Pic of the Day
Father Beachem’s Birthday Party
While my twin brother Joey and I weren’t quite as different as Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzeneggar in the movie “Twins”, there are very few occasions when we are mistaken for one another.
Of course we are not, to state an understatement, identical twins, thus any physical resemblance we have to each other is the same as any brother would have with another. And, indeed, Joey and I do look enough alike to be identified as the Beachem brothers. Beyond that, in terms of our habits, likes, dislikes, temperaments and that sort of thing, Joey and I are as different as Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzeneggar.
To begin with, Joey is a priest. I, while a devout Catholic as was my upbringing and as my parents raised both me, Joey, and our sister Christine, could never be a priest. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.
In fact, though, most folks would, without making previous acquaintance with either I or Joey, would likely point to me as the priest while he would be considered the party boy, the guy constantly telling the jokes, the fellow surrounded by admirers and sought out by all for his sparkling company. Yet there you have it. Joey is known to most of the world as Father Beachem while I am called, simply, Jeffie.
“Let me get this straight,” I said with a simmering seethe to my sister that day in early April after her suggestion that we throw a surprise birthday party for brother Joey. “You want to throw a surprise birthday party for my twin brother? I mean, come on Chris, I know Joey and I are not much alike what with being twins and everything, but we were born on the same day. Did it occur to you that it would also be my birthday too?”
“Aw Jeffie…I’m sorry,” my sister said, giving me a hug of reconciliation. “I thought you would understand.” With this Christine walked over to a corner stool in my apartment, only one of two places to sit in my humble and barely furnished apartment.
“This year your birthday also falls on the day Joey takes his final vows for the priesthood. I thought it would be a great thing to throw him a combination of a surprise party as well as a celebration of his final vows. I knew it was also your birthday, Jeffie,” with this Christine stopped and grabbed a curl of her head hair and began twisting on it with an intensity. “But the last time we threw both you and Joey a surprise party you totally freaked out. You screamed and cried and made me and Mom swear to never do such a thing again. It’s strange that now you are complaining because I did promise never to throw a surprise party for you again, Jeffie, if you remember. But I never made such a promise to Joey and somehow it doesn’t seem fair that just because you don’t like surprise parties that Joey should never have another one. And I wouldn’t even be doing this but it’s also the day he takes those final vows.”
Christine had by then twisted that hank of hair around so tight that I figured it had to be hurting her.
Everything Christine said was true enough. She and my Mom threw a surprise birthday party for me and Joey’s 14th birthday and it was just awful. See, whereas Joey is outgoing and loves a crowd, I like to sit in the background and watch the action. I tend to get tongue-tied when confronted by strangers and for sure females scare the bejabbers out of me. At the tender and scary age of 14 it was all I could do to keep from passing out from fear the day of me and Joey’s surprise birthday party and add to this Christine invited about twelve girls from our school and talk about terror.
“I was hoping you would cook for the event, Jeffie,” Christine said in a small, very timid voice.
Suddenly I became animated. Wow. Cooking for a party, preparing various but classy appetizers, making up a tasty and fine main dish. My mind wrapped around the concept and soon I was making up mental lists of groceries and preparation techniques.
For as shy as I am around people and all that being in the company of strangers entails, I am exactly the opposite in my enthusiasm level for preparing food for those same strangers. Since I was a toddler, so my Mom tells me, I’ve always liked the stove, food, and cooking. In fact, I just recently got promoted to head Chef at Amour De Mer, the restaurant of my current employ. I loved cooking for the restaurant patrons indeed but it’s always been my dream to have my own catering firm where I can bring joy and celebration to life’s major events via my own carefully chosen and prepared foods. I began to mentally compile the menu.
“I can tell you like the idea, Jeffie,” Christine said, interrupting my reverie.
I let out a quiet chuckle. “You want me to cater my twin brother’s birthday party,” I said, bemused. “And yet,” I continued, looking to the air for the sentiment I wanted to express, “I want to do it. Let’s put the emphasis on Joey’s priesthood vows and downplay the birthday thing. I don’t want the fact that it’s my birthday to detract from Joey’s celebration.” Christine nodded affirmative to my requirements. I considered a brothy minestrone would be a fine soup course. I’d make the pasta myself.
Christine came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “I really don’t want to hurt your feelings, Jeffie. I love you as much as I do Joey. And if I thought you wouldn’t get all upset, I’d be planning and throwing a surprise party for both of my twin brothers.” Christine walked over to the door and stopped before turning the handle for exit. “It’s about time you got over Marianne, Jeffie. Maybe there will be a special female at the party.”
