The day was a normal “get out of town for awhile” day. It is the kind of day when Sheila spends the money and I tolerate it. Sometimes I push the buggy for her and other times, I tell her I’ll wait on the bench up front while she goes about doing what women do in a store. It is a fact that men can go into a store to shop, pick out what they want and be back outside in ten minutes flat, assuming the cashier lines are not extremely long and loaded with women who have been in the store for a couple of hours. That being the case, it might take 20 minutes, fifteen of which we wait for the women shoppers to check out. This day, the 27th of December had been enjoyable, that is until I began to tire. She said, “I just want to run into WallyWorld for a few minutes.” “I’ll just wait out here in the car,” I replied. “Didn’t you say you wanted to get some shampoo?” she asked. After an exaggerated sigh on my part, I asked her to pick it up for me, and she said for me to at least walk into the store with her. After another exaggerated sigh, I relinquished and said I would go in and wait for her on the bench. That seemed to make her happy. Go figure! I didn’t even sit long enough to squirm and she was back with one small bag. I asked her what she bought, to which she replied, “Your shampoo!” Shaking my head in bewilderment, I asked her why she wanted to stop in the first place. She just threw her hands up and said she would do it later. You talk about looking a gift horse in the eye, I said, “Alright, let’s go.” She jumped in the front seat and said she would drive. It was not dark, so I started to protest and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. “Do you want to get something to eat?” I asked. “Yes. Let’s pull right in here and get some Italian,” she said. “I meant something like a Krystal cheeseburger.” “No. Let’s go in here.” I was pretty tired by that time so I decided that sitting down would be good for me. She walked in just like she owned the place and said something to the hostess. I followed her into a side room and then wham-o! As they say on television, I had been punked. The room was full of my children and grandchildren, decorated with balloons and ribbons and party favors. If indeed I had a thought it was that someone had made a mistake, because my birthday was still four days away on the last day of the year. They quickly explained that this was the only time they could all get together and take me to dinner for my birthday. It seemed plausible enough to me, so we sat down at a very long table amidst a lot of laughter. I thought to myself what a great bunch of kids and grandkids. Everyone kept asking Sheila if she had been able to keep it from me, to which she replied that they all owed her a lot for putting her through the ordeal of keeping me from suspecting anything. I only smiled and thought she didn’t do anything except make me tired from shopping. Children and grands kept coming by with wide smiles hugging and kissing me while wishing me a happy birthday. They also laughed at me a lot because they pulled it off on me. Keep in mind that it really wasn’t my birthday yet and I am quite old. A couple of waiters began taking orders and before long we were all enjoying the Italian cuisine which all of us like very much. Afterwards, they presented me with a huge Red Velvet Cake—now I recall Sheila asking me a few days ago what kind of cake I would like to have on my birthday? It was pretty and it was tasty and the youngest of the grandchildren poked their fingers in it to make certain that it would be alright for PawPaw to eat it. At this juncture, I might add that during my childhood my birthday was not celebrated with a party because it was too close to Christmas, however once Sheila and I were hitched that all changed because she said birthdays were always to be celebrated and she has stuck to that all these years. I really thought the kids would show up on New Years Eve—my birthday—and/or call to wish me a Happy one, so I was especially surprised and pleased with their love and generosity. But it had only just begun. They began to pass cards to me one at a time. The first one was a two-day stay, New Years Eve and New Years Day at the Orlando Marriott. I was thrilled, but secretly wondered why they didn’t make me reservations in Savannah, our favorite haunt. The next card dropped a couple of C-Notes from it and I thought OK! The next envelope was large and it had a couple of UGA Tee shirts, my favorite sports clothing right after the Red Devils. I was appropriately thanking them all for the gifts when they said there was one more. As I opened it I was stunned! There before my eyes were two tickets to the Capitol One Bowl where the Dawgs were going to play Michigan State. I was overwhelmed! I finally got it, but I was totally overwhelmed. As I looked around with glistening eyes at my smiling, laughing family, I was truly touched at the best birthday I had ever experienced. MY son, Sam, Jr. and his family had driven down from Marietta; Sandra drove up from Tifton and Shannon from Cochran with her family. Sheri could not come from Ohio, Beth could not come from New Mexico, and Julie could not come due to illness in her family, but I was assured that all of them were co-conspirators in the deal. Forget about the extra aches and pains from aging; Turning 70 was really a piece of cake.
