“When is Pa’s party? Is it tonight? Tomorrow night?” For weeks now we have been fielding this question uttered excitedly from impatient lips.
The night finally arrived on Saturday – the special clothes that Eli had set out for over a week now finally getting their chance to shine. We spent the day preparing – Dave and I practising the parody performance song, printing out the words, Eli getting out the shakers and other musical accompaniments and Hudson… running around in his undies. Pictures were drawn, bags packed and special nap times enforced (for me, that is).
Ever since I was little I have been completely enchanted by parties. Getting to dress up in special clothes, stay up late, sample enticing food, run around excitedly only to eventually collapse and be gently delivered to my waiting bed – what’s not to like? Now, despite being on the other side – packing the bags, considering energy reserves, keeping a watchful eye on enthusiastic bodies – it still retains so much of the magic. I love watching the kids’ eyes light up as they pull on their dresses and suit jackets, being able to say ‘yes’ to requests for sparkling drinks and finger food, watching faces flushed with excitement as they dart through guests and don solemn gazes of responsibility as they perform special ‘party jobs’.
Mum and Dad have been preparing their new house with this party in mind for months now. Landscapers working tirelessly to transform the outdoor space into a picturesque, festive zone complete with lower decking, stone-hewn steps, a flowing water feature that trickles under a dark wood bridge to the front entrance, and – soon – a rope swing dangling from the overhanging branches of the towering elm tree. Twinkling lights brought the space to life as the heat of the day dissolved into a balmy, Indian summer twilight.
Family travelled from afar to attend the festivities – now able to be comfortably housed in the generous home that Mum and Dad painstakingly designed and created. Faces that I remember from my own childhood only slightly altered by age and reminiscing about the good old days.
It isn’t a party without food, and it was a feast to behold – three different types of meat, potatoes, more salads than you could count, sour cream, gravy, buttered bread – so delicious. Mum arranged for the party to be catered and it was a great decision that enabled her to be able to enjoy the night and spend time with old friends. She did make the cake though, which was spectacular and gluten free – a dark chocolate option and a carrot cake.
There is something incongruous about putting the words ‘Dad’ and ‘sixty’ together. For as long as I can remember he has been the unstoppable force – conquering whatever obstacle is put in his path to complete challenges most wouldn’t dream of attempting – marathons, City to Surf, the Ironman triathlon and now, the Oxfam 100km walk. Sometimes I wonder whether he or the kids have more energy as they seem equally as excitable when they get together – playing cubby houses, jail games, stacks on and monsters tirelessly. Despite the distinguished years, he still is the Dad of my childhood – energetic, driven, focused, kind-hearted, efficient. Living with four women, Dad managed to master the art of listening very well. I remember many times when I needed to vent or was tearfully recovering from a broken heart, Dad patiently sat there, allowing me to get it all out of my system and saying very little but somehow making it all seem OK again. At church, I felt like the daughter of a rockstar – the friendly, helpful greeter making a lasting impression on so many that it became very common for people to remark excitedly ‘Oh you are BARNEY’S daughter!?’ Dad is always the one laughing loudly at the cinema, his cackle contagious as he gives himself over completely to the moment. He sings with absolute gusto, hugs like he means it, dances with abandon and is very fond of practical jokes. Our childhood was filled to the brim with fun – parties, suppers, soccer, wrestling, trampoline games, picnics where he would be cheekily inciting tomato sauce wars or water fights. To celebrate sixty years of life lived to the full felt like just continuing the party.
Ever since the night of the party, I have had the song ‘I’ll Never Find Another You‘ by The Seekers on repeat in my head. Hali, Loren and I sang along to the tune with words that captured some of the funnier sides of Dad’s personality and Dave dusted off the guitar to keep us in tune. Eli took the responsibility of being the ‘song word helper’ very seriously and firmly handed a sheet of paper to every single person in that room. When his job was completed to his satisfaction, he marched up to the front, took his place beside Hali and sang along to every word of that song – somehow having managed to learn it all by himself. It was priceless and something I will remember with a fond smile forever.
Ivy spent the evening twirling her black and white belted gown and telling everyone she was a ‘pincess’. Usually not one to warm up to people without a long lead in, she was remarkably confident and practised her winning smile on Annelyse (my cousin) many times. Loren added to the magic of the evening by severely culling her wardrobe and offering boxes and boxes of designer and vintage clothes for us to go through. At one point no less than five girls were excitedly trawling through the collection, scoring beautiful gowns and accessories. Ivy fully embraced her femininity and squealed whenever a ‘Cinderella dress’ came out, insisting that Hali help her put it on. It was pretty funny to watch.
Hudson alternated between showing everyone his yoga moves, monster face and telling people that he goes to Kinder. He and Eli explored every rock step on the property, jumping with gusto between each one and looking with longing towards the ‘swimming pool’ that was the off limits fountain. I’m actually quite surprised that Hudson didn’t strip off and dive in, to be honest. He enthusiastically put away two pieces of chocolate birthday cake and then curled up like a koala next to Annelyse and Grandma on the couch watching Zootopia.
Despite not having seen Annelyse since he was less than two, Eli fondly remembered her and asked many times in the lead up to the party when he would get to see her again. He was very chuffed to be able to spend time with her, taking many selfies and draping himself next to her on the couch at any opportunity.
It was past 10pm before we helped sleepy bodies out of party clothes and into pajamas, bundling them gently into car seats to make the drive home. The magic of the night was carried into dreams and whispered memories, to be spoken of fondly again and again.