We finally decided to throw our father a surprise birthday party where we would present him with a scrapbook. My vision was to make the scrapbook a photo-essay of the pieces of my father’s life, like patches in an old quilt.
I sent out the invitations early, announcing the surprise birthday party in a park near my father’s home. My invitations made a plea for photos of my father and asked his friends and family for heartfelt sentiments that might be woven into the scrapbook. Almost immediately the letters started pouring in, with postmarks from all over the country. Checking the mailbox each day became a much-anticipated event.
Many letters said, “Sorry that I can’t attend the birthday party, but I wanted to send this photo and a letter for the scrapbook.” I hadn’t realized that my scrapbook idea had given my father’s friends and family a wonderful method of honoring him from so many miles away.
Late at night I huddled over the scrapbook, marveling over shots of dad I’d never seen. There were black and white photos of him as a toddler – a chunk of blonde hair falling over his round face – donned in breeches and knee socks.
Another photo showed him as a child standing beside his mother, stoically bracing himself against a snowy landscape. Stacks of pictures placed him as a slim handsome young man, dressed in military garb, grinning proudly before he shipped out to fight in Korea. There were photos of his classic, curvy cars with my father leaning proudly against the hood. Scores of pictures washed in Kodachrome colors showed a young, energetic father with kids climbing all over his back. The pictures came rolling in, full of parties, weddings, and grandchildren’s birthdays that my father had happily attended.
Some relatives sent astonishing genealogical details with the photos. These helped me capture a bit of history in the captions. As I sorted photos into groups, I chose background papers, borders, stickers, and frames to accent them. Photos of my young father’s cross-country trip that landed him in Disneyland were mounted on vintage road map paper. I couldn’t resist fixing ‘70’s pictures of our family done up in platform shoes and bell bottoms, with my father in a powder blue leisure suit onto groovy paper with smiley faces. The vintage photos of my father’s childhood were respectfully mounted in black, cream, and mauve frames on nostalgic paper. When friends and family were thoughtful enough to write a favorite memory of my father, I clipped their handwritten words and attached them as a highlight on the page.
As the photos continued to be delivered to my mailbox, I labored at piecing the scrapbook. I was beginning to know my father better with each page. The fresh face that peered out of the paper at his bright future hadn’t even envisioned me, the daughter who would try his patience and his wallet and add gray hairs to his head.
At last the party day arrived. The salads had been tossed and the coolers had been packed with hamburger fixings. The tables were decorated with bright red, blue, and green tablecloths, balloons, flowers, and confetti. The scrapbook held a place of honor. We left ample room for pages devoted to the party and planned on including a new page with a photo and personal message from each partygoer.
We held our breath as my unsuspecting father strolled up the path to the pine trees. As my surprised father greeted his group of well-wishers, we showed him the scrapbook. His face displayed a look of deeply surprised pleasure that warmed all of our hearts.
Although the party was fun and my father was able to reunite with many of his family and old friends, the most lasting part was the scrapbook we had made. We didn’t wait until my father’s death to remember his life, we remembered it while he still had life to live.