Growing up, we all thought we knew better than our parents. “The world is different from when you were a kid!” We would repeat, exasperation setting in. It felt like they wouldn’t listen! They were just too old to understand. Time and time again, however, we find out that they weren’t so wrong after all. That maybe they did know what they were talking about…but we had to make their same mistakes to finally learn the lesson they’d tried to teach us all along.
I’ll never forget the day Momma made me go to a birthday party. I was in Mrs. Black’s third grade class in Wichita Falls, Texas, and I brought home a slightly peanut-buttery invitation.
“I’m not going,” I said. “She’s a new girl named Ruth, and Bernice and Pat aren’t going. She asked the whole class, all 36 of us.”
As Momma studied the handmade invitation, she looked strangely sad. Then she announced, “Well you are going! I’ll pick up a present tomorrow.”
I couldn’t believe it. Momma had never made me go to a party! I was positive I’d just die if I had to go. But no amount of hysterics could sway Momma.
When Saturday arrived, Momma rushed me out of bed and made me wrap the pretty pink pearlized mirror, brush, and comb set she’d bought for $2.98.
She drove me over in her yellow and white 1950 Oldsmobile. Ruth answered the door and motioned me to follow her up the steepest, scariest staircase I’d ever seen.
Stepping through the door brought great relief. The hardwood floors gleamed in the sun-filled parlor. Snow-white doilies covered the backs and arms of well-worn overstuffed furniture.
The biggest cake I ever saw sat on one table. It was decorated with nine pink candles, a messily printed Happy Birthday Ruthey and what I think were supposed to be rosebuds.
Thirty-six Dixie cups filled with homemade fudge were near the cake, each one with a name on it.
This won’t be too awful-once everyone gets here, I decided.
“Where’s your mom?” I asked Ruth.
Looking down at the floor, she said, “Well she’s sorta sick.”
“Oh. Where’s your dad?”
Then there was a silence, except for a few raspy coughs from behind a closed door. Some 15 minutes passed . . . then 10 more. Suddenly the terrifying realization set in. No one else was coming. How could I get out of here? As I sank into self-pity, I heard muffled sobs. Looking up I saw Ruth’s tear-streaked face. All at once my eight-year-old heart was overwhelmed with sympathy for Ruth and filled with rage at my 35 selfish classmates.
Springing to my feet, I proclaimed at the top of my lungs, “Who needs ’em?”
Ruth’s startled look changed to excited agreement.
There we were, two small girls and a triple-decker cake, 36 candy-filled Dixie cups, ice cream, gallons of red Kool-Aid, three dozen party favors, games to play and prizes to win.
We started with the cake. We couldn’t find any matches, and Ruthey (she was no longer just plain Ruth) wouldn’t disturb her mom, so we just pretended to light them. I sang “Happy Birthday” while Ruthey made a wish and blew out the imaginary flames.
In a flash it was noon. Momma was honking out front. Gathering up all my goodies and thanking Ruthey repeatedly, I dashed to the car. I was bubbling over.
“I won all the games! Well, really, Ruthey won Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but she said it wasn’t fair for the birthday girl to win a prize, so she gave it to me, and we split the party favors 50/50. Momma, she just loved the mirror set. I was the only one there out of Mrs. Black’s whole third-grade class. And I can’t wait to tell every one of them what a great party they missed!”
Momma pulled over to the curb, stopped the car and hugged me tight. With tears in her eyes, she said, “I’m so proud of you!”
That was the day I learned that one person could really make a difference. I had made a big difference in Ruthey’s ninth birthday, and Momma had made a big difference in my life.
This is one of those lessons. The daughter knew everything, of course…up until she walked into that strange girl’s home. If it were up to her, she wouldn’t have gone to the party. She didn’t understand why her mother didn’t see how embarrassing it would be – until she realized what mother had been trying to teach her all along. What an incredible lesson! And she had made a friend for life!
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