Happy 80th Birthday, Dad!

It was a surprise 5-day birthday party down at Alamo, Texas, for my dad L. Joe Claeys who was born on March 5th, 1925.  All of us seven kids from Minnesota and our spouses flew down from Minnesota on the same flight to Harlingen.  It was Thursday, March 3rd, when we landed.  Mom knew about our plans.

This is the crew that hung around together morning, noon, and night for five days.  Can you name them all?  By the time you get to the bottom of this story, you will know us better.

Let's start at the beginning!  It was 80 degrees and sunny when we arrived at a hotel (the Fairfield Inn & Suites) near Alamo around 11 a.m. that Thursday in a big white 15-passenger rented van.  We unpacked our suitcases and drove to the Alamo Country Club, arriving about 1 p.m.

We rang the front doorbell at 926 Katrin Drive, then hid around the corner until Dad came to see what was going on at his peaceful home.

Yes, Dad was surprised.  Mom had kept the secret very well.

First things first meant food for the family.  Notice that their kitchen television is turned to their favorite channel.  The weather will be sunny on Thursday and Friday with clouds moving in on Saturday and Sunday, up to 87 degrees on Monday.

After Mom's delicious steak fajita supper, we went back to our hotel and some of us tested the water in our hot tub before calling it the end of a very long day.  That's (l-r) Steve, Suzanne, brother Matthew, sister Nancy, me, Allan, and brother Paul.

After breakfast with Mom and Dad at our hotel, we all climbed into the van and drove to the Rio Grande, parking on the USA side and walking across the bridge into Progresso, Mexico.  Hundreds of grackles made noise and weighed down trees and didn't even notice us.

This scene never changes over all the years we've visited Mexico with Mom and Dad.  We throw coins to the Mexicans because it seems to be the thing to do.  They are not fond of pennies.

Live music and little beggars are part of the colorful street scene in Progresso, Tijuana, and many other border cities.  Thank you for carrying my shopping bags, Allan.

Some kids learn early how to make a buck, but I'd never say that a couple pictures tell the whole story.

Mom puts change into their cups and I take a few pictures.  Nobody else seems to notice that this little feller could be giving us the finger.

It's some of the best shopping in the world, certainly the most reasonable.

Beer Alley is the most fun, but a bottle of beer has gone from 50-cents to 75-cents, and a margarita is getting close to $2.  The best song we sing is "Happy Birthday" to Dad.

We recall earlier times when we danced on a dirt floor in this narrow alley between two buildings.  Progress has meant a cement floor and plastic tables and chairs.

We did not take advantage of the shoe-shine kids, but a starving artist got a little work from us.

Allan bought a rose for each of the girls and it required a picture, sitting right in front of the elaborate air conditioned bathrooms.  Front, l-r:   Sharon (Paul's wife) and Barb.  Back:  Margene (Bernie's wife), Editor Sue, Mom, Nancy, and Suzanne (Matt's wife). 

Hanging on tight after we crossed back into the USA, we stopped at a restaurant for supper before heading "home" for the evening.  That's (l-r) my sister Nancy, Mom, Dad, me, and brother Louie.

On Saturday morning, March 5th, the real date of Dad's birthday, we made plans to visit Pepe's on the River at noon, and on the way we stopped at one of the many Ropa's to see if the piles of used clothing had gone down since the last time we visited Texas.  They hadn't.  Used clothing arrives in bales, and is then sort of sorted, and ultimately sold by the piece or the pound to anybody who is interested.  For us it was a sight-seeing adventure.  For others, it's not.

Everybody danced to the good country western music at Pepe's, both mixing and matching, and the band also played Happy Birthday to Dad. 

You can see the river in the background.  In the event you come from another planet, the Rio Grande separates the USA from Mexico.  We didn't see anybody swimming across it as we ate our  nachos, half-pound hamburgers and chicken strips and French fries.

That evening  we found that Mom had arranged all of our roses from Mexico into a pretty arrangement for her table.  It was just perfect, as this was the night of another surprise for Dad.  Mom had invited some of their Texas friends over to their home for food and drinks with all of us kids.

