Articles in this paper are usually informative, factual, entertaining and helpful. A small notice about a group called the Lunch Bunch solved my recent birthday dilemma.
A few close friends were nagging me for details about my wishes for my 70th birthday celebration. I wasn’t anxious to do a big party again, and the thought of another ladies’ luncheon deal left me cold. My friends wouldn’t consider letting me just ignore the day, even when I told them I wasn’t feeling aversion. It just was more like a non-event.
The light bulb in the cartoon balloon over my head flashed like a strobe when I read about folks preparing and serving the mid-day meal to the 30 children at the orphanage Villa Infantil. I smiled all afternoon knowing this was the perfect birthday solution.
I couldn’t wait to call Trish Conner. Born in the same year, we’ve celebrated together often. She enjoys announcing that she’s younger…by two days. The Birthday Bunch idea delighted her and she immediately offered to bring the cakes – white for her and chocolate for me—and milk to serve the kids.
I reserved the Saturday between our birthdays and then bought disposable plates, cups and cutlery. Our good friend, Chef Lorraine Russo took on the cooking duties and with the help of my visiting son and daughter whipped up a giant batch of hamburger and macaroni goulash.
To avoid confusion and keep the focus on the kids, less than 10 foreigners visited that day, including a couple we hoped would become involved with this happy, immaculate place.
The first Birthday Bunch was great fun for everyone. We cuddled little kids, and marveled at the gentle but firm parenting the happy, well-adjusted kids receive from the Madres (nuns) whom the kids call “Mama” or just “Ma.” A quiet signal sent all of the children to wash their hands before lunch. Once they were all seated at little tables, another invisible sign started a prayer-song. We served the goulash and in minutes the hands of the older boys (ages 8-10) shot up, the signal that their plates were clean and they wanted more. Some even devoured a third helping.
When all of the plates were clean, we served the cups of milk, and then revealed the cakes. Suddenly aware that their lunch was our birthday celebration, the children gathered and with broad smiles sang “Las Mañanitas.” The chant of Siss...Boom…Bah faltered when they realized they didn’t know our names for the cheer. There was no faltering when it came time for them all to give Trish and I birthday hugs. Then there were hugs all around as the children thanked us all for their lunch.
We contentedly lingered after lunch on the shady terrace as the children zoomed up and down the long driveway on their bikes and gave the playground equipment a good workout.
The newcomers in our Birthday Bunch were enchanted with the facility and the kids. “So often the kids in crisis I see are so starved for attention that they cling to us,” said Susannah King, a Minnesota social worker. “It’s obvious that these nuns are providing the love these kids need. They just seem so normal. I’m not sure how they do it all on donations and with no state contribution.”
“I just can’t get over this facility,” said longtime Ajijic resident Steve Cole. “Everything is so well organized. It’s very basic and simple, but it is so clean and neat and practical.”
A few days later, Russo was sharing her experiences over breakfast and then announced that she would be celebrating her August birthday at Villa Infantil. Almost instantly two of the other women at the table chimed in with birthdates bracketing Russo’s and asking to join the late August Birthday Bunch.
As for me, I doubt that I’ll ever celebrate a birthday anywhere else. The planning and arrangements were so simple, the cost was low, and the rewards couldn’t have been greater. To schedule your own Birthday Bunch at the orphanage, call Connie, the lunch coordinator at (376) 765-3829.