Ah! When we were young. Life was a constant adventure. You see, when I married Sheila, I married three little girls also—Sheri, Beth, and Julie—a package that was a plus for me. I got my lifetime sweetheart and a ready-made family which was just right to help settle down a 26-year-old bachelor. There natural father didn’t want them—Sheila or the girls—a move that confirmed to me that he was an idiot. Case sera sera! (sic). Having dated many women or girls as the case may have been before, I wondered what love was. It didn’t take too long for me to discover what love was with my Sheila. We actually were pen pal sweethearts when we were teens, having met inadvertently through the marriage of my brother Billy to her cousin, Janice. So romantic we thought, but the way of many teen love affairs, I went in one direction—the Navy—she went into another—marriage. Our paths really didn’t cross again until eight or so years later when my brother decided to play Cupid. He called to leave me a message on Memorial Day to come on down and meet an old friend, uh, flame named Sheila. I was intrigued, but unavailable that holiday weekend and got the message late. Undeterred, he asked if he could set it up for July 4th. After checking my calendar, ha, I said that would be my pleasure to come see about re-kindling the flame. We began seeing each other each weekend thereafter for a couple of months, and seeing the need to slow down the Interstate travel, I said I couldn’t come down that next weekend. Guess what? She and the girls came up for the weekend. What a gal! We were married in early November after I returned from a government trip to California and Arkansas. I adopted the unwanted children, and we added three more—Sammy, Jr., Sandra and Shannon which gave us a round figure of eight in our family—parents included. Life had a few bumps in the road for us along the way, but love conquers all as they say. Our children are all grown now and we have nineteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren as the tree limbs spread further out. But ah, when we were young, we danced, we loved we laughed, we milked a cow, we raised chickens, turkeys, guineas, calves, dogs, cats, and one stubborn Shetland pony. In addition, we raised a lot of food on our land, and Sheila canned most of it through the years. Well, I’m now seventy, and not sure how old my sweetheart is, but we’re still in love after all these years.
“Oh Come on Daddy,” Sandra begged, “it’ll be fun. They will have jousting and lots of beggars and period costumes. People will be eating turkey legs. You will really enjoy it.” For those who don’t know Sandra well, let me explain that she can be a little bit weird sometimes. She is, after all, an artist. Her paintings run from the regular people settings which are really quite good to the very weird. I’m talking about nude women captured in anything from thorny briars to chains. I’m talking about angels with wings—perhaps one of them broken. I’m talking about a group of birds pulling someone behind them with a rope as they fly into the wild blue yonder. Maybe you get the picture of the personality of our little blonde kid. Now, she didn’t have to convince Sheila—her mother, my wife—to go to the Renaissance with her. You see, her mother is where she comes by that personality trait, uh, the weird. Well, I thought I might enjoy seeing Sir Lance-a-Lot on a white horse riding wide open with his jousting stick, uh, pole in an attempt to knock the bad guy on the black steed from his saddle. We’ve all seen it in the movies, but I decided to go along so as not to be dubbed Sir Blah Humbug by my wife and daughter. When we entered this strange world of the weird, I did indeed see beggars making attempts to get anything from money to food. I thought to myself, I don’t need to do this. I can go by the interstate and see beggars working the cars, but they assured me that it was all part of the show, and to not get overly concerned. Right-O! What was in store for me was something that would haunt me for the rest of my life. As we strolled along minding our own business—especially me—I notice this very hefty maiden who was dressed in period clothes that were red and white. She had a low-cut blouse filled with dollar bills poking out of her very ample bosom. The only thing brighter red than her large hat was her bright red mouth. She wasted no time in putting the move on me right in front of my wife and daughter. I stepped away, and she kept up her pursuit, assuring me that she meant no harm. Before I knew it, she had knocked my white cap from my head, grabbed me by both of my ears and pulled me to her, successfully planting a very red image of her large lips on the side of my now blushing red face. Believe you me, if they had DNA back then, it would have been very easy to identify her as my attacker. I hastily retrieved my hat, pulled away from the not so winsome winch and beat a hasty retreat from the big threat. She did not give me a single dollar from those ample bosoms, and I speedily escaped looking for the jousting contest.