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Surprise! Happy 50th Birthday

by Mary Jo Shannon

A fiftieth birthday is a true landmark – one-half century – and worthy of special celebration. Loving spouses often plan outlandish parties, with black decorations and newspaper announcements noting this arrival at “the top of the hill” – implying a decline through the region of middle and old age.

As my daughter Kathy approached her fiftieth birthday, she made it perfectly clear to Skip that she did not want a party.    Knowing her resolute determination and the certain fireworks that would occur should her wishes be ignored, he agreed. There would be no party. But how could he make this occasion special for her? If you knew Skip, you would realize that he truly enjoys celebrating special occasions; especially when the element of surprise is included.

As he pondered his wife’s comments for something that would indicate her secret longings, he remembered hearing her remark that she wished she could get together with her best friend from Patrick Henry High School — Anne Ferguson, better known as  “Annie Ferg”– whom she had not seen in 25 years. But Anne was a housewife in Hershey, PA and Kathy a professor at NC State. Although they stayed in touch with cards at Christmas, their lives had gone in separate directions and with so many demands on Kathy’s time, such a visit was not likely to occur.

Skip decided to contact Anne and arrange a surprise visit with Kathy.  He made reservations to take her and her husband to dinner, and suggested Anne meet them at lunchtime at the restaurant to surprise Kathy. Anne was delighted to be part of the plan. Skip told Kathy they were going to a surprise location for her birthday. He planned to stop for lunch at the restaurant where the surprise meeting would take place.

But Kathy says Skip cannot keep a secret, and when she kept asking why they were stopping for lunch so early, he told her what he had planned.  “But act surprised,” he said. “Anne was especially thrilled to be surprising you.”

When they entered the restaurant, the waitress, who was folding napkins, smiled and greeted them warmly as she showed them to a table. When she asked to take their order, Skip told her they were waiting for a friend, but she could bring them iced tea.

“Where are you from?” the waitress asked, and Kathy replied, “We’re from Virginia.”

“Oh, I used to live in Virginia when I was growing up.”

“Really?” Kathy enjoys meeting strangers and probed for more information. “Where in Virginia?”


Now Kathy was really excited. “You did? So did I! What is your name? “

“My name is Anne, but my friends call me Annie Ferg.”

Kathy screamed so loudly Skip was afraid they would be kicked out of the restaurant Annie Ferg explained how she had asked the manager to join her in this bit of deception to surprise her friend. She borrowed a waitress uniform and apron and folded napkins until she saw them arrive. She had added a few pounds due to 25 years and three children; her dark brown hair was now much lighter; and she wore glasses. Her disguise was perfect! Even Skip had not recognized her. When she spoke her name, Kathy jumped up and threw her arms around her high school friend, laughing and almost crying with joy. The three of them spent over two hours eating lunch and talking, with the blessing of the restaurant manager who was pleased to be part of the reunion.

When Kathy related the story to me, she added , “And I didn’t have to act surprised!”


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