God has richly blessed our family by including in it a wonderful man whom Ben met years ago while working as a police officer in Florida.
More than 30 years ago, John had moved his mom from Chicago to Florida. He hoped to extend her life, as he had watched the hard winters of the Windy City take their toll on her after his father's death. John left a solid job working in the signature confirmation department of a bank and took odd jobs in FL to support his mom. After his mom passed away, he faced a number of challenges, including the collapse of his roof after a bad storm. Ben organized a group of fellow officers to repair John's house and roof. From that time on, Ben and John have been friends.
When the series of hurricanes swept across the west coast of FL about 5 years ago, Ben took some equipment down to another friend whose home had been badly damaged. Ben swung by to see John. The storms had left him shaken. Ben wondered if perhaps we should ask John to come live near us. When he proposed the idea, John immediately agreed.
Ever since, we have had the joy of John participating in our family celebrations. And of course, we seek to make his birthday special.
This year, John hit 65 - "the Big One" as he called it. We couldn't let the opportunity pass. Could we pull off a surprise party? We knew John would be expecting dinner with our family on the actual day of his birthday - we always do that. So instead, we asked if he could come for dinner on the Sunday before.
We invited a group of friends from his church for a cookout. We decorated with streamers and banners and balloons. And just before John arrived, I handed out kazoos. We all gathered by the front door.
John was truly surprised. He kept saying, "I've never had a party like this before. I can't believe it!"
We had a huge watermelon... one of John's favorite things... along with steaks, sausages and chicken on the grill, roasted sweet potatoes, a huge salad and chips & dips. The children enjoyed the food as much as the adults!
Ben's mom made John's cake. She asked about his favorite flavors and he mentioned carmel. She has a carmel icing recipe to die for!
Everyone brought presents.
And the big finale... My parents, who couldn't be at the party, sent a certificate, promising John (a huge train fanatic), a trip, by train, to Chicago.
It took a minute... and then it sank in. "I'm going to Chicago!"