My doctor's news stunned me. I thought the appointment was for a checkup until he confided the results of my tests. I needed to consider my options: only seventeen weeks pregnant, I still didn't show and few knew my condition. I drove to the park and walked to the creek, sitting concealed in the shade beneath the trees: or so I thought.
He stumbled right up to me, appearing suddenly like the grinning Cheshire Cat with wide, slanted eyes and catlike nose below a yellow hard-hat. "Cahm to maw buhday pawdy!" he said, whizzing a party blowout past my nose and back again. His confidence compelled me as he grabbed my hand and whisked me across the grass to a crowded picnic table.
"Welcome!" cried a tiny lady heaping bowls with strawberry ice cream. "I see Frank nabbed you! He hates seeing anyone alone looking sad." She handed me a bowl. "Sit down -- we haven't cut the cake yet. Frank likes ice cream first, so he can enjoy the cake longer. That's his way of having his cake AND eating it, too! Excuse me: I'm Sondra, Frank's mother, and this is John, our mailman, and Cynthia, Frank's bus driver, and Martha here is Frank's favorite grocery clerk, and Jennifer, Frank's speech therapist, and Jim and Patty, our neighbors, and Tom, Frank's best friend, and THIS," she said pointing to the young lady seated next to Frank whose odd features and grin mirrored his, is Frank's best girlfriend, Betsy."
"Nice to meet you: I'm Allyce," I mumbled awkwardly, squeezing in between Jennifer and Patty.
"You wahr diz," Frank commanded, offering me a yellow hard-hat like those sported by his other guests.
"It's a 'Bob the Builder' party!" John explained. Odd: all these people looked so stupid, but appeared to be having such fun together.
"Deez ah maw fwens," Frank expounded, stretching out his stubby hands inclusively.
"Don't be fooled; Frank's much smarter than he sounds," Sondra laughed: "He knows two languages."
"Yeah, but they both sound the same," Jim said, as all the guests roared.
Frank scowled at Sondra and motioned rapidly with his hands.
"What did he say?" Patty asked.
"He said, 'You're giving away my tricks!'" answered Jennifer. "Frank learned sign language before he could speak; sometimes it's still easier for him than talking."
Good grief, he does know two languages: one more than I do! I donned the hat out of respect.
"Let's say grace before our ice cream melts," Sondra suggested. I bowed my head in concession while she prayed. "Dear God: Thank you for your blessings; especially for Frank and the precious times you've given us. Bless him in his new job and as he moves toward independent living. May Frank be as much a blessing in the future as during these past twenty-one years. In Jesus name: Amen."
"And please bless this food and company," John added. "Amen! You got so busy blessing Frank you forgot the food!" he chided.
While slurping ice cream, I examined the faces around me. No matter what Frank's limitations, it was obvious these people adored him. Could I find nine people who loved me this much?
Today of all days with my world topsy-turvy, what unseen force brought us together? My future seemed as uncertain as the gleefully kicking baby I could not yet feel within me. Or was my future sitting across the table mirrored back at me? Sondra reflected such pride in Frank, despite the effects of Down syndrome. It was hard to even think the words.
"Enough, Frank. Let's cut the cake!" Sondra said, "AFTER you hear my speech: Frank, you amaze me. First, they said it would be better if you were never born: then when I refused to give you up, they told me you would never amount to anything. But look at the fine, competent man you've become! I wish I could have seen what you'd be like now, back at the beginning: I might have been a better mother." Tears splashed on Sondra's blouse, as Frank leapt to her side.
"You da bess mama evah," he said with a kiss: "Ah luv you, Mama." Everyone clapped, and Sondra cut the cake after Frank blew out the candles. While wolfing down cake, he paused under my scrutiny. Grinning that Cheshire smile, he pierced me with his eyes: "Ah luv buhdays!" he said. "Thangs fah cahmin."
"It means more to me than you know," I told him: and I meant it.
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