attendance, I gave him a big hug and tried to make a graceful exit but it was in that moment that I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I nearly missed (by choice) one of the most important days to a man who’s made EVERY effort to be there for me and my brother when it mattered most. How could I have possibly missed this?
I’m sure it probably crossed Grandpa’s mind a time or two that this party might be unnecessary but in the end it was something worth celebrating, and we did. But would we if he hadn’t called on us to gather at a certain time and certain place? Would there be contests with plaques and chuck wagons drug across the state to cook a meal for friends and family? Would there be the best carrot cake of my life?! Perhaps not. But luckily for me, we did.
It made me think; Do I take time to celebrate?
We’re all “busy” but do we remember our priorities when we are faced with the option to stay busy rather than be present? I know for me it can be tough. I like being busy, but is it actually more important than a few days out of the office to see your Grandpa well up with tears when you share a few brief words about what he means to you? I don’t think so.
This is bigger than just a birthday party. How often do we SKIP the celebration in an effort to keep pushing forward? When’s the last time you sat down and thought about your most recent accomplishment, and then celebrated that shit?!
If you’re anything like me, you don’t. Why? Well my head tells me that there’s more to do, but really is there not time to honor yourself and your accomplishments and STILL get your work done? This is possible but it takes some serious intentional work to get into the mindset that each and every small win is STILL a win and deserves to be celebrated.
Do you celebrate regularly or do you gloss over things and keep pressing on to get the next accomplishment? In the comments I want to know what your most recent big win or accomplishment was (even if that was just turning another year old) AND if you skipped the celebration or you did yourself a favor and enjoyed that moment, even if it was just for a minute.
The big lesson here for me was that I’m actually NOT “busy” – I’m denying myself the opportunity to experience the good stuff. And frankly, there simply isn’t anything more important than honoring those who have seen you through the good-bad-and-ugly AND also reflecting on all of the times when it’s ok to celebrate some shit.
Happy Birthday Grandpa Mel – I love you!