Again, Dad was surprised.  His favorite saying, "Now everything is starting to make sense."  Mom had been buying groceries and stuff when he was golfing, and he could have sworn that the car had been out of the garage.  It's a good thing he didn't look under their bed to find the birthday cake.

Dad just loves to open presents and read cards and be the center of attention.  (And if you believe that's true, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.)

But he does like his friends.  Seated next to Dad are (l-r) Ruth Gartner of Bird Island, MN; Elaine Kubesh of Bird Island, MN; Barb Voges of Bemidji, MN.  Seated in front is Bettyann VanLuik of Starbuck, MN. 

Mom likes their friends too.  She sitting on the knee of Ray Voges of Bemidji, MN, who is seated next to Rueben Van Luik of Starbuck, MN.

Bob and Ardella Runchey, who also live in the Alamo Country Club, are friends from back home at Marshall, Minnesota.  Dad golfs every morning with Bob just as the sun peeks over the horizon.

Since Mom was so organized, there wasn't much work for us in the kitchen so we mainly poured coffee and helped make ham sandwiches.  (L-r):  Margene (Bernie's wife), Sharon (Paul's wife), me, and Suzanne (Matt's wife).  By the way, it's not true that blonds have more fun.

Bud Olsen (flowered shirt) of Black Duck, MN, visited with Allan Orsen (of Victoria, MN!).

Del Lloyd Hillman is the friendly fellow from Gibbon, MN.   His lovely wife Fern didn't get in my pictures.  Maybe next time.  (Elaine's husband Pat Kubesh also got missed somehow.)

Norbert Hoffman of Canby, MN, put a smile on the face of Sharon Claeys of Marshall, MN!

Del Loyd Hillman(center) now pictured with Dad and Suzanne Claeys of Eden Prairie, MN!

Barb Voges loves my mama, who loves red.

Dorothy Hayek (left) and Lucille Hoffman are both from Canby, MN.

Clarita Renemo (left) of Kellior, MN, and Linda Olsen of Black Duck, MN, are laughing ladies.

Patty and Allan Niklason are from Webster, WI.

Ray's lap (on the left) is now empty and Rueben is still on the couch and Wally Renemo of Kellior, MN, joins the picture.

Norbert Hoffman (left) now has the attention of Millard Hayek of Canby, MN, and Tony Gartner of Bird Island, MN (with the suspenders).

Every room was lined with people, and then Mom said, "Come and get it."

I did!  Me, Nancy, Sharon, Margene, Suzanne, Steve Boerboom of Ghent, MN, husband of Nancy.

The next day was Sunday, when our 15-passenger van took us to church at the Basillica of Our Lady of San Juan, a National Shrine near Alamo.

The church seats over 1,800 people and it was totally packed for the 10:30 a.m. Mass.  Our whole family found a bench along a back wall and we were 40 minutes early!

Bishop Pena of the Diocese of Brownsville said the Mass.  He is a very short bishop who reminded me of Bilbo in Lord of the Rings.

Joe and Betty Claeys and their seven children.  Front (l-r):  Paul, Mom, Dad, Louie.  Back:  Bernie, Barb, Nancy, Susan, and Matt.  I am the oldest; Paul is the youngest.

After church we had a tasty and tender roast beef dinner at Mom and Dad's, then took naps for a while and enjoyed the pool at their country club.

It was warm, but most of us didn't feel like getting wet because it was a cloudy day.

Sharon entertained us with a chicken dance that she imitated from a video we watched the night before at Mom and Dad's with everyone.  Weird chickens. 

That night we all ventured to Joe's Crab Shack for supper.  Dad was the first one ready to go.

On Monday morning, Mom and Dad drove to our hotel to have breakfast with us one more time before we left for the airport at Harlingen.  They watched us pack 12 suitcases into the van and then we said goodbye.  Thank you, Mom and Dad, for everything -- the delicious homemade meals, the homemade lemon meringue pie from real lemons, the homemade chocolate brownies and overnight cake, the comfort of your beautiful Texas home, the birthday party with your friends, the dance at Pepe's, and the rest of your hospitality.  Hope the 80th was a good one for you, Dad.

Love, Susan

Email:  Sue@PrintsPublishing.com

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