It was weeks ago that my sister picked the date of Aug. 25 for a surprise 75th birthday party for our father, the Rev. Jack Carney. His actual birthday was Aug. 17, and then – as is our family custom – we had our normal cake-and-ice-cream observance over the weekend, on Aug. 19, so that Dad would not suspect that his real party was coming up a week later.
Dad knew nothing about the party, which had guests coming from as far away as Mississippi and North Carolina, but he did know about two of the guests: my Aunt Nell, his sister, and Uncle Kenneth drove down Thursday from Louisville, Ky., and have been staying with him. The original plan was for Ms. Rachel, Aunt Nell and Uncle Kenneth to get Dad away from the house Saturday morning so that we could set up for the party and so that all of our guests could arrive.
Then, earlier this week, Mary Jo Reynolds – a former parishoner of Dad’s and a dear friend to the family – passed away, and her family scheduled her visitation and memorial service this morning, and asked Dad to join the Rev. Ellen Hill in officiating the memorial service.
Because we had out-of-town guests coming, including my brother Michael and his family from North Carolina, we went ahead with plans for the party, and I think Mary Jo would have approved of that decision. We now had no worries about getting Dad away from the house – the visitation, at 10 a.m, and the memorial service, at 11, had him away exactly when we needed. I told my sister I wanted to go to the funeral – partly because Dad would expect to be there, and partly because, as a Relay For Life volunteer, I felt I needed to be there. (Mary Jo was a tireless volunteer for the American Cancer Society, in a number of different roles, and for many years was one of the prime movers behind the annual “Hee Haw & Howdy” benefit revue.)
It was a lovely service. There was a huge turnout for Mary Jo, and I ended up sitting in the fellowship hall at Mt. Olivet UMC, which was set up as an overflow room. We heard Dad and Rev. Hill just fine, but at the end of the service, when they gave friends and family the opportunity to share their memories, those folks weren’t on the sound system and we could hear them only faintly through the open door. I’m sure some great memories were shared, but I didn’t hear them.
Dad had no clue about the surprise party – evidenced, in part, by the fact that he took his time getting back home after the memorial service. We had a wonderful turnout, with people from various parts of the family, various churches he’s pastored, and other friends and acquaintances.
A good time was had by all. My sister made a wonderful cake which depicted the timeline of Dad’s life, and my brother Thomas brought a number of different flavors of homemade ice cream. After we got everything taken down and cleaned up, returned tables and chairs to First UMC, and my various siblings departed, I went to the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, which is also where Dad, Mrs. Rachel, Aunt Nell and Uncle Kenneth ended up. Being from Louisville, Aunt Nell and Uncle Kenneth are more familiar with the Kentucky Derby than the TWHNC, but they seem to be enjoying themselves.
I’m home now, although I’ll stay up to hear the results of tonight’s all-important aged stallion class, the key preliminary to next Saturday’s World Grand Championship. It’s been a long day, but a good one.