Despite all that, Larry's favorite birthday surprise was a simple card project that I began in secret the month before his birthday. Since I couldn't afford to rent a party house in Aruba and fly everyone we knew there to celebrate, I had to come up with a more creative alternative to include friends and family from across the country in his birthday celebration. Months before, I'd bookmarked an awesome idea for a puzzle card on Jordan Ferney's Oh Happy Day. Larry loves to get mail and I knew something similar would be perfect for his big 4-0. I started compiling a list of people to include in the project, and thanks to the power of Facebook was able to collect the addresses of some of Larry's oldest childhood friends.
Then I used Photoshop to design an image for the front of the puzzle - a robot. What six forty year old boy doesn't love robots? I divided the image into 40 separate files and had them printed as 5"x7" postcards at Winkflash. Then I sent each person on my address list one of the postcards, a colorful pre-stamped envelope addressed to Larry, and the instructions to mail the card to him during the week of his birthday.
A few days before his birthday, Larry got the first card. He was so confused by it. "I got the weirdest postcard in the mail for my birthday", he said. I was able to keep a straight face.
The next day, he got the second card. He marched in from the mailbox, completely perplexed by the card that had an envelope that matched the card he received the day before.
"What the < bleep >
He came into the other room where I was biting my tongue to keep from exploding with laughter. "Did you have something to do with this?", he asked. I couldn't keep a straight face any longer. Then he started figuring it out. He was so excited when he realized it was a puzzle. He looked at those two pieces over and over again, trying to figure out what the image was. (I think at some point he guessed it was a horse!)
Once he realized that he was going to receive 40 of them, he was obsessed. Every day, he'd call me from work to ask me if he had received any more cards in the mail. And every evening he'd puzzle over what the image was... and he finally did figure out that it was a robot. "I'm very happy it's a robot!", he exclaimed. See what I mean? Every six forty year old boy does love robots!
The cards trickled in over about a two week span, and ultimately, he received 39 out of 40. I know. One missing card. We're no longer friends with that guy. JUST KIDDING! I actually thought we'd end up missing several, and I know things get lost in the mail and people get busy/distracted so it's pretty amazing that there was only one card that didn't get returned.
The messages that people sent Larry were amazing. Everyone was far more creative than I expected - they sent limericks, jokes, song lyrics, drawings, collages, photos, heartfelt messages, and stories of his past. Each message was perfect in the way it described the friendship the sender had with Larry - everyone from childhood friends to college roommates to co-workers who had known Larry at different stages of his life over the past forty years.
Anyway, once he'd received all 40 39 cards, he assembled the puzzle:
However, the back - with everyone's messages - was even more amazing than the front:
While all the messages were fantastic, there were a few favorites that stood out. This card from Larry's best friend summarizes their entire 21 year friendship...in beer. Perfect:
And this was hands down the funniest card - Larry and I roared with laughter:
I wrote him a list of 40 things I love about him (yes, I did fit all 40 on the postcard):
His parents really got into the project and included the cutest pictures of little Larry:
Check out adorable Larry on his 3rd birthday (picture on the right). "I have TWO CAKES!"
And Larry's awesome nephew sent the funniest message - love this! (I'm saving this card to send back to his nephew when he turns 40...I'm sure he'll get a kick out of that fantastic white tux 24 years from now!)
One of the cards even came with this hilarious bonus. There couldn't be six more perfect categories to describe Larry:
And of course the dogs gave him cards, too:
Larry loved the surprise more than I ever dreamed he would. I thought he would think it was cute, but he was thrilled each day he got cards and he spent hours reading and re-reading the messages.
"This is the most thoughtful thing anyone has ever done for me in my entire life!", he told me.
(I wrote that down in my journal so I wouldn't forget!)
The project turned out so much better than I had hoped. I'll admit, I was a bit worried that people wouldn't send them back - but I never should've second guessed our friends and family - they were so thrilled to participate in the project and the messages they sent were more heartfelt, more funny, and more perfectly Larry than I ever could have predicted. To those of you who participated in the project, a huge THANK YOU. You made Larry's day week month year.