Usha, our longtime friend, called as we were driving back from my daughter’s home in Maryland to our home in Virginia. I was driving, so Bharati answered. Usha wanted to invite us to a birthday. We didn’t know whose birthday it was. There was no birthday coming up that we knew about. We had already spent the month of July calling the friends whose birthdays happened to fall during that month, congratulating them for the special event in their lives and wishing them many more to come. Of course, Facebook was there to remind us of the upcoming birthdays, but it was silent.
“Who is it for?” Bharati asked Usha.
“Well, I’m sorry for the last-minute invitation. It’s for Polo. He will appreciate it if you come and wish him a happy birthday. Can you make it? Please.”
“Oh! Okay. We are not busy anyway.”
“That would be great. I’ll call in a while to give you the details. It will be in a park, and it would be a good occasion to get together and talk as we have the celebration.”
“Usha, who’s Polo? If I may ask?”
“Polo? He’s my daughter’s dog. Can you believe he will be ten years old? That’s seventy in human years.”
“Oh my! That really calls for a celebration.”
I was listening to the conversation in bits and pieces. As Bharati put down the phone, she filled me in on the preliminary information.
“Something different, don’t you think? We should go. It would be a great way to spend a Sunday evening. And,” she added. “there will be other friends we haven’t met in a while.”
I agreed. As we approached our home, Usha called again. She gave the name and address of the park. It was half an hour drive from us.
“There’ll be plenty of food and drinks. No need to bring anything,” Usha said.
I looked at Bharati, expecting her to fill me on the latest details, which she did.
“The host can always say we don’t have to bring anything,” Bharati said. “But we cannot go empty-handed.”
“Are you serious?” I asked. “I never thought a time will come when we have to buy a gift for a dog.”
“Well, there’s always a first time for everything, don’t you think. Let’s think it over quietly.”
We called our daughter for suggestions as she always has good ideas. She recommended we buy toys for dogs.
“You can get them at Target,” she said.
We were not in a mood to go shopping.
During the evening news, Bharati was sitting on her favorite recliner, working on her knitting project. She stopped and turned to me.
“I have an idea,” she said. “Why don’t I sew a blanket for Polo? I have woolen squares knitted already. When I join them together, it will be a small blanket.”
I liked the idea. So, a blanket it was.
We had no idea how the celebration was planned. If it was going to be in a park, we imagined we may occupy a picnic table with food, probably snacks and drinks and people mingling about and talking and admiring Polo. We took a bottle of Chardonnay for consumption by us all or as an additional gift.
We reached the park the next day in the evening at the designated time. As we were parking our car, we noticed some people, with their dogs on a leash, walking towards an area next to a children’s playground.
“Looks like this is a popular park for dog owners,” I said.
“Or, maybe these dogs are Polo’s friends,” Bharati said. “Polo has to have his friends around to participate in his celebration. He can’t be by himself.”
She was not kidding. That turned out to be a fact.
Usha and her daughters had reserved an area with several tables, that were decorated with matching table cloths, paper cups, and plates with pictures of dogs. The pillars around the tables were decorated with streamers and balloons, just like one would do in a house. There were several coolers to one side with drinks, water, and food. We were impressed.
As we approached our friends who had already arrived, Anil, another friend, asked me;
“My what?” I asked, surprised. Were we supposed to bring anything?
“Your dog. Everyone is bringing there’s.”
“Sorry, I didn’t know that, and I don’t have one.”
He was kidding, of course. A while later more people arrived. Some we met for the first time, but because of their friendliness and easy-going manner, we had no problem having a great time with them.
Usha and her daughters were perfect hosts. They served cucumber and green chutney sandwiches, barbecue chicken, fresh carrots and broccoli with relish, chips and wheat crackers. It was a perfect menu for a summer evening. Unfortunately, the park didn’t allow alcoholic drinks, so we couldn’t open our bottle of wine. There were assorted soft drinks and water that we consumed with the delicious food.
We didn’t realize we had been in the park for two hours. When you are having fun, time flies as per the cliché. As it was getting a bit dark, we noticed everyone migrating to a table in the front. It was time to cut the cake decorated with candles. Polo sat in the center surrounded by his “friends.” Polo was a tiny, cute puppy, alert and energetic for his age.
Candles were lit. All of us sang:
“Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you;
Happy birthday dear Polo,
Happy birthday to you.’
Several of us took pictures.
The candles were blown, and the cake was cut in small pieces for distribution. It was the most delicious cake I had in a long time.
The sun sets late in summer. It was close to nine when the party was over. All of us helped the hosts in cleaning up.
That’s the way it was. A birthday for a beloved dog. As we drove home, we reflected on what just happened.
“They say a dog is a man’s best friend,” I said to Bharati. “But it seems to me that a dog is a member of one’s family.”
Author’s note: Polo enjoying the gift.