What my father did not suspect was that we were celebrating his 70th birthday. He had good reason not to suspect: we'd been quiet about just why everyone happened to be in New Jersey the same week, and the times we were in were't overlapping exactly --- this was the one day we were all going to spend the whole day in state --- and of course it was a month and a day after his actual birthday. But we couldn't just let his 70th pass without some kind of gathering and this was the best time we could find when everyone would be able to make it. So when we started singing Happy Birthday and carrying candle-lit cupcakes out to him ... well, he lighted up in a way I haven't seen since the most recent in-family marriage.
Besides the food came a couple of gifts; I think the best find was that my brother found the badge for the first Boy Scout Jamboree that my father had attended, and got it sewn into a shirt. A bit of luck was involved as we weren't unambiguously sure of the right year, but my brother got it right and that was wonderful.
The big gift, though, and the one I'd done the most nagging of people for, was a photo album. We'd put together a collection of pictures of --- well, his life, as best we're able to, considering that for so much of it he was taking the pictures and therefore in them only implicitly. (Also a basement flood in the 90s spoiled a lot of pictures and got the rest stored in plastic boxes.) But we were still able, by nagging my siblings and asking my aunts and uncles, to get a lot of photographs showing him, some from his childhood, quite a few with his kids, many of his tours clowning around in front of great spots in the world.
I'd been trusted with a lot of personal artifacts to do this, such as his diplomas from elementary and high school, or a newspaper clipping pointing out when he was honored for perfect attendance. When I unfolded them I had wondered who had folded them last, and who might unfold them next (possibly me, if we get them put into frames instead of squashed into diploma-presentation books, actually). One, a letter of congratulations from his then-congressman, might have been last touched by my grandmother, decades ago, and I got a bit teary when I was preparing the album by the feeling of myself in part of the long flow of family history.
We're a sentimental clan. My father was overcome with that same feeling of sweetness, and he couldn't quite go through all the photos in the book and talking about so many of them and what he'd been doing without tearing up. I'm so glad we were able to pull this piece of family lore together, and also, that I didn't misspell his name on the cover of the book, the way I suddenly started to fear after sending it to be printed.
(I hadn't looked at the copy of the book on my hard drive because, if I had screwed it up, there was nothing to be done.)
So that was all so very well carried out.
Trivia: The reaction between iron and hydrogen peroxide --- H2O2 + Fe2+ -> OH- + *OH + Fe3+ --- is called the Fenton Reaction, after Cambridge chemist Henry Fenton, who first discovered it in 1894. Source: Oxygen: The Molecule That Made The World, Nick Lane.
Currently Reading: The World That Never Was: A True Story Of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists, and Secret Agents, Alex Butterworth.