If any of you would like advice on how to celebrate the 50th Wedding Anniversary of one's parents, please write. I am now an expert. Here are ten suggestions.
1. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I have been at 50th anniversary celebrations where the grown offspring and nearest relatives live within ten minutes of the celebrants. These are folks who spend every holiday with each other anyway, are on the phone with each other all the time, and are constantly dropping in on each other. Sure, close families are nice families, but then what's the big deal about 50 years? Try, instead, to scatter your brothers and sisters over a continent. Then any reunion for any length of time becomes that much more special, since even the effort of just showing up is appreciated.
2. Familiarity breeds contempt. A corollary to the first statement, the fact is that when everyone in the family stays so close, grandkids begin to say things like "do we HAVE to?" when it comes to anniversary parties, because they have already been to Aunt Edna's and Uncle Bob's 25th the previous week, and great-uncle Keith's 60th the month before. But if Grandpa and Grandma are people you only see twice a year at the most, then no one is saying "do we have to." Instead, they are saying "are we there yet?" which, for taste in whines, is much sweeter and leaves a better after-taste.
3. A penny saved won't pay for regret. First, how many people married for life surive fifty years together? Many are the happy marriages cut short by death. Second, how many marriages last 15 years, much less fifty, in today's age of "commitment means whatever"? You get one shot. They're your parents and they have stayed together for fifty years, so splurge already. If you overdo it, who cares? If you cut a short shrift, you'll be lying awake nights wishing you had done more.
4. A penny saved by smart shopping is a penny earned. Splurge by all means, but remember that pillow mints really ARE cheaper at WalMart. And they are pillow mints anyway, so why get them at an upscale candy boutique?
5. You can't always get what you want. I am quoting the Rolling Stones, lyrics by Mick Jagger I guess but I'm not looking it up, from the album "Let it Bleed." Sometimes your dreams cannot come true, whether it is for just the right song to be played, or just the right shade of streamer for the banquet hall, or this caterer's menu for the other caterer's price range. Just breathe. It is doubtful anyone else cares about what you have in mind as much as you do.
6. But if you try sometimes you'll find you get what you need. That is how the Stones finish the line, at least as far as I've been able to hear the words. Use what is available and be content instead of fussy. If it coordinates people will compliment you. If you pull off too much Martha Stewart-style perfection, you might impress but you will secretly be hated anyway by other guests who, for their own parents' celebration, did not arrange for the life-size ice sculpture based on the wedding photo.
7. Give the children something to do. Children who have nothing to do while you are running your errands or setting up, and children who have nothing to do once they have gotten dressed for the party and have eaten, will cause trouble. Giving them something to do will improve their experience and your own, and will swell the pride in the guests of honor. Some suggestions: Make them sing like the Von Trapp Family Singers of Sound of Music fame. Everyone likes corniness at an event like this. Or, depending on your catering and banquet venue, have them help serve or distribute party favors. Give young children a corner for play, or have an adjacent room where an innocuous DVD can be shown, with older kids to baby-sit the little ones.
As children are given ownership, you will be surprised at what they contribute. It was one of the grandkids who saw that we had not prepared a toast, so in the final hours of preparation her Aunt saw to it that the supplies for a toast were in hand, and yours truly may have had a thing or two to say by way of a toast to my parents. I'm not bad off-the-cuff, as you can tell by this article written twelve hours past deadline. (Under these circumstances a slip of the tongue is kind of like a typo. Oh well, just keep going.)
8. Carry lots of cash. Things might come up in the hours leading up to the event, or even during the event, which may require tips or reimbursement or a quick gallop to a hardware store for an extension chord, or to a candy boutique for more pillow mints.
9. Lend a hand. Even if you're not in charge, you will see things that can get done. Others might not see the same things or have the same opportunity to get them done, so go ahead and do them. It is doubtful that many people will complain and more likely that they will thank you, unless you come from a family where your siblings are control-freaks who are battling each other for the leadership. Among my siblings the affair was actually quite democratic, with different people taking charge of different aspects in consultation with one another. A first among equals did emerge from among us, whose powers became more and more dictatorial as the event drew close, and that passed naturally to the oldest of the offspring. If you are an only child, you are not only expected to lend a hand, you are actually in charge. Keep this list of handy tips with you. If your kids are older, as in upper teens, or in their twenties and independent, delegate as appropriate.
10. No matter how many siblings you have, if you have read this, you will probably be put in charge. Dear Jon was not in charge because Dear Jon is not the oldest, and that is just fine. If you do not want to be put in charge, forward this column to your oldest sibling. The forward will itself be construed as a nomination, and the nomination is often the same as the election, as is true in most families and in the Democratic Party of Chicago.
Bonus Tip: For August celebrations, be sure your space has adequate air-conditioning. EPA "Air Pollution Action Days" do NOT have your parents' 50th Anniversary in view. Once Al and Tipper are married 50 years they will be celebrating in an upscale banquet venue with a controlled temperature, and it will not occur to them to experience one whit of guilt even with his Oscar and Nobel Prize. Count on it. Therefore take it to heart that it IS better to cook the freon than to cook your guests, many of whom, being friends of people married 50 years, are not exactly spring chickens.