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Surprise birthday parties never get old

My sister in Palo Alto did it again. She arranged a surprise birthday party almost a month after my birthday. She‘s very good at it – always manages to pick a day when I don’t suspect there’ll be anything special happening. It happened last Sunday, when I scheduled a regular visit with my pasalubongs (gifts/treats upon arrival from a trip) from the Philippines. I looked forward to a chat over merienda (snacks) or perhaps soup, and regale her and my brother-in-law with stories about my vacation and updates on family and relatives there.

It was late in the afternoon when darkness was starting to creep in. I knocked. She promptly opened the door. We hugged and lavishly exchanged new year greetings. The house was dark. She said she needed to open the lights. I walked to the receiving room. Total quiet. I looked to my left and considered imagining statues on the floor. I blinked. My jet lag and adjusting body clock must be playing tricks, I surmised. I turned to my left again and realized the bodies were frozen as they crouched on the floor. Then it hit me – they’re springing a surprise. But no one dared move for many seconds – just eyes staring at me. Very strange – shouldn’t they jump up and yell “surprise”? Then I heard my sister’s voice loudly greeting, “happy birthday!” Was that the cue? The bodies moved in a wave that began with the younger ones. The seniors slowly stretched and carefully got up. A very interesting and lovely mixed group, I should say. – late teens, middle-aged and seniors.

The pageant was well choreographed, but what my sister forgot to instruct them was to yell surprise upon my arrival in the receiving room. The quiet progression on the floor suddenly turned to a babble, and the whole place got normal. Whew! I first thought I was watching a pantomime or a creative interpretive dance where dancers silently slither on the floor. More than 10 of them, and they happily sprang to life with my sister’s voice. The choreographer/director moved the show, and there I was in the midst of well- wishers … unexpected … many weeks after my birthday. Nice.

With one ear still clogged from plane pressure, I sort of heard my sister rattle off a litany of names of those who brought the delicious array on the party table. I heard noodles for long life, cake from the last harvest from a friend’s persimmon tree, special almond gelatin frozen in cups, and on and on … but my eyes glued to the barbecued pork ribs in a big tray. Three days after my flight back, and I was still dreaming of Sir Dodong’s crispy skinned lechon (roasted pig) I ate in Los Banos, Laguna. The pork ribs would do; in my mind – a deserving substitute for the lechon. Strangely, I ended up not eating the ribs at the party because of my favorite egg-drop soup my sister cooks whenever I’m in her home. I reveled in several cups of soup that there barely was any space in my stomach for anything more. The pork ribs became my baon (take-home), along with more soup.

I loved the party. As expected, it was so much fun, especially when the ice cream birthday cake was brought out, and my sister kept cajoling, “Eat it soon and eat it fast”. It turned out, there was great delay in cutting the cake, because the ice cream gelled like ice. It probably needed a saw, not a cake knife. After pretending to cut the first piece, I delegated the ceremonial cutting to a young guest who ended up having a strained hand and wrist after completing the celebrated task. The cake, however, was superb.

I don’t mind having surprise birthday parties, as long as I’m totally surprised, and I’m stunned by a rowdy shout from greeters who hide and stay perfectly still until my face appears. Of course, I always welcome the food and the wonderful camaraderie, and best – ice cream cakes that are supposed to melt but keep frozen even in the mouth.

My hat off to my sister, who has a knack for giving surprise birthday parties long after the celebrant has gotten weeks/months older. The fun part is, the fun never gets old.


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