Birthday surprise leads to new friendships

I have been to many birthday parties, but until recently I have never been to one. And no, that didn’t imply that I was jumping off a giant birthday cake. Nobody wants to see this.

It all started with an email from a lady named Jane Vandelanotte. At first I found the email incredible, and not just because of the difficulty in spelling “Vandelanotte”.

Jane’s email was full of praise for my writing. I found it extremely enjoyable, so I printed it out and showed it to my wife.

“How much?” she asked.

“How much what? ” I answered.

“How much did you pay the lady to write this?” “

“Nothing!” I protested. “I don’t even know her!

This has been encountered with the type of eyeroll that women around the world have perfected.

The main message in Jane’s email was that her husband, Mark, was 65 in the first week of August. Jane said that Mark had always wanted to meet me and that she wondered if I could “pop” into a local restaurant where she was planning a little birthday party for Mark.

I like to participate in surprises, so I said yes. Over the next several weeks, Jane managed to keep this plan a secret from all of her family and friends, no doubt using the kind of covert methods often associated with the CIA.

On Mark’s Day, my wife and I went to Irene’s Café on Main Street in Hendricks, Minnesota. At an agreed time, I called Jane on her cell phone, which was the signal to implement her top secret birthday surprise plan. I felt like James Bond.

Jane drove my wife and I to Irene’s house. A group of about a dozen people were seated at a long table; everyone covered their eyes with their hands. They seemed to illustrate the proverb “do not see evil”.

“Surprise!” Jane said and everyone looked up.

Gathered for a birthday celebration are, back row, left to right, Rae Yost, Julie and Jerry Nelson, Jane Vandelanotte, front row, Dana Yost and Mark Vandelanotte.

I quickly introduced myself and my wife to Mark. He looked confused. It was quite clear that Jane’s efforts to keep the secret had been a complete success.

We were introduced to the other party guests, including Mark and Jane’s daughters, Abby and Bayli, as well as Rae and Dana Yost and their son, Luke. Rae and Dana are close friends of Jane and Mark. Dana is a former newspaper editor, so we got to share some war stories.

Mark, like me, is a recovering dairy farmer. He and his two nephews currently farm about 2,900 acres and feed beef cattle. I asked Mark if reaching this milestone meant he would retire.

“I really like what I’m doing, so I don’t think I’m going to quit anytime soon,” Mark said. “My nephews have the spark of farming and I think it’s my job to make sure the baton is passed on to the next generation.”

Irene’s Café is the epitome of a small town restaurant offering healthy, family-friendly cuisine and friendly staff. The staff that day consisted of two people, a very pleasant and motherly waitress and a short-term cook. It is easy to feel at home with Irene.

The warm atmosphere lent itself to much chatter. Before we knew it, almost three hours had passed. You know you are having fun when you lose track of time.

Jane had another surprise up her sleeve. Before leaving, she presented my wife and I with a gift bag of treats. They included homemade chocolate toppings, a large casserole of Special K bars, and a few bottles of beer from the Brau Brothers, a local brewery.

Since chocolate was obviously for my wife, I called dibs on the beer. Everybody wins.

The gift bag also contained a copy of Dana’s book “1940: Journal of a Midwestern Town, Story of an Era”.

When I learned that her book focused on Minneota, Minnesota, I told Dana that my great-great-grandfather Jens Johnson, a Norwegian immigrant, had settled in Minneota in 1870. The world is a lot. smaller than we think.

Mark mentioned that his father, Jasper, immigrated from Belgium in 1948.

“Dad became a US citizen in 1956,” Mark said. “He was proud to be American.

I bet Jasper was also proud of how his kids and grandkids turned out.

My wife and I came home that afternoon with a bag full of goodies. But an even greater pleasure was to meet new friends.

Jerry Nelson’s book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and in bookstores nationwide.