Yeah, I was surprised. Big-time surprised.
I got home at a quarter till. My car approached the neighborhood. It was the perfect December eventide. The sun was setting over Birmingham. The foothills of Appalachia were kissed by a golden sundown, like miniature mountainsides topped with Kraft Velveeta cheese.
My house was within eyeshot. I could see my porch through the windshield. My house’s porch was crowded with people. Lots of people. There were maybe a hundred.
I got out of the car. People cheered. “Happy birthday!” My wife ran up to me. She greeted me with tears in her eyes. The crowd began to sing “Happy Birthday,” off-pitch, like a choir of Labradoodles with sinus infections.
I stepped onto the porch and an ordained priest handed me a beer. “Drink up birthday boy,” said the Episcopal priest, cracking open my can.
You have to love Episcopalians.
I hugged Aaron first. Dear Aaron. Aaron and his wife, April, are family to me. Longtime friends. They are as true as the book of Leviticus; pure as Geneva County
tomatoes. “We love you, man,” he said.
I choked back tears.
Next, I embraced Julie and her husband Jake. Julie is my longtime fiction editor—God help her. Julie edited my very first novel, years ago. I will never forget it, Julie’s first manuscript note to me was: “Too many fart jokes.”
We hugged and I felt the dam begin to break.
Next came Patrick. Patrick and I play music together. Then Kelly, who also plays music with me. Then Tom and Fred, my longest held friends and bandmates.
Then my neighbors. Jeff, Donna, Kim, Mistey, and Elizabeth.
I hugged each of them. “Happy birthday,” they all said.
The tears were knocking at my door. But I was diligent to hold the weeping back because I was raised by stoic Baptists who did not cry unless Gloria Gaither said we could.
Next, I hugged Katie…