In our village, most people seem to have large party for what they call a 'round year' birthday - one that ends in a zero, their 30th, 40th, 50th, etc. I grew up in America where we have a party whenever we feel like it and I'm not patient enough to wait ten years for each party. So, I asked Herbert if we could have one this year.
The other concept surrounding birthdays in Oberwil is a Trachtengruppe tradition. Most of the people in our dancing group have an open house style of celebration for their birthday. They set a time in the afternoon, evening or both and we're all welcome to stop by, have a little dessert and coffee and wish the birthday 'child' a happy birthday. In the four years that I've been a part of the trachten group, I've only been in Switzerland for one of my birthdays. That was in 2003 and Herbert and I had a small party for our friends. I wanted to include the Trachtengruppe this year.
All in all, there were 70 people we wanted to invite. We knew that it was vacation time in this part of Switzerland and many people were traveling, but we also guessed that there was a strong chance that many people would come. The easiest way to cook for so many would be to grill and we decided to have an 'American Barbeque'.
We knew that in order to feed so many people in our backyard, we would need help and that's exactly what we got. The Bären restaurant lent us a large grill and a serving container that keeps food warm. Mädi lent us large serving bowls, wine glasses and ashtrays from her restaurant, the Sternen. Fredu let us borrow the silverware from the shooting association's house. Our neighbors, Kurt and Janine, had had their company's party the week before and kept the tables so that we could use them.
Many people offered to bring a dish, but I wanted to share some of my 'American' dishes with everyone so I told them that it wouldn't be necessary. I did accept my friend Marianne's offer to bring tomatoes with mozzarella and basil because that's a dish that would also be served in the US.
What we did accept was people's offers to help. Christianne and Ann-Marie, two sisters who are my friends and also come to me for English lessons arrived five hours before the party to do whatever needed to be done. They washed and chopped salad, peeled potatoes and washed dishes. Right before the party, Christianne thought of all the flowers I would get and prepared vases with water. When everyone was arriving at 7:00, Ann-Marie told me to simply great people and that she would take care of getting drinks for everyone. She didn't stop with their first glass of wine. She walked around filling glasses for hours after the party started and people commented on how nice that was. So many people told me throughout the evening to feel free to walk around and talk and enjoy myself. They took care of everything. I don't know how many times I glanced into the kitchen and saw different women in there cleaning.
Our friend Bumsi, who usually helps cook for different functions in the village, offered to do the grilling for us. He arrived four hours before to do whatever needed to be done and then stood in front of the grill for hours during the party. He even came the next day and helped clean and then two days later, Herbert and I looked in the yard when we woke up and saw that he had come that morning to pick up the last two tables that needed to go to the bomb-shelter.
By the end of the party, fifty-three friends had come to celebrate. It was a wonderful group of people and although everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, I don't think that there was anyone that enjoyed more than me. And the thing that I will remember the most is how thoughtful people were not only with their gifts, but with their time and their energy.
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|1 - The two sisters, Ann-Marie and Christianne, working in the kitchen before the party.||2 - Bumsi grating potatoes for the hash brown casserole or, as everyone at the party called it, American rösti.||3 - Herbert and Bumsi setting up the tables and Ann-Marie and Christianne decorating them.|
|4 - I took this picture of the party area around 5:30. One of the guys that Herbert works with, Rene, stopped by on his way home to wish me a happy birthday. Because we had had so much help, we were basically ready one and a half hours before the party started and were able to relax with him.||5 - We had six tables set up for people to sit at, but Mädi and Regina found this special area in the back corner. They loved it so much that Mädi sent Regina to get her a plate of food so that no one could steal their seats.||6 - Christianne and Heidi enjoying the chair I got from Herbert for my birthday.|
|7 - Bumsi had worked all afternoon helping us get ready for the party and then worked in front of the hot grill for hours.||8 - Marianne had made a dish of tomatoes with mozzerella and basil. She also pitched in and helped keep the bowl of green salad full.||9 - Marianne's husband Hausi joined Bumsi to help with the grilling. Here is talking with Luci.|
|10 - The buffet line.||11 - A photo of the party while everyone is eating.||12 - I decided against making a traditional birthday cake because that's not well know in Switzerland. And, most Swiss people think that all American food is too sweet and a birthday cake would have reinforced that idea. I tried to pick things for the dessert buffet that wouldn't be too sweet. All the comments we heard were good ones and the desserts disappeared,|
|13 - Some of our friends brought their instruments and played for us. Here's Fredu on his bass and Rene and Heidi on the Swiss accordion. Although she's not playing in this photo, our neighbor Marianne went and got her Swiss accordion and played with them later.||14 - Heidi moved to the swinging chair and played a few solos for us. On the left is Rahel, the daughter of Cony Bandi.||15 - Cony had asked if she could bring a dish to the party and I told her that I thought we had everything covered. She told me that since that was the case, she would bring something from the heart. Her family gave me a basket filled with food and then her daughter Rahel handed me a rolled up piece of paper and told me that it was a gift that she had made herself. This photo shows the picture that she drew for me. If you click on the photo, you'll see that she drew a detailed American flag on my chest and has the alps in the background. She even wrote my name with an arrow pointing to my head in case it wasn't clear who was in the picture. It is one of the best gifts that I got at the party. It truly was truly a gift that touched my heart.|
|16 - Heidi moved again and continued to play for us. Here she is with a table that sang along.||17 - Dani (the man on the right) plays banjo very well. We asked if he could go home and get it and play for us. He asked if we had a guitar and we brought one of Herbert's out. He played for a while and then his wife Gesa played for us as well.||18 - After Gesa played, Dani sipped a little schnapps before playing for us again. That's Trudi Moser talking to Gesa. She and her husband own the Bären restaurant in Oberwil.|
|19 - As Dani continued to play, the people at this table linked arms and sang along.||20 - Regina and Mädi finally moved from their special corner to sit on the swing and sing along.||21 - There was even a little dancing. Nestu and Ann-Marie danced to one of the songs.|
|22 - Herbert took this photo of some of my wonderful gifts. I was touched by how generous and thoughtful people were with all the gifts and flowers.||23 - Herbert knows how late these kinds of parties can go and he was exhausted. He went to bed about 2:30am. Mädi and Regina had been teasing him all night and after he had been in bed for a few minutes, they went in to our bedroom and jumped in bed with him. Bumsi followed and jumped on top of them.||24 - This photo was taken a little before 4:00am. While Mädi and her daughter Tina cleaned up all the tables and put all the bottles away, Heidi, Bumsi, me and Rene relaxed on the swing. Heidi left shortly after because she's a baker and had to go bake. (with no sleep)|
|25- The next afternoon, Bumsi stopped by to help us take all the tables apart. Herbert and I had already done it, but we asked him to stay and have a beer.||26 - Herbert took this photo to show what a forty-five year-old woman looks like on the day after her party.||27 - We wanted to thank Bumsi for everything that he had done to help us. While he was having a beer with us in the afternoon, we decided to make a nice dinner. His wife Sylvia and our friend Rene joined us. It was a nice way to end the best birthday I ever had.|