Birthday celebrations should always be special. After all, they are commemorating the day we came into the world. When our first birthday rolls around, a party ensues. Colorful paper hats appear, irritating horns blow, helium-filled balloons float, crepe paper streamers fly and a single candle blazes brightly atop a gooey cake. Right then and there, the bar is set high for all the parties to come.
Most of us have photographs to prove we had birthday parties as children. Those would be the ones of an adorable small child sitting in a high chair surrounded by close family and friends with a handful of cake smeared across a baby face, clothes and most of the chair. As the years roll by like fast moving vehicles on an interstate, the photographs magically capture each birthday. They serve as a reminder of where we were when we turned a certain age.
If your box of photographs is anything like mine, the older we become, the less our special day is documented. It seems when we were younger, we celebrated birthdays a whole lot more.
As we age, the years visit so quickly that many of us choose to let them pass without much fanfare. One year leads to another and, over time, the high chairs are exchanged for comfortable recliners and wooden rocking chairs. What could possibly happen when one celebrates an 87th birthday? Well, apparently a lot!
This story began 87 years ago in Laurens County when a girl named Ivalyn was born. She lived with her family on a farm located within walking distance of place called Chappell’s Mill. With the use of a water wheel and a stone, the mill’s main purpose was to grind corn into meal and grits, but to Ivalyn and her siblings, it meant a whole lot more.
I had heard of Chappell’s Mill as a young boy from my daddy. He and his brothers and sister were raised very near to Ivalyn’s family, playing together and even swimming in the refreshing waters of Chappell’s Mill’s lake.
In fact, my daddy’s brother James married Ivalyn’s sister Edna.
More than 30 years ago, as a young artist, one of my first commissions was to paint Chappell’s Mill. You can imagine my surprise a few months ago when Tricia, who rides and sweats beside me in spinning class, asked me if I would paint Chappell’s Mill. Her husband thought it would be an excellent gift to give his mother Ivalyn as a present for her 87th birthday. I explained to her that I had already painted it once years ago. She told me she already knew that and so did Ivalyn. It turns out Ivalyn had always admired my first painting and wished she had one for herself. So, as fate would have it, I was chosen to once again paint the old Chappell’s Mill.
I had to really muster up some excitement in order to revisit the mill. You see, I have a very short attention span and once I have painted something, I usually don’t want to paint it again. But, since it was such a special surprise for Ivalyn, I once again painted the mill and its refreshing lake.
As the surprise developed, Trisha thought it would be nice for me to actually go with them to present the painting to her mother-in-law, who now lives in Milledgeville. When she explained that Ivalyn is a big fan of mine, I jumped at the chance. After all, I am such a sucker for surprises, especially when they have the ability to brighten someone else’s day!
Even the rain could not dampen the excitement as they picked up the painting and me to motor to Milledgeville last Friday. On our trip, we planned every detail of how the surprise would unfold.
They were going to drop me off at a neighbor’s house with the painting and then, after they drove across the street to Ivalyn’s house, I was to wait just a few minutes and then walk over and surprise Ivalyn. Instead, three neighbors drove me over so the rain would not mess up me or the precious painting.
I think it would have been enough for Ivalyn just to have me walk into her home for a visit, but when she realized I had a framed painting in my hand, her curiosity was aroused. Words cannot express the look on her face when she realized it was a painting of Chappell’s Mill. As she looked at the mill and the trees and water that surrounded it, you could almost see 87 years of memories passing through her mind.
She asked me to hang it in a perfect spot over her sofa in her living room. By this time, a group of neighbors and friends had gathered and we all went for a birthday lunch celebration. There were no party hats, no streamers or horns, but we did have a cake. As a slice of it was passed to me, I realized it was definitely “store-bought.” I then wished I had made her a cake “from scratch.” A person turning 87 years old definitely deserves that, but not even a homemade cake could have made Ivalyn’s day any more perfect!
We all have the ability to make someone else’s day special. We just have to look for creative ways to do it. It doesn’t have to cost much if anything. Sometimes it is just as easy as a visit.
As we drove back to Macon, a warm feeling came over me. That’s what happens when you give of yourself to others. You are the one who is blessed. I was thrilled to have been lucky enough to participate in a special surprise that clearly made a lovely lady’s 87th birthday one to remember!
More from Mark
Ÿ The Cherry Blossom Festival parking lot sale is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 5. Visit the parking lot at Cherry and New streets in downtown Macon to find bargains galore and support the festival. Call (478) 751-7426 to donate items and for more details. (Rain date is June 19.)
Ÿ Check out Mark’s Web site, www.markballard.com, for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff for spring.
Ÿ Mark is on www.macon.com 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.
Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208 or fax them to (478) 474-4930 or call (478) 757-6877.