When my brother and his wife drove Dad to lunch in San Jose on Sunday, he suspected a few people were gathering to celebrate his upcoming birthday, but he had no idea so many people would be there, or that I’d be walking out of the restaurant to greet him. After all, I live in Oregon and I was just there a few weeks ago. He’s a hard man to surprise, but we did it.
It was a hot sunny day as we gathered at Antonella’s Italian restaurant kitty corner from the Rosicrucian Museum. They had opened the restaurant just for us. We partied in a beautiful room decorated with murals of the Italian countryside. The tables were set with white cloths and stemmed cobalt blue glasses. Pictures of Dad from boyhood to now decorated the walls and tables. A chocolate cake decorated with tractors and a frosting orchard sat next to a little red barn with replicas of the horses Bud and Daisy that Dad grew up with.
People piled in from all over to honor Clarence “Ed” Fagalde. Nearly everyone was a cousin in some way, descended from the Fagalde or the Souza side of the family. So many people who had not seen each other for years. Our voices roared above the sound of the fans striving vainly to push out the heat. Everyone is older now. The kids are grown. “You look like your mother,” one of my cousins shouted when he saw me. I know. I do. That’s okay. She was a beautiful person.
How do you capture the feeling of that afternoon in words? So many hugs, so many laughs, so many smiles. Too much food. So much happiness. In a world where nothing is ever perfect, Sunday afternoon came as close as life ever does. It was the kind of party that will be remembered in the list of big parties–my parents’ 50th anniversary party, Grandpa’s 90th birthday party, the memorial for Uncle Don and Aunt Gen, my 50th birthday party in the cafeteria at my old elementary school… It was the kind of day that just filled me up, and I believe it did the same for my father.
He didn’t know he was going to have a house guest Sunday night, but he welcomed me back into my old room. In the evening, we sat in the kitchen eating leftover lasagna and pie, and we talked for hours. In the morning over coffee and tea, we talked some more. I am so blessed to have a father who is so strong, smart, handsome and interesting, even at 90.Our family history goes back to the pioneers of Santa Clara County, and Dad is a fountain of stories about the old days.
My brother Mike, his wife Sharon and I started tossing around ideas for Dad’s birthday when I was in California in early March. Sharon and my niece Susie did the invitations, posters and pictures, and baked cookie keepsakes for the guests to take home while I supplied a guest list and old photos—and myself. But a lot of the credit goes to my Aunt Suzanne, the only one who lived close enough to organize the setting and the food. I am grateful to everyone who helped or just showed up from all over California. I got the prize for greatest distance traveled. My cousin Jenny and her crew came in second, flying in from San Diego for the day.
I drove to Portland on Saturday afternoon, got up at 3 a.m. to fly south Sunday morning and was back in Portland by 5:00 Monday evening. It was raining. Last night, Dad and I were back to talking on the phone, both amazed that it all actually happened.
Today, May 1, is my father’s actual birthday. He was planning to go to the grocery store, do some laundry and maybe take himself out to dinner. That makes me sad, but I’m so glad he’s able to do those things, and I think we should keep celebrating life every day. We are so blessed.
The photo, taken by Aunt Suzanne, shows Dad, my cousin Tom Sandkhule and me.