- by Carolyn Lackey
Our beloved friend, Leonard, turned 91 yesterday. He would say it this way: "I'm 91 today, April the 19th, in the year 2 thousand and 17. I was born at 3:00 AM on Monday, April the 19th, in the year nineteen twenty-six in Roanoke, Virginia. They said that I was in a hurry to get here because I wouldn't wait until sunup." Leonard has been Mom's best friend since she moved here in 2010. They met at Raider Ranch. We started giving Leonard rides to church. Pretty soon, he was joining us for holidays. Now he is a full-fledged member of the Lackey family. He gives a beautiful blessing at every meal we share together.
For his birthday, we told him to pick a restaurant - sometimes it's Red Lobster, yesterday it was Cheddars. He likes fish. They have some sort of trout dish at Cheddars that suits his palate. Wherever we go to eat, he always asks, "Do they have trout? Do they have catfish? Do they have pork chops?" Plan D is usually chicken fingers. For his joyous birthday celebrations, Alan tells Leonard that he can invite some friends. This is a risky move because Leonard considers everyone he has ever met a friend. Seriously, you cannot take the man ANYWHERE in town without hearing someone calling out from across a room, "Leonard!" Alan and I just look at each other and grin shaking our heads. The man no longer drives and is legally blind. He lives in a retirement community. But, somehow, he has developed an ever-growing circle of friends.
When the guest list swelled to 14 yesterday, I looked at Alan with wide eyes. "You still gonna pick up the bill?!" "Yup. It's Leonard's birthday. But, if someone pushed money into my hand, I might not resist." I knew that was not true. He ALWAYS grabs the check first at these shindigs. Due to the mature ages of most of the invited guests, it was highly probable that someone would back out at the last minute due to "feelin' poorly." We ended up with a party of 10.
Leonard came into the restaurant carrying a wrinkled plastic grocery sack that bulged with what I thought was "information." Leonard LOVES information. He gets about 10 extra bulletins at church on Sundays to mail to his friends in Baltimore so that they can keep up with what he's doing. When we pick him up on Sundays, he generally has a sack of information for us that might include a program from the symphony or the monthly menu and activity calendar from his independent living facility or a flier that he picked up somewhere along the way. He is so sweet to keep us informed of his daily activities.
The bulging bag did not hold information, it was full of BIRTHDAY CARDS. Thirty to be exact. They had all been opened and enjoyed. He simply wanted to "share the love" with us. When we sat down at the table, he passed down a handwritten list to me so I could "read it later." As I started to slip it into my purse, my mother-in-law clarified that he wanted me to read the list aloud to all of the birthday party attendees later in the evening.
Meems was in rare form last night. She was very talkative and confused which made her rather entertaining. Last night, she was all...
"Tell Leonard to crawl under the table and come sit by us."
"Did Dobo bring whiskey to the party?" [Let me explain. Dobo was my dad's nickname. Let's just say that he had a "taste for the drink." While whiskey wasn't his drink of choice, it would not be unusual for him to come "prepared."]
"No, Mom. Dobo's not coming. He's dead, remember?"
"Good because I was going to get really mad if he came with whiskey to Leonard's party." [Leonard is a teetotaler.]
At one point she regaled the lady next to her with the story of the man-eating catfish. I blamed my niece, Kelly, for that because she ordered fried catfish for dinner.
Here is the best part of the story. The birthday cards. Leonard received several more cards at dinner. At the end of the meal, he beckoned for Alan to come around to his side of the table. "Would you read all of my cards aloud for me?" "You mean the ones that are unopened." "Yes. And all of the ones in the bag." You know how the elderly treasure those long poems and sayings on the fronts of birthday cards? Leonard is no exception. I would have said something like, "Why don't I hold them up and tell who each card is from?" Not Alan. He is a true blue friend of Leonard. He took the stack and read each and every card from the outside to the inside down to the last jot and tittle. ALL THIRTY-FIVE. EVERY WORD. My heart almost burst with love for that man. Leonard sat listening with a sweet smile on his face. After each card was read, he would tell a little bit about the sender. "He's been my best friend for 52 years! He lives in Baltimore! I talk to him twice a week on the telephone!" The handwritten list? It was a list of the 12 people who called to wish him a happy birthday.
Instead of cake, we ordered Leonard's absolute favorite dessert. He has the same dessert after every meal he eats be it Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or baked trout at Cheddars. "One scoop of vanilla ice cream." I should probably give you a heads up. At Cheddars, they do not keep birthday candles on hand. Had I known, I would have come prepared. The manager did bring a couple of chocolate chip cookies and a coupon for chips and salsa to the Birthday Boy - neither of which Leonard will eat.
Happy Birthday 91st birthday, Sweet Leonard. You bring so much joy and laughter and grace and into our family. We cherish your friendship. You are so loved by so many. And, trust me on this, if Dobo had risen from his grave and crashed the party with a jug of Jim Beam, Meems would have beat the tar out of him. My niece, Kelly, wrote the sweet post below...