Niece Throws Epic 100th Birthday Worthy of Her 'Feisty' Great Aunt -- Social Distance-Style

Kathryn Leehane

Ramona's birthday
Kathryn Leehane

Kathryn Leehane had a pretty big party planned for her Aunt Ramona's 100th birthday this year. After all, it's not every day that you get to celebrate a century of a life well-lived. But as social distancing brought the world to a halt this month, Aunt Ramona's soiree -- which was supposed to take place on March 22 (technically four days shy of her actual birthday) -- looked like it would have to be canceled. That is, until Leehane started improvising, and wound up pulling off an unforgettable 100th birthday bash for Aunt Ramona right in her driveway.

  • Leehane tells CafeMom that Aunt Ramona's original birthday party was due to have more than 100 guests from all over the country.

    (If that doesn't give you a sense of just how many people love this woman, I don't know what will.)

    "I had rented a local brewery and hired a taco caterer," Leehane recalls, adding that along with her sister and cousins, they had worked on so many little party details in the last few months.

    Things like a fun cupcake bar, a special playlist (which included every song with the name Ramona in it), a photo slideshow of Aunt Ramona through the years, and even temporary tattoos and magnets with Aunt Ramona's face on them!

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  • But as stories of people getting sick grew more serious by the day, it soon became clear the party couldn't go on. At least, not as they had planned it. 

    Aunt Ramona's birthday
    Kathryn Leehane

    "I'd been watching the news closely and canceled the big party a few weeks ago," Leehane says. 

    That said, she didn't want the special day to go by without some kind of celebration.

  • On Friday, exactly 100 years from the day Ramona was born, on March 26, 1920, Leehane and several of Ramona's friends surprised her with a "party."

    Birthday cake
    Kathryn Leehane

    A social distance-friendly party, that is.

    "Aunt Ramona knew I was bringing lunch for her and her neighbor, Maggie," Leehane explains. "But she didn't know her other neighbor, Mary, was coming with a cake and balloons."

    She also didn't know her front window and porch would be decorated with flowers and hearts made out of tissue paper, which Leehane had set up earlier that morning, before Aunt Ramona woke up.

    Leehane, who lives in San Jose, California, less than a mile from Aunt Ramona, says she had to raid her crafts bin at home to make the decorations, since nonessential stores are closed and she's abiding by the state's shelter-in-place order.

    She even made a little something to decorate Aunt Ramona's front window, which happens to be her favorite spot to sit. 

    "She sits in a chair looking out that window for a large part of the day," says Leehane. "So that will be special for her for many days to come."

    (And don't worry -- she notes that she was sure to use hand sanitizer regularly, before and after decorating and throughout the party.)

  • As for the "party," it was small -- just Leehane, Aunt Ramona, and a few of her close neighbors.

    Aunt Ramona's birthday party
    Kathryn Leehane

    They all were sure to sit 6-plus feet away, in chairs they brought themselves, as they happily celebrated Aunt Ramona -- separate, but together.

    A pizza was placed on the roof of a car in the driveway, so each party-goer could safely approach and grab a slice for themselves one by one, and soon after, they sang Happy Birthday to Aunt Ramona before sharing a small cake.

  • By the looks of things, it appears as though Aunt Ramona sure did enjoy herself.

    Aunt Ramona
    Kathryn Leehane

    (It's also pretty clear that Aunt Ramona is a straight-up spitfire.)

    Leehane describes her as a "feisty, hilarious, and loving woman," adding that she's actually her great aunt, as well as her godmother. 

    "She was born in New Mexico and moved to Lincoln, California, when she was a newborn," the proud niece shares, adding that it was only during the Depression that her parents decided to move her and her four siblings to San Jose, where she eventually settled.

    "She graduated from San Jose High in 1939, which was somewhat unusual for a woman of her time, and she is very proud of it," says Leehane. "Before she lost most of her sight, she was an avid knitter and reader and baker. She was also an early advocate for HOPE for people with disabilities."

    Aunt Ramona's husband and son both died years ago, but she still has many relatives and neighbors who "adore her," according to her niece. 

    "She loves telling stories and making inappropriate jokes, and always has," says Leehane. 

  • That might explain why some of Aunt Ramona's birthday cards are just a wee bit ... unconventional.

    Aunt Ramona
    Kathryn Leehane

    (*Gasp!* -- Aunt Ramona!)

    "She's very family oriented and is always very curious (some might say nosy!) about what's going on in everyone's lives," Leehane adds. 

    But that curious spirit is clearly what makes her so beloved. 

  • And her love of staying connected to what's going on in the world -- and speaking her mind about it -- is also what makes her rather unforgettable.

    Aunt Ramona
    Kathryn Leehane

    "She has opinions on just about everything and loves to share them with anyone and everyone," says Leehane.

  • All the little touches Leehane put into Ramona's special day did not go unnoticed.

    Gifts for Aunt Ramona
    Kathryn Leehane

    Still, she says that as fun as the day was, the hardest part of these last few weeks have been just how much she's had to curtail her weekly adventures with Aunt Ramona. 

    "Before everything, we would go on adventures every week: shopping, eating out, visiting her childhood homes, go for walks, traveling to Lincoln, California, to visit relatives and the local casinos (she loves the slot machines!)," Leehane tells CafeMom. "We can talk and tell stories and laugh for hours."

  • But ever since the shelter-in-place order, their visits now consist of Leehane dropping off groceries, shortening her visits, and keeping a distance.

    Aunt Ramona
    Kathryn Leehane

    Like so many people all over the world right now, she misses the closeness of relationships that we all took for granted just a few weeks ago.

    "I miss being able to hold her hand, and I miss her holding my arm whenever we used
    to go anywhere," she shares. "I know Aunt Ramona misses our adventures too, but she is blessed with neighbors and relatives who love her and check in on her and call her and even have a cup of coffee with her while she's inside the house, and they're on the porch."

  • For those who may be struggling with missing their own relatives -- especially the elderly -- she says hang in there.

    There are still so many things that can be done to stay connected, says Leehane -- who in addition to being the Best Niece ever is a writer, victims advocate, and mom of two teenagers.

    "Get creative," she says. "Call people -- over phone and video. Sing a song to your neighbor. Leave food/groceries on your elderly neighbor/relative's porch. Decorate the sidewalk with chalk drawings (my kids and I decorated my mom's porch for her birthday earlier this week)."

    "I read an article about a neighborhood that had a dance party -- one neighbor played music and everyone else danced in front of their own houses," she adds. "Sounds like good exercise and a lot of fun."

    It sure does.

    In Leehane's neighborhood, she says a movie club was recently started.

    "Each week, we pick a movie from everyone to watch on Netflix, and then every Thursday we have a video conference to chat about the movie and catch up," she shares.

  • As for Aunt Ramona, all of those original birthday plans aren't totally going out the window.

    Aunt Ramona
    Kathryn Leehane

    Leehane says they're merely on hold for now -- until all of this blows over.

    "Depending on the next couple of months, I'm hoping to reschedule the party for late summer or early fall," she shares.

    (If it's even half the party this one was, I'm thinking it'll be QUITE the night.)