I threw my dishtowel across the room at my sister. “Don’t even THINK of trying to set me up, Christine. I’m doing just fine with the females and I hardly remember Marianne.”
Which was not true at all except for that bit about forbidding my sister from setting me up with some girl. It’d been almost a year since Marianne and I broke up but I still ached like the dickens for her. Alas, it was not meant to be. Marianne left to attend graduate school late last summer and she never came back. She sent me a “dear Jeff” letter and hey, I deal with it. Broken hearts heal but they take time.
Joey is a wonderful priest. Although I didn’t suppose he’d be officially a priest until those final vows but if one were to choose out of the two of us who would end up the priest, most would pick me. I am shy, withdrawn, quiet, and with an “almost holy” air about me, as Marianne once phrased it. I thought it was a compliment at the time but I guess not.
Joey’s sermons always keep the congregation alert, he enjoys meeting many new people, he tells jokes and makes humorous observations and he is beloved immediately as soon as one should meet him. He is devoted to the Catholic faith although many might not think so. “If I have a personality that draws people to the church Jeffie,” he would tell me, “then I consider that God gave me that talent for a reason.”
Although I’ve heard often enough through the years that it would seem I was more priestly, common sense would dictate, if one thought about it, that a shy, quiet and withdrawn priest is hardly an asset to the church.
“Jeffie, you’ve positively outdid yourself,” Christine told me the night of the intended surprise party. I watched my sister chew on a bacon-wrapped shrimp thoughtfully and I beamed. I’d worked for almost three weeks planning, preparing and purchasing all foodstuffs for this party and in less than an hour my twin brother would arrive. Joey will love having a surprise party. Earlier in the afternoon Christine and my folks had a little party for me with a small cake and gifts. It was perfect for me and now I would shine with the food spread I’d prepared and that was okay with me. One of the better things about the party is that I would not have to stand around all wooden and awkward. I could busy myself with the food and my interaction with the guests would be so much more comfortable in my role as caterer than as one of the subjects of the party. My brother the priest would do so much better as the focus of the festivities.
“Christine I don’t know how you found all of our high school friends but Joey will love it,” I told my sister as I stirred the minestrone and tested the tenderloins for temperature. “I must admit it’s been great for me to see them again as well.”
My sister beamed in pride at my compliments. I checked my watch and noted that my priestly brother would be arriving in ten minutes. It was time to get the gang all hidden away. My brother thought he was meeting me at a hotel room where I was allegedly staying for the fumigation of my apartment. Instead I would meet him in the lobby and guide him to this hotel meeting room now decorated for his special day.
“What?” I said to my brother’s voice then coming through on my cell phone. “Joey, I’ve been looking forward to this all week. I can’t have a birthday party without my twin brother!”
“I’ll be there, Jeffie. It’s just that I’ve got some things to tend to here. Don’t get so upset. It’s just our family. They’ll understand.”
Of course I couldn’t tell Jeffie that a bevy of our friends and family awaited his arrival so they could shout “SURPRISE” as he walked into the room because the event was, duh, a surprise. But Joey didn’t know this and he had a delay of some sort and he figured it was just a quiet get-together with our family so he phoned me up to casually tell me about the delay. Inside I was freaking out.
The guests were by now getting restless. And hungry. I told the guests that Joey would be late but that he gave his blessing for all to begin eating and hopefully he would arrive in time to open the gifts. Besides, my tenderloin on crispy toast points was beginning to dry out so I was anxious to get the folks eating my creations.
An hour passed by before I even knew it and oddly, no one even asked about Joey. I spent the time checking and adjusting my smorgasbord and I did quite enjoy the many compliments and the sheer joy of seeing so many enjoying my food.
All party attendees filled their plates, many two and three times, and laughter could be heard filling the room. I circulated amongst the guests, checking their food, answering questions, promising recipes, assuring many that soon enough I would have my own catering service. It was great to see so many of our friends from school, including Linda Halpern, former cheerleader and once the object of my unknown-to-her affections.
“How have you been doing, Jeffie?” she said once I got free of another group of high school chums to pay her some singular attention. “I just can’t tell you how wonderful this food is. You’ve always been a good cook. I remember that time you prepared all the food for our senior football banquet and what a great time we all had.”
I promised Linda the recipe for my crusted tilapia and she handed me her business card so I could call her with it. Linda cautioned me not to email it as she often let her email pile up. I asked Linda how she was doing with Martin, our high school’s star quarterback who she married right after graduation and she told me they’d been divorced three years now. It crossed my mind that the tilapia recipe might give me another chance to meet Linda. I quickly pushed such a notion out of my head as I noted that my priestly brother was still nowhere to be found and the guests were again getting restless.
