I grew up in Costa Rica. My dad is one of eleven in his family and my mom is one of seven, so I grew up surrounded by lots of cousins, aunts, and our family’s friends. Aunt Carmen, the oldest of my dad’s siblings, has always been extremely capable and well-connected; she’s the Vito Corleone (from “The Godfather” movies) in our family. Anytime anyone had a problem, they went to visit Aunt Carmen and Uncle Arturo. Do you need a doctor? Call Aunt Carmen. An architect? Aunt Carmen. An attorney? Aunt Carmen. A visa? Aunt Carmen.
This, along with the fact that both are extremely generous, meant that she took care of everyone around her. But as often happens to people with great means and charisma, no one really ever thought of giving back. I mean, what do you give someone who has it all? Like what would you give Oprah for her birthday?
Well, you give your time. So there I was, chatting with my mom two years ago talking about all the amazing things Aunt Carmen had done, and I impulsively came up with the idea of throwing Aunt Carmen a surprise party for her 80th birthday. I wanted it to be really special. Like a lot of people, our family is very casual and most occasions are celebrated with a quick dinner at a restaurant, but I wanted to really take her away from her day-to-day, so I suggested a formal dinner party followed by a trip to the beach.
Fortunately, lots of people thought it was a good idea, including Aunt Carmen and Uncle Arturo. Yes, first lesson learned: people are horrible at keeping secrets. But no matter: this ended up being a great thing. The truth is, it was great fun to get them involved. We had to make sure they weren’t working that day (because, unbelievably, they still both work full time) and we really wanted their help with the guest list. Also, Aunt Carmen needed time to get an outfit (or three, as it turns out), hair, and makeup done for the party. So lesson number two: Give people enough time to get ready.
We had originally anticipated around 60 guests, but in the end, we had 175, including the Ambassador of China! This, plus the fact that I had come up with the idea, meant that I had effectively volunteered to organize the whole thing and still work at Gracious Style full time, so there was a lot of late-night work. But boy, it was worth it.
Join me next time and I’ll tell you how it all happened.
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