And the Jukebox played Happy Birthday

Jun 5, 2024 | Thoughts From the Executive Director


In a small all-American diner called Stray Dog, my mother and a few friends helped her celebrate a 97th birthday.

We went at 4:00pm when no one except the owner and cook were there. Going early to eat out was a necessity since high ceilings, cement floors, restaurant chatter and hearing aids are not conversation-friendly when you and your friends are ninety-seven. But all six of them could hear when the jukebox lit up and played an Elvis version of Happy Birthday.

It was during the 3,691 days when my mother lived with us that there were many celebrations. We celebrated the great grandchildren’s recitals, ball games, awards, end of school, getting braces off or any other reason to go to the local ice cream shop, Braum’s. Our extended family also celebrated all the holidays. but especially birthdays. Each year we paid special homage on my mother’s birthdays 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99 and the big bash at 100: then there was 101.5, 102, 102.5, 103 and 103.5 and so forth. As my sister-in-law often said, “We’ve been celebrating the LAST Thanksgiving, LAST Christmas, and LAST Birthdays since she was 80 and now she is 97.” You “never know when it will be the last” so we tried to be creative and not repeat the celebration theme from an earlier year.

So when it came time for Mother’s 97th birthday, we invited a van load of her friends to go out to eat at the local all-American café, Stray Dog,which served premier “comfort food.” Since mothers friends did not drive, we arranged to pick each one up and travel together on the afternoon of the party. The day of the party, the restaurant owner added white table cloths to three four-tops pushed together. She was there to greet us that special afternoon and take our orders. The ladies were all chattering excitedly about eating at a place called the Stray Dog. One said, “I can’t wait to tell my grandchildren we ‘went to the dogs.’”

They each placed their orders: Birds Nest and Fries (chicken with mozzarella on Texas toast), two had traditional hamburgers, another soup of the day and salad, and many took home enough for the next meal. Dessert followed while the jukebox lit up and played an Elvis version of Happy Birthday. They were so excited “to be out on the town.” Food tastes better when eaten with friends. Although eight years later, in 2023, the surgeon general statistically validated the impact of friends on mental and physical health, these ladies could feel the benefit of eating with friends.

The party only lasted two hours from pick up to returning home, but the memories and joy replayed through the years. Even today those who remain are talking about going to the Stray Dog on the day the jukebox lit up and played Happy Birthday.