Mason County News
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Wednesday, September 16, 2009 • Posted September 16, 2009

Birthday Party: A Chicken Way Out…

It was something of a hybrid event, partly “connived” by loving relatives and the rest perhaps attributable to a perfect alignment of the stars—or at least a coincidence of the calendar.

Now, several days removed from Labor Day, on which fell my 72nd birthday, I can better objectify the observance. In the moment it felt like contrived chaos, rubbing right up against a maelstrom of monstrous proportions.

I am grateful for yet another birthday and for most of its activities. Besides, it is the first time in almost seven years of column-writing that I’ve had a grand opportunity to use “maelstrom,” a favorite word during theme-writing years of yore…..

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Let me begin by reiterating my long-held belief that we are fortunate indeed to experience life a few bites at a time. Those who wish to see ten years up the road are urged to reconsider.

We who take baby steps toward the future think it best to seek 10-hour views of our tomorrows, 10 days at most.

During a 40-year career in higher education, long-range planning, which educational experts insisted was of paramount importance, made my eyes twitch….

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Luckily, I did not know what lay ahead on “birthday eve.” Driving toward Fort Worth, I was grateful for a spate of speeches that had taken me to far-flung parts of Texas for four speaking engagements in as many days.

Wearied in voice and body but near-giddy in spirit, I perked up as the city’s skyline appeared, signaling that the comforts of home were but moments away.

I broke into a smile, warmed by the thought that Chick-fil-A’s across the land offered free sandwiches on Labor Day for all patrons sporting shirts with their favorite team logos. That meant birthday lunch plans already were in concrete. The prospect of tasty sandwiches, sans cost, conjured imagery akin to a warm fireside moment. The next morning, however, my dreams were reduced to mush….

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It never occurred to me that Uncle Mort, my 97-year-old kin who lives down in the thicket, would remember my birthday, or weasel a ride to the Metroplex with the bread truck driver, or even be aware of the free sandwich promotion.

When he burst through the door, I knew that whatever plans I had for a quiet day were gone with the wind.

“Lunch is on me,” he joked, herding 15 family members—all three daughters’ families, including their six children, ages 2-8—into three cars….

  • * * * *

You’re getting ahead of me—again. Uncle Mort, in the lead car, took us straight to Chick-fil-A. He ushered the whole bunch through the door, handing out team logo shirts to all who needed them, including a few puzzled patrons who had no family connection.

He “pushed” the merits of ice water, of course, since water is free. Moving four tables together, Mort was immediately the maestro, orchestrating the “Happy Birthday” song, and much else. Dozens of patrons—folks who didn’t know Uncle Mort from the energizer bunny—joined in.

He emptied his backpack stuffed with candle-bearing cupcakes Aunt Maude had sent along. As Mort ignited the candles, store operator Greg Ryan stood vigil with a fire extinguisher….

  • * * * *

Decked out in green with the energy of a leprechaun, Mort was everywhere, refilling drink cups, joking with patrons and finally drawing stares when, with the slightest bend of knees, was short enough for the play area. He is believed to be the oldest patron ever to zoom down the slide.

Then, the diners were “hooked” on Mort’s handful of “Austin Madness” bumper stickers from his extensive collection.

An older one, traced back to Austin’s Sixth Street, read: “Keep Austin Weird.”

One urged, “Keep Georgetown Normal”; another, simply “Round Rock Rocks.” Pflugerville’s got the biggest laugh: “Between a rock and a weird place.”…

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Two hours later, Mort said good-byes, hitching a ride back to the thicket on an eastbound bread truck. (I heard him putting the con on the driver to take an alternate route so he could sneak a peek at the new Dallas Cowboys stadium.)

As we left, we watched Ryan’s eyes cross as he cleared debris from our tables, perhaps praying silently for enough room at the landfill.

He was muttering about a letter to corporate, urging fine print outlawing birthday parties on future sandwich give-away days. That night, he and his staff slumbered well, having handed out 2,890 sandwiches. And that’s no lousy chicken joke….

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Dr. Newbury is a speaker and writer in the Metroplex. Send inquiries and comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site:

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