I hardly ever get surprised by a surprise party. I remember when Wendy went to elaborate lengths to set me up for my sixtieth birthday surprise party, constantly rescuing the situation when people at work said things like “what time are we meeting Friday” and such. Finally, worn out, she went to lie down for an hour and the phone rang. I answered and it was my old pal Jock Duncan apologizing to me for “having to miss my surprise party.” I had to put on an act when we got there of being ‘surprised’! So it usually goes.
But this week the shoe was on the other foot when I got a phone call from our dear friend Ashia to say that she and her husband Witold wanted to recognize Wendy’s contribution to the well-being of the town through her book and the bookstore, by throwing her a surprise book launching party. Much subterfuge occurred as the week wore on toward Friday evening–careful wording of emails, phoning when I knew Wendy was out of the shop, making sure Witold and Ashia’s car was not parked outside the shop when they dropped by for planning moments. It was all so nerve-racking that I could hardly believe that it was going to work!
So Friday evening came and a dozen of our friends assembled at Witold and Ashia’s house half an hour before we were due to arrive and hid themselves away in a side room. As we were welcomed by Ashia I could see Wendy eying the dinner table set with all the best china, wine glasses and cutlery for more than just four of us. Before the penny dropped, though, all our friends came bursting in amid great hilarity. And a wonderful evening ensued. A slide show of pictures of Wendy at various stages of her past life played in the background as she was presented with a framed certificate awarding her ‘The Big Stone Gap Nobel Prize for her outstanding contribution to local self-awareness’; everyone received a bookmark with a picture of the book on it; everyone took turns reading glowing reviews that the book has received; bookstore stories and legends were exchanged and retold.
For me, of course, a big part of the fun was the sheer delight of seeing the realization on Wendy’s face when everyone bowled into the room. But even more I enjoyed looking round the room at those friends who were delighting in her delight, without a hint of jealousy at her success, just pleased to be part of what she’d done, part of our lives, to be friends.
As Wendy said in her speech, “It’s lovely if you can write something and have people like it, but better yet is being part of a group of people who like you just because you’re you.”