I've been to a MARVELOUS party!

OK, before I begin, I just want to explain the really dorky title. There’s a street in Chicago called Clybourn Avenue (pronounced Cly-borne, although if you ride Chicago’s CTA “El” system, the recorded announcer pronounces it “Cly-burn”… but I digress), and along this street used to be many warehouses and manufacturing companies. However in recent years, these have given way to a huge stretch of retail– from the “she-she” to the junk stores to everything in between.

Anyway, there’s a store on this street called “I’ve Been To A MARVELOUS Party”, and I just couldn’t help but think that it had to be the absolute GAYEST name for a store I have ever seen. It wouldn’t be so bad if the word “MARVELOUS” wasn’t actually in ALL CAPS, just as I typed it… but it is. I imagine it’s some place where you can buy a bunch of streamers and party hats and confetti and all kinds of other party supply junk stuff… and it’s probably even a cute store… but the name– tis to laugh.

But this post isn’t really about a party supply store on Clybourn Avenue in Chicago. It’s about my Aunt’s 60th birthday party this past Saturday.

Now normally, anytime our family plans a birthday party, it’s a relatively low-key affair. There’s cake. There’s ice cream. There’s candles. There’s “Happy Birthday”. There’s coffee. And yes, of course, there’s presents. And then everyone goes home.

Our family celebrates birthdays every year. For everyone. And we have for as long as I can remember. Of course, not everyone can make it for various reasons these days, but we always try. If it wasn’t for that, the only times we’d see each other would be for Christmas and MAYBE Independence Day– and even that day isn’t a sure thing anymore.

But with my Aunt turning 60, my cousin (my Aunt’s only child), planned a surprise party.

I know. Insert groans of dismay here.

Surprise parties can either be a lot of fun or a real drag. Anytime a party is overplanned and overproduced, it becomes too much work for everyone. Well, my cousin has done a few of these in her lifetime– some good, some not so good. But we all do our best to pitch in as necessary.

She decided to have the party at a new restaurant in Kenosha called “Pazzo”. It had recently opened in the downtown area and she and her husband had really good things to say about it. I also had heard of it from my mom, who told me that one of the proprieters was a guy that I grew up with on my street.

Of course, there’s some backstory here as well.

This guy lived about four houses away from us, and he and his brother (who also owns the business) were constant sources of childhood agony for me. Sure, when we were little we were friends, but as we grew older, and he grew into more of a wise-ass, he would tease me incessantly. Eventually his family moved away, and we lost touch.

So this birthday had a lot of interesting factors. First, would the party be a blast or a bust? Second, what would happen when I saw this guy? And third, as is the case with any surprise party, would my Aunt be surprised?

As it turns out, everything went amazingly well.

The restaurant is absolutely gorgeous. They opened it in a building that for years had housed a gift shop. Many of the party-goers reminisced buying wedding gifts at this same location years prior. The decor, as well as the patrons, was decidedly chic and classy. And the food was incredible. There was even a very good jazz band (from Chicago, apparently) that performed later on in the evening.

And when I walked in the door, my former childhood nemesis recognized me immediately, shook my hand and welcomed me and my mom (who I was accompanying), and introduced us to his wife and his adorable baby daughter, who happened to be there at the time. We caught up a bit and proceeded into the party room.

The room had huge floor-to-ceiling windows which looked out on the boulevard, which is the main road toward Kenosha’s new harbor park development. Kenosha’s downtown is on quite an upswing after many, many years of being neglected and forgotten. After Chrysler ceased operations at the downtown plant (which was previously the original home of the Simmons Mattress company, by the way), Kenosha’s downtown essentially became a ghost town. Businesses closed, stores were boarded up, and the streets were empty. The city needed to change itself, and fast.

After they tore down the lakefront plant buildings, the land sat empty for years while environmental cleanup took place. It took almost ten years. But when it was done, they finally ran roads through the property and began to build condos, a new museum, and retail establishments. Finally, after all these years, Kenosha is seeing a rebirth of its downtown area. It makes a “home-boy” proud.

And as for my Aunt– boy was she surprised. She had no idea that all of us would be there. I think she was genuinely touched by it all. Many of us came from out of state to be there– me from Chicago, my sister and her husband from Round Lake, and other friends and family as well from other areas. It was a really wonderful night, and everyone had a great time.

And at one point in the evening, I sat and thought about it. Sixty years. I’m more than half that age already. In fact, I’m halfway to 70 already.

Damn, how time flies.