Fortunately, Grandma was able to talk Grandpa into letting Dad have another chance. We could hear them arguing in the background as Mom pulled the phone away from her ear.
Then Grandpa got back on and said, "Well, we'll make it a surprise party, then."
"A surprise party?" Mom stammered. Grandpa did know what surprise meant, didn't he?
"Sure, the party is on Saturday the 31st, right? That's Halloween. We'll make it a costume party for our 60th."
I could almost see Grandma rolling her eyes as Grandpa handed her the phone and she talked to Mom for a while longer.
"Oh, boy," we all moaned. Sounds like this was going to be some get-together.
But at least we had sixteen days to prepare. That was plenty of time to do a little housecleaning.
That first day we were pretty industrious. We packed tons of stuff into the attic, carefully marking each box so that we'd know what was what. We didn't get very far, but we weren't worried. After that we kind of cleaned up at a more leisurely pace -- we tried to arrange things up there as neatly as we could so that we'd be able to get back to normal as painlessly as possible when everyone had gone home and the house was turned back into an office building.
Meanwhile, I tried to pretend Mrs. Fitzenwahler wasn't really around, but it was pretty hard. She was there bright and early every morning as crotchety as ever. It seemed that Mom and Dad and Suzie and Mike bent over backwards to make things as comfortable as possible for her. Of course, I avoided her at all cost.
We checked out those books on self-publishing from the library, and we all studied them carefully, taking notes and daydreaming about our publishing company. I was lost in my daydreams on several occasions when suddenly I'd feel Old Fire Fists breathing over my shoulder as she peered at the book and commented on the grammatical mistakes and other misuses of the English language.
"I didn't write it," I'd groan. "I'm only reading it!"
Of course, over the next two weeks, Dad filled about forty calendars with deadlines and agendas and mile-markers -- but what else is new.
Mom and Dad also spent a lot of time going over just what would be the best way to present the Names books so that Grandpa would approve of the idea, but Uncle Bill assured her the book would speak for itself. And if it didn't speak loud enough, he'd put in a few good words as well.
We were still leisurely carrying things up to the attic on Thursday before the party, when we heard all the commotion outside. Mike was in the living room tapping away on his computer. He didn't even notice. Apparently he was deep in thought, working on a complete proof of his idea that "life is a dream."
I was hiding in my room, trying to avoid the roaming Fitzenwahler when I heard the ruckus. "Rick, can you tell them to quiet down out there," Mike moaned eventually.
I was sure it was just a bunch of kids getting ready for Halloween pranks, but I agreed to check to make sure they weren't soaping our windows.
There was one of those block-long limousines out there and a crowd of people were standing around pointing and waving, thinking there was a movie star inside, I guess.
"Hey, look you guys!" I called. "It must be somebody famous. Or...uh, oh..." The chauffeur had gotten out and had opened the back door. Out stepped Grandma.
"Quick, everyone, GRANDMA AND GRANDPA ARE HERE!" I screamed.
"Oh, my gosh!" everyone was gasping as they ran around like chickens without their heads.
"Uh...stick everything in Ricky's room..." Dad suggested as we crashed into each other, wondering what to do with the piles we'd gathered in our haste.
"Hey, why my room?" I protested.
"It's the closest!" Mom agreed.
I glanced outside. Thank goodness Grandma was talking to Mrs. Filburn. Grandpa teetered back and forth, tapping his fingers on his cane while he listened patiently. Then he began walking around them in circles. Finally he climbed back into the limo and had the chauffeur pour him a drink.
By the time they finally walked up the steps and rang our doorbell, the living room was cleared out. I looked over at my door as Suzie and Davey went to let them in, and I could swear it was bulging.
"George, don't say a word...no matter what!" Mom commanded and hurried across the living room to greet her parents.
"Mom, Dad...you're early!"
"Hello, everybody!" Grandpa laughed.
Mom hugged Grandma. Then we all made the rounds.
"So, where's your lovely wife?" Grandma said as I hugged her and smelled twenty-five years of Florida memories.
"Um, she's a..."
"She's out with Elizabeth," Mom filled in. "They'll be back later."
She is. She will? I forgot that they didn't know we'd broken up. I guess this wouldn't be the best time to tell them.
"And who's this?" Grandpa inquired, pointing to Old Fire Fists sitting on the couch.
"Oh," Mom laughed. "This is Feona Fitzenwahler...a friend of the family."
"Pleased to meet you," Grandpa smiled. "Will you be coming to the Halloween party?"
"Oh, I don't think so..."
"Of course you'll come," Grandpa laughed. "Well, folks we can only stay a minute. We were in the neighborhood and we thought we'd stop by and say hello."
"You're leaving?" we all gasped at once.
"Yes, we'll be back on Saturday for the party. We just came from Tom's house in South Carolina. I thought we'd drive up and see Bill in the Big Apple, now."
"Oh, are you flying down with Uncle Bill Saturday?" Mike asked.
"Mike, you're back from your...wanderings..." Grandpa exclaimed, noticing him for the first time.
"Yeah. Congratulations on your Golden Anniversary, by the way." A little late, only ten years, but it's the thought that counts.
Grandpa opened his mouth to say something, then chuckled to himself instead. "Thanks, Mike. And no, we're not flying down with Bill. Well, got to go. Going to race through the Park down Sklyine Drive before dark, then we're going to stop at Monticello, and well, who knows where we'll go from there. Don't want to plan too much ahead...well...Adios folks."
Grandma kissed us all again, and shrugging, followed dutifully after her husband.
"Take it easy, Mrs. Filburn," Grandpa called as the chauffeur opened the door and he climbed in. "Don't wear yourself out..."
Then they drove off.
We shouldn't have been surprised, really. It's always been this way. They showed up at my wedding, for example, even though it was right in the middle of one of his and Dad's feuds. Actually, they showed up while Dad was in the bathroom, and they were gone by the time he got out. Poor Grandma!
"Can we get the stuff out of my room now, please," I begged as we turned and headed back inside. We drew straws to see who would have to open the door. I tried to fix it so that Mrs. Fitzenwahler drew the small straw, but of course I lost. Fortunately I was able to jump aside fast enough so that 80,000 pounds of files didn't fall on my head. We worked a little faster after that getting everything ready for Saturday.
"Who's coming to this thing, anyway?" Suzie mumbled as we set about the grim task.
"Uncle Tom and Aunt Shirley, and their kids Nicky, Arthur and Janet -- you remember them?"
We all nodded, then realized maybe not. It had certainly been a while. We almost never saw anybody.
"Uncle Bill and Aunt Sarah, of course, and maybe Peter and his new wife. That's about it. Oh, and you, Mrs. Fitzenwahler, if you can make it."
"My niece is flying in to visit me for the weekend. I'm afraid I really am going to have to pass. But thank you, and please thank your father."
Thank goodness, Mom didn't invite her niece along, too! But still it looked like one or more of us would have to sleep in the basement with Mike to make room for all the guests. Oh, well. The price you have to pay to get things in this life.
"Oh, and by the way," I said to Mom after Mrs. Fitzenwahler had left for the day. "What are you going to do now that you told Grandma that Maggie and Elizabeth would be here?"
"Well, Richard. If you could ask Maggie to pretend on Saturday that things are OK between you two, it would be really helpful."
I swallowed. This was going to be some weekend!