A true story from “My Father, My Mother and Me: Sons and daughters tell of their devotion, challenges and successes in honoring their parents.”

Me, spontaneous? No one would use that word to describe me. I’m the deliberate, cautious, plan-in-advance type. That’s why this whole impromptu was trip was so outrageous.

My parents are very active in their suburban community where they have lived for several decades. It’s where I grew up. They have generously endowed institutions and various programs. They do a lot of volunteering and open their homes for community events. I was, therefore, not surprised when I received a call one spring day that they would be honored at a dinner for one of the local organizations. There would be a big-name speaker and an elegantly catered dinner. My parents were the honorees of the evening.

My mother’s excitement on a one-to-ten hit top number. Soon, we received a gold-embossed invitation to this gala affair, accompanied by a form, enabling us to either place an ad or dedicate good wishes to the honorees that would appear in the journal to be distributed the evening of the event.

I knew the first thing all honorees do is to open the journal to see which friends and family responded. My parents would be no different, so I knew we had to do this in a grand way.

This was certainly an easy opportunity, handed to me on a silver platter, to give my mother public recognition. I put the form with the other bills that needed attention on a shelf and then (really inexcusable, I know) just let it slip my mind.

That Wednesday, my husband Eli and I were taken by surprise when we received in the mail a sizeable sum of money that had been owed to us for quite some time.

The following Sunday, I sat down with that pile of “to do” papers. I was determined to make it all disappear that day, my parents’ journal entry included.

Though I like to pride myself on my efficiency, a quick look at the form revealed that I had been asleep at the wheel. The final date for responding was the previous day!

I quickly called my husband. Eli told me to call the number on the form. Maybe they could still push this under the wire.

No such luck.

This wasn’t going to be good. My parents, particularly my mother, were not going to be happy to find nothing from me in “her” journal. It was a slap in the face, topping a relationship that wasn’t too great to begin with.

The Best Gift

When Eli came home, he found one forlorn wife. “What can you do now to make up to your parents?” he asked.

“Probably call her the day of the dinner…maybe a box of chocolates sent to her door,” I answered flatly.

Eli looked up, and caught my eye. “I have a better idea. Why don’t you just go?”

I was speechless. But it didn’t take me long to find my tongue. “Are you serious? Smack dab in the middle of everything? Are you remembering that we have kids? Who will take care of them? And how can we afford this extravagance? And what about my job,” I spluttered.

“Whoa, hold on,” Eli said, laughing. “No need to press the panic button. Let’s first call a travel agent and see how much we’re talking about.”

Still in a state of shock, I poured myself a cold drink as Eli punched in the number.

By the end of the conversation, we had found a reasonably priced flight with suitable flying options. My very supportive husband booked the ticket. He and a few neighbors would watch two of our kids; I would bring the youngest two with me. My boss was accommodating.

Everything was falling into place. It looked like any obstacles were slowly being cleared away.

The clincher for my husband was the serendipitous arrival of that unexpected check. The Almighty had given us His nod.

I flew in the next day. I spoke to my father when I booked the ticket to get his okay on the surprise I was planning for my mother. He was thrilled to be part of it and gladly picked me up from the airport.

After a half-hour drive, we pulled into the driveway, locked the car, and walked to the front door. We rang the bell, and amid excited exclamations of disbelief, tears and laughter, I was enveloped in my mother’s embrace.

This time, my trip wasn’t for a holiday visit or a family vacation. I was coming for a special event for my parents. And, on top of that, it was a surprise! People would be coming from all over to honor them at the dinner. But I had come the greatest distance. I knew people would make a fuss over my thoughtfulness and the gorgeous grandchildren.

When we walked into the hall, jaws dropped. That evening, I kept repeating to everyone, “I flew in to honor my parents. I knew they would enjoy having me and two of my kids here.”

Do you think my mother looked at the journal for one minute? She was so busy showing off me and my kids, so happy and proud.

“Your daughter really came in especially for this dinner? Wow!”

I stayed ten days. Every day we did something else memorable. My mother couldn’t get enough of the children, especially the baby. If Zevi was up in the middle of the night, my mother was right there beside him. Zevi was now fed, bathed, changed, and smothered with love by Gramma.

The night before we left, my mother and I shared a quiet moment.

“Mommy, I hope we made your day special by sharing it with you.”

I wasn’t prepared for her response. I knew it had been really over the top for me to jump on a plane with so little forethought. I also knew my mother would flip out…and she did. With it all, I still didn’t imagine how much this was going to mean to her.

At my words, “I hope we made your day special,” her whole demeanor changed. The light mood of a moment before passed. When my mother finally spoke, they were words I think I will never forget.

“This is the nicest thing anyone ever did for me,” my mother said with a tremor in her voice. “You not only made my day, you made my week. You made my life.”

Excerpted from “My Father, My Mother and Me: Sons and daughters tell of their devotion, challenges and successes in honoring their parents” By Yehudis Samet, with section on Jewish Laws by Rabbi Yehuda Samet, Artscroll/Mesorah.