A Toast to My Sister on her 40th Birthday
Candy Tables everywhere: my sister's favorite!
My nephew, Bear, playing for his mom on her birthday
Melissa's husband, Billy, dressed up as Shaun Cassidy and doing his Da Doo Run Run performance
And the real Shaun Cassidy sings "Sweet Melissa" and "Happy Birthday to my dear sister
Because my toast is long and I want to include it here, I'll be very brief in writing about the party. But I will say that after months and months of planning, it was far better than anything my sister could ever have dreamed of. She is still floating on high from it. As my sister-in-laws, Tracy and Hilary Halme, both said in their toasts, Melissa brings out the best in us and makes us all better people. So the ultimate gift was that we all walk away feeling a little bit better about ourselves from being a part of her life. The work for the party was a sheer joy because we had so much fun doing all of it together.
The most meaningful moments of the night were when Melissa's son, Barrett, sang to her (I'm not including the pictures of my sister sobbing while he sang.) Then her husband Billy, came out pretending to be Shaun Cassidy and sang Do Run Run. Everyone was in tears and laughter at how hilarious Billy, Ronnie and Paul were. The real Shaun Cassidy actually introduced Billy, which made it extra funny. Then Shaun sang "Sweet Melissa" to her. Then Barrett and Shaun lead everyone in singing Happy Birthday. The siblings, in-laws and my parents all gave toasts. We danced outside until the police (very nice police by the way!) came by to ask us to turn it down. Then we moved all the furniture out of my parents main room and danced until 2:00 AM inside the house. Even my dad who goes to bed early every night, stayed up and danced with my Mom.
Thank you to all of you who are such good friends. I don't want to start naming names because everyone did so much from the people who flew in from out-of-town to the friends that helped set-up and decorate. Melissa was crying on Sunday as she opened all of her gifts and just kept saying over and over again how "nice, thoughtful and generous everyone is!!" So thank you again! The party was as unifying as anything could be and we all felt such joy in celebrating our "Sweet Melissa."
Here is my toast to my beloved sister:
I don’t have any memory of my life without my sister. She was born when I was a year and 17 days old. She was the best gift my parents ever gave to me. She has been a built-in best friend my entire life and I feel like our friendship with each other taught us what friendship was all about and enabled us to be such good friends to others.
Even after we got our own rooms in 7th and 8th grade, we still slept in the same bed in my room until I went to college. I named my daughter after her and am grateful she is my sister on a daily basis.
Melissa and I are the daughters of the “giver of all givers:” Susan Halme. We were raised to believe that the meaning of life was to make others happy. Our “job” is to be there! To be the hosts and the caregivers and the comforters and the celebrators. I remember one time when we were particularly tired after numerous birthday parties, family events and work and we complained to my mom. She simply answered: “that’s our job. It is what we do.” We were given a gift and it is our responsibility to make sure other people know how much they matter. Whether it’s a birth, or a birthday, an illness or a funeral. We are often a threesome scrambling around trying to make other people feel a little more special and KNOW how important they are and how much they mean to us. And I hope all of you here tonight know how important you are to Melissa and how much it means to her that you are here.
Of the three of us, I think Melissa took this gift of giving to the highest level. “Her generosity knows no bounds” could be etched in her gravestone someday. Jeanine and I were talking last Christmas and Jeanine told me that when she first met Melissa that she couldn’t believe she was real. How could someone really be THAT NICE and not have an ulterior motive or want anything in return. Then Jeanine said, but THAT IS the real Melissa. And anyone else who has known Melissa for any length of time knows that what you see is her pure heart. Her constant thoughtfulness and generosity to others is the core of her being.
When we were beginning plans for this 40th birthday party, Melissa couldn’t stand to have this party be about her. She wanted to make it for Billy and Me and have it on our birthdays in June. She wanted to have a party, but felt too guilty to have it be about her. She needed to do the work for “someone else.” We all clearly insisted that this be “Melissa’s party!”
So Melissa, this party tonight is for you. Everyone is here tonight because they love you and want to celebrate you. And I know right now the thought that is going through your mind is “I hope everyone is having a good time and I hope that everyone is enjoying themselves” and “I’m going to have to get all of you a gift for everything you’ve done for me.” So even on this one day of celebrating you I know that you are still thinking about everyone else and how you can possibly replay them.
I started writing this toast about 2 months ago and it turned into a short novel. I’d be sitting at my computer laughing so hard that I was crying and my kids were worried something was wrong with me because they kept saying “are you alright, It sounds like you can’t breathe. I don’t like when you laugh like that!” So then I’d call Melissa and tell her the part I just wrote and we’d be laughing so hard that I could barely even get the words out to tell the story.
So I’ll spare everyone the novel version of our sticker collection and the Little Twin Star sticker that was NOT FOR SALE, the cheesepuff floating down the river in Yosemite, Chemin de Fer jeans, Dolphin Shorts, your first pair of Guess jeans (my mom wondered HOW could someone pay $50 for jeans!!!) Lion’s Library, Troop 291, Sasha Dolls, Archie Comic books, Dreamgirls, the King and the Queen of America, Car Shoes, STAMP, the pasha story (Maikki is here tonight!), lunch at Greta’s when we ate so much that we couldn’t eat any more and had to stuff all the extra desserts in our coat pockets and scarves, Half Dome, Honey Bee, “To see the world in a grain of sand…,” walking to church in Cambridge, the antique leather suitcases being “such a bargain” in Covent Garden, when your water broke, me trying to help you breathe when you were in labor with my horrible onion salsa breath and your face writhing in pain and afterward saying the contraction wasn’t nearly as bad as my breath, learning to drive Dad’s Saab together, our R.L. football sweater from Carmel, Moosup, Maine, the Helmsley Palace, Hello Kitty, Tea sets, Tea parties, Pony Parade, Jeff East and Maxwell Caufield, Hamlet, the Great Gatsby, the Portmerion bowl that we stuck our foot in doing aerobics and the second Portmerion bowl that bounced out of your bicycle basket, the bent knitting needle jammed in our bedroom wall to hold our record collectio, our snazzy record player that “dropped” the records and had an automatic shut-off…all our collections. The stories and laughter go on and on an on and I know Melissa has many other funny and memorable moments with all of you here!
I’ll end with one story: For those of you who know Melissa and have been lucky enough to be the recipient of her emotional and heartfelt thank you notes or cards, knows that they are filled with overwhelming love and gratitude. You know that she is extraordinary at expressing her true feelings and always lets everyone know exactly how she feels. She never has to worry about someone dying before she could sa “I love you” or let them know how she truly feels about them.
One year on Valentine’s Day when I was in Washington, DC she sent me a card.
On the outside it said:
“For Valentine’s Day I just wanted to tell you how I really feel”
on the inside it said
“I really feel fine, thanks!”
But tonight, on your 40th birthday, I DO want to tell you how I really feel:
You are the most beautiful, giving and loving person that anyone could know. You go to great lengths to make sure that everyone is happy, never thinking about yourself. In some families they have something called sibling rivalry. It is hard for me to explain to people that we have the opposite of that. That we find supreme joy in each others accomplishments. When you won homecoming Queen I was 10,000 times happier for your joy that I ever would have been for myself. And I know on the greatest cooking night of my life, you were there in the garage sobbing with me not only knowing exactly how happy I was, but perhaps even being happier yourself that you were there to share that moment with me. We share pain and joy and an unspeakable understanding. So I just want to tell you how proud I am of you and your beautiful family. How very much I love you and how truly Blessed I am to have you as my sister.