My family all gathered at my aunt’s house on a cold March afternoon. Aunts and uncles who live just around the corner, cousins I hadn’t seen in years, and my brother and his family from two states away milled around waiting for the guest of honor. The Indiana University basketball game was on in the living room; the kitchen counters were loaded with cheesecakes, macaroons, and fruit plates.
We were waiting for my mom to arrive. Though it had been more than a month since her retirement, we were just now celebrating with a surprise party. Several of us sent flowers or cards during her last week of work, so she thought that was the extent of the celebration. But this party had always been in the works, dreamed up by my aunt and cousins.
When most of us arrived, my cousin casually called over to my mom’s house, just a few minutes away, to see if she and my stepdad would like to come over to watch the game and enjoy some dessert. To my mom’s surprise, my stepdad, who was in on the secret, said “yes,” and we all prepared for their imminent arrival.
A Lifetime of Work
As long as I can remember, my mom has worked. When I was a small child, she was always cooking, cleaning, babysitting, sewing, or gardening at home. Shortly after I started elementary school, my parents became part owners of a grain elevator. My mom was the bookkeeper, managing accounts payable and receivable, while also serving customers and maintaining the retail inventory.
Since her marriage to my stepdad when I was 13, my mom handled bookkeeping and herd inventory for their cattle farm. Somewhere along the way, they also bought and ran a small video store. For several years, she also worked and then managed a school cafeteria; most recently, my mom worked at the local bank. This was the job she retired from.
The Work Continues
A few times a week, I talk to Mom and hear the joy in her voice as she describes her current activities, similar to the work I remember her doing years ago: cooking and cleaning, babysitting a grandson for a few days, sewing with her sister, and planting flowers and vegetables. My mom is not done working: the farm, the house, my stepdad, my family, my brothers’ families—we all still need and will continue to benefit greatly from the work my mom will do.
But my mom also rests more now. She sleeps in; she eats brownie sundaes in the middle of the afternoon; and after decades of being “not much of a reader,” she lies on the couch and voraciously consumes books. For years, she would never allow herself these leisurely luxuries. There was too much work to do. Finally, retirement gave her permission.
Celebrating the Work
That’s what my mom was doing the day of her party when my cousin called: lying on the couch reading. While she hurried to get herself together for what she thought was dessert and a game—changing clothes, brushing hair, coloring lips—those of us who had gathered were preparing for the surprise.
When their car finally pulled into the driveway, we thought the extra vehicles would give us away. But the look on my mom’s face said otherwise.
“She still doesn’t know!” I said excitedly.
My niece, Samantha, ran to my side, and together we hid behind the refrigerator, out of sight when Mom walked through the door. We heard her before we saw her: “Oh, this is a surprise,” she said casually, when she spotted a nephew she hadn’t seen for a while. But still, she thought she had come just for the game.
Then, from around the corner, my niece and I jumped, yelling “surprise!” as she walked by. My mom stumbled, startled, her face finally registering what was happening. “It’s a party,” I said, grabbing her in a giant hug. My niece hugged her next, “Surprise, Grandma!”
“What are you guys doing here?” my mom asked us.
“It’s a party for you!” we told her, hugging her more, nearly bursting with laughter from the silly surprise of it all. “We’re all here for you.”
Just like she has been there for us, working hard all these years.