“You want me to do what?” I struggled to keep my voice down as I finally reached Joey and he told me to open up his gifts for him.
“The Bishop is here, Jeffie. I can’t just walk out. It’s family, Jeff. They’ll understand. Tell Mom that as soon as I get there I promise to spend the whole evening with them. We’ll catch up. Have Mom and Dad hold their gifts till I get there but I understand Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Bill need to leave. Open YOUR gift from them and mine will probably be the same.”
It was all starting to get so complicated. Joey was still laboring, wherever he and the Bishop were, under the assumption that his birthday party as scheduled was a simple gathering of our close family and I was at a point where I might have to tell him the truth. It wasn’t as if I’d be opening gifts from Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Bill and it simply would not do for me to open up all the gifts from our family and friends at Joey’s surprise party. They brought gifts for Joey and he should be the one opening them. I got my sister Christine and put her on the phone with Joey. I figured I was the chef, let her figure out how to handle this.
“Jeffie, we’ve got a web cam hookup,” Christine told me after speaking with Joey for five minutes. Chris pointed to some object over in the far corner which I could not see but I guess it was supposed to be a web cam. “I’m going to explain to the guests that Joey’s been tied up doing priest stuff and he is watching on the web cam. You will open his gifts in his place. Be sure to hold them up in front of the web cam. We told the guests this was a surprise for Joey’s final vows of the priesthood. I don’t even think they know it’s either you or Joey’s birthday. I feel bad about you having to open Joey’s gifts but you insisted that there never be another surprise party…”
I waved off Christine’s concerns in the confusion and oddity of the situation. Before I knew it gifts were piled up in front of me and the whole absurdity of it all faded away. I opened the boxes and held up the shirts and socks and gift certificates to something over in the corner, hoping my brother was seeing these gifts and pondering if my cake icing was holding up in the kitchen.
After the gift weirdness, I got the cake and did have to touch up my fine buttercream icing a bit. I put 28 candles on the cake and asked my sister Christine if Joey was still on the web cam so we could sing Happy Birthday to him.
“Let me take this, Jeffie,” Christine said, taking the cake from my arms. “You worked hard enough baking the thing and making all the food. You’ve been a real gem, Jeffie. You go out and sit with the guests. Yes, Joey’s still on the web cam so he’ll see us singing Happy Birthday to him.”
I blew an exasperated breath wind up my face. This was certainly turning out quite unexpectedly what with Joey not here for his own surprise birthday party. I did, as I thought in muse before handing over my exquisite cake to my sister, having a good time in spite of the guest of honor’s non-arrival. I supposed he’d get here sooner or later and at least our immediate family could have a small party and spend time with him.
I managed to get a seat next to Linda Halpern, just by accident, and was surprised to see a big Movie screen come down from the ceiling. My brother, bigger than life and garbed in his priestly vestments, appeared on the screen. At the same time my sister came in with the cake, all 28 candles lit and burning brightly.
“SURPRISE!” both my sister with the burning cake and my brother on the TV screen shouted and I looked around as to just who was being surprised.
“Surprise, Jeffie. This was the most difficult thing to pull off. I told Christine it would never work but she managed to do it.” After these words my mother gave me a peck on the cheek and my Dad bashfully held out his hand for a shake.
“Happy Birthday, Jeffie,” my brother’s voice boomed from the movie screen. The guests were all murmuring amongst themselves at this sudden turn of events. I was numb from trying to figure it out.
“Let’s all sing Happy Birthday to Jeffie,” my sister said, holding up that cake with the 28 lit candles. “This is the only way we could give him any kind of birthday party, much less a surprise party. We knew any gift you would bring for Joey would suit Jeffie for the most part. Jeffie, I hated to do this but I watched you. You had a good time at your birthday party…which your twin brother deliberately missed just so we could surprise you. I know you did.” Christine then leaned over and whispered in my ear: “I also knew you wouldn’t hear of me setting you and Linda Halpern up but I see it worked out too.”
Everyone in the room was laughing and singing Happy Birthday to ME. I looked around at all my high school chums, my family, my Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Bill, and Linda Halpern. In fact I did have a great time.
It’s been five years now since that famous 28th birthday party. My brother finally did take his final vows and I learned such a thing is not the sort of activity that takes one afternoon. Linda and I are married and we jointly own J&J’s catering firm. My brother the priest is a silent partner. We have one son, Joseph, named after his beloved Uncle, and Linda expects our daughter, Jane Christine, in three months.
It was the surprise birthday party of a lifetime. If my sister had listened to me, I’d probably still be cooking for Amour de Mer, still be a lonely single guy, still be….
Ah, but Christine didn’t listen to me, now did she?
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