Age 17: The Surprise Party

By Cal Evans

Sundays were always an event in our house. Each Sunday morning was a variation on a theme; get up, wander into the kitchen for breakfast, be told that you got up too late for breakfast, whine about not getting breakfast, stop whining a second before Dad walked into earshot, slink back to your room and ready for church. So it went, every Sunday morning.

One particular Sunday, I had just turned 17, or was about to turn 17, the memories are a little fuzzy now but I know it was in December and I know it was a Sunday and that’s enough for our story.

It was the usual fight to get ready. Fight with Mom over the lack of quality breakfast options. (This was before I was informed that I was too late for breakfast anyhow.) Fight with my sister for a precious few moments in the bathroom. Another fight with my sister because…well, because she started it. Fight with my brother because he was trying to make peace between me and my sister. (If we wanted peace Ashley, we wouldn’t be fighting!) It was a regular smack-down and I was in the cage swinging a folding chair!

And so on it when until finally we were off. We lived just beyond the edge of the world. For most of my adolescence, my address was “Just past the end of ‘65”. Anywhere we went was into town. In a simpler time, the family would have stayed overnight if they had to travel this far but not us. Dad loved the peace and quite of the suburbs even if it meant 45 minutes of listening to my sister and I fight to have it. Not that Dad got much of a chance to hear it. Dad always found an excuse to have to be at the church early. Since there was no way we were going to be there early, he made the journey alone, in sweet, peaceful, bliss. I was of driving age at this point so my main chore (my reason for existence) was to chauffer my brother and sister to an endless line of inane events…and church. But this week, mom would not hear of it. The four of us, mom, me and the two urchins that kept insisting they were related to me all piled into the car.

Upon arriving, the morning church ritual came and went as usual with one important exception. My mother, the rock that the Sanctuary Choir was built upon, slipped out after the main choir number. She had positioned herself on the edge of the choir this week instead of her usual place – in the middle of the front row – directly in front of Dad as he directed. Quietly she slipped out, not to be seen again until after the service.

Ah yes, the end of the service, the time when all good church-going boys would scope out the church-going girls and hope to be able to hook-up with one during youth choir rehearsal that evening. It was a time-honored ritual that you dare not miss if you wanted a date for the next youth banquet or lock-in.
The crowd began to thin and all of us church-going boys were left standing around trying to get up the nerve to talk to the church-going girls (who had by now given up on us and migrated en-mass to the restrooms). As if from no-where, my mother appeared and started leading me out of the sanctuary. I now knew she had taken leave of her senses and may be a danger to herself and others, especially me.

Everyone knew the New Years Eve lock-in was coming up and this was the week to make sure you had someone to sit with during the movie. If you didn’t hook-up this week you ran the risk of sitting with ‘the guys’ or with your best friend’s younger sister. (Which I’m told by one of my best friends, is not all bad, he being ‘in the know’ as he dated my sister once. Of course it was after the proper ritual of asking my permission…to which I laughed until I cried. Upon realizing that he was serious, I sobered up, looked deeply into his eyes and with the love only an older brother can have for his sister, I said “whatever dude,” and then bust into laughter again…But I digress.)

I was horrified, not only was my mother here in the youth section (also known as the far back corner of the sanctuary) but she was once again doing her best to ruin my social life. It took many years of soul searching and grudge-holding to realize that this really wasn’t a passion of hers so much as it was a 6 year long string of coincidences.

“C’mon, we’ve got to go. We’ve got to get home.” She kept saying. “I’ve got to get dinner started.”
That clue should have stopped me in my tracks! My mother is a lot of things, she is a wonderful mother, she is a godly woman, and she is a grandmother as only found in fairytales. Did I mention that she was a great cook? No, I didn’t, did I.

Those who know my family know that my mother’s favorite kitchen utensil is the telephone. By the time I was 14 family dinners had all but disappeared. Our family opted out of meaningful dialog with each other and chose instead to share the camaraderie and companionship of the television. On special occasions, we would even all watch the same one. So telling me that she needed to get dinner started should have thrown up red flags. But I was 17, I didn’t care, I just wanted to be left alone. So off we went.

Arriving home, I did what I always did, headed to my room. The peaceful solitude of my room, my personal sanctuary, just me and the laundry hamper that vomited clothes every night while I was sleeping.

As was the custom of the day, I stripped out of my church cloths and neatly wadded them into a ball and gently placed them in the middle of the room. At this point, for some reason lost to the ages, I did NOT re-dress in my normal blue-jeans and t-shirt. Instead I sat, in my BVDs at my desk and started examining a project I was working on.

It was an engrossing work of art whose true nature is irrelevant to the story and embarrassingly trivial. I became so engrossed in my work that I lost all track of time. Happy was I, busily working away and communing with the great masters when I was jarred back into reality by Mother yelling at me to come help her. Perturbed that my artistic ‘moment’ had been broken, I started toward the door. I caught myself with my hand on the door knob. It dawned upon me that the artist had no clothes. I briefly toyed with the idea of striding out into the den in just my BVDs boldly rebelling against societies conventions and staking out my claim as a rebel and an independent thinker. (I think I saw it on an episode of “James at 15’)” Dismissing the idea reluctantly, I grabbed whatever would cover me the quickest, donned it and headed out the door.

I was out of my room and almost into the den when I heard the most horrifying sound I had ever heard. My blood ran cold at its sound. My mind froze. It grew from a faint wisp of a beginning to a horrific roar, crescendoing as I momentarily blacked out. I had strode from my room into the den, deep in thought about ways I could rebel against my parents without actually getting into trouble, only to face 20 of my friends from church yelling, “SURPRISE!” Boy was I ever.

The blood ran from my face. Everyone in the room watched its progress as it drained down to my feet, passing briefly beneath the clothing I had almost donned. You see, there I stood in the entrance of the den, facing my closest friends and well wishers wearing only a pair of cut-offs that showed my complete name AND address (if you know what I mean).

I came to sometime later wearing my jeans and T-shirt. I’m still not sure how I got them on and never got up the nerve to ask who dressed me.