By Diane Ako
I threw my mom a surprise dinner party for her 80th birthday. It was small and intimate, just under two dozen relatives and friends.
It was really nice. We had it at On On at McCully Chinese Restaurant because all she ever wants to eat is Chinese food, and after Yong Sing closed down, our whole tribe had to find a new favorite restaurant. ononhawaii.com
I planned this for two months, making kiln-fused glass plates as party favors, and driving around to as many relatives' homes as I could on my free time to video tape birthday messages, which I then compiled into a ten minute video. Because so many of her peers have health issues like diabetes, I ordered a sugar-free cake.
There were, of course, half a dozen near-slip ups along the way. Here's one that is a classic, small-town Hawaii tale. I went by my Auntie Bobbie's house to shoot the video, and she said, "Your mom asked me to save the Midweek for her, but I don't want to give it to you or else she'll wonder why you came to see me today."
Despite all that careful planning, when I got home, Mom asked, "I heard you were at Aunty Bobbie's today. Why?" Thankfully, a career in live television has taught me to think on my feet, so I tried not to act too busted while I stalled for a lie, and replied, "How do you know?"
"Oh, when I was getting my mail this morning my neighbor Les said he was on the phone with (Bobbie's husband) Uncle Warren, who mentioned you were going there. For what?"
Gosh, I could never have seen that coming. Foiled by Les? Of all the ways to get busted, this was so random. "Auntie Bobbie asked me to pick up your Midweek."
"Great. Where is it?"
"Um. When I got there, she forgot where she put it. She told me to come back."
"Sounds like her."
And then I kind of laugh-cringed because I felt bad for painting Auntie Bobbie as a space case, and worse, having it apparently be credible! Sorry, Auntie!
Anyhow, we covered our tracks well enough, because my mom was totally surprised. I hadn't even told my dad - he get big mouth - so the both of them were surprised and happy to see everyone. You know, we are all so busy, we've been seeing each other mostly at weddings and funerals lately.
Back to those party favors. I wanted to do something special and different, and my best girlfriend owns a glass studio. I thought I'd fire up some glass plates. Art glass, you know? Sophisticated. Beauty in both form and function.
I spent a weekend doing this, with her help. It took me a lot of time, and way more money than cookies in cute boxes. Or how's this one: the super teensy tea cups with two candies inside, wrapped in mesh and tied with a ribbon at the top. Preferably using the color red, or better yet, red and gold. That's a local Chinese table favor if I ever saw one. I bet at least some of you are nodding and laughing right now.
I'm handing out the six inch square plates, and several of my Chinese uncles are like, "Wot dis? One ash tray?" "What I do with dis?" "Eh, too bad I stop smoking."
Two wives were not present, and the third wife was talking across the room, so these three old guys were mulling over what to do with this piece of fu-fu colored glass. I can practically read their thought bubbles: Where the hell are my tea cup chocolates?
I can hear this but I'm still handing out favors. Oh no, they did not just call my fancy-ass art glass an ashtray. I finally walked back over there. "It's a plate," I smiled through a correction.
"It is?" they collectively respond. "It's so small."
One auntie joins in. "Put candy in it."
"Candy?" they ask. "It's not deep enough."
"You could eat off it. Or let your wife put jewelry in it," I suggest.
After a lot of looking at it, they finally decide they will use it as their special ice cream dishes. I'm glad. But I kind of wonder if I should have just gone with the chocolates.