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Smelly Socks: It's an African safari kind of day

By By Johanna Bloom
March 14, 2013 at midnight
Updated March 13, 2013 at 10:14 p.m.

Wildebeests



Ranch Life

My youngest just turned 9. He kindly reminds me that next year he will be using all his fingers to show his age. As normal, after we survive the holidays and the kids get back in their school routine, we have to set about planning Jamison's birthday party.

As most 9-year-old boys would, he pleaded that there be "absolutely no baby stuff" involved with this party. So any party that was planned needed to be pure "boy" and, according to his instructions, involve an enormous amount of camouflage.

At the ranch, we have very few neighbors, but the ones we do have are pretty amazing. It certainly doesn't help that these particular neighbors are relatives of ours. They are so gracious and absolutely love children so they offered and followed through with letting Jamison have a safari party at their African game ranch.

For a solid month, we planned to have the children tour the game ranch and look at all of their exotic native African animals; take a tour of the owner's office, which is filled with truly impressive mounts; and then eat hamburgers and hot dogs. Everything was wonderful, complete with camo cupcakes.

Whenever your child is invited to a birthday party, one parent usually gets the job of taking the child to the party. In most cases, it is the mother who takes her child and assists the party throwers with little tasks while visiting with the other mothers in attendance.

However, since this birthday party was at an African game ranch and the owner of this ranch is a professional hunter with fascinating and wild adventures to tell, this party went a little differently. The unusual theme and location of this birthday actually brought out the fathers and turned it into great family affair.

Before the birthday party, Austin, Jamison and I toured the ranch and got a chance to see all of the African animals that the party goers would also see. Living on a South Texas ranch, I can identify all sorts of cows, horses, hogs, and other sorts of "ranchy" animals, but ask me to identify African animals with beautiful twisting horns and wild exotic colors, and I am at a loss. All of the animals were really interesting, but the boys and I were definitely taken with the wildebeests. The game ranch had a huge herd of these interesting animals, and while stunning from afar, they take your breath away when you are able to get a good look at their faces, close up. They certainly have a face only a mother could love, and their sheer size makes a statement.

John's mother from Virginia Beach, Virginia, decided to bring John's nephew and come for a rare visit to wish Jamison a happy birthday. She was born and raised in Ireland, and I find her accent so interesting, especially when she gets excited.

Before the party, she and I decided to run the food and gift bags over to the party site and help set up for the party. As we were driving down the road to our host's house, I suddenly had to slam on my breaks. Running in front of my Jeep and behind my Jeep, and really from every direction, was a tremendous herd of wildebeests and they were not happy. It seems that from every direction these enormous, horned, wiry haired, extremely agitated animals were running out from the thick brush that lined the road.

My usually calm Irish mother-in-law was practically hanging from the roof of my Jeep. Holding on to the long handle on my dashboard she says with such a thick Irish accent that I had to really listen to understand what she was saying, "Oh, no there is another. Look over there. Here they come again. Oh my. Brace yourself." Considering our present situation, I was surprised she was as calm as she was.

My Jeep was completely stopped, and we were just hoping that they would keep running around us and not into us. Jamison piped up from the back seat with "Ewws" and "Ahhs" of excitement. He was busy pointing out the leader of the herd that he remembered from our previous tour that our hostess took us on.

Jamison pointed out "See Mom, there's the boss man right there. You don't want to make him mad." My mother-in-law then decided to plead with me, "Oh for heaven's sake, please don't make him mad." I am really not sure what they were referring to because I was sitting in my stopped Jeep with my mouth open in amazement at these wild animals surrounding us. I was certainly not going to make anyone mad, especially something that looked like that.

As the party continued and the children set off on their African animal tour, John and my parents agreed to go on the tour to help with all of the partygoers. I certainly had seen enough wild animals for one day. The tour was a hayride on a trailer that our charming hostess pulled with a Polaris. Our "Great White Hunter" host - a title my boys picked from the classic John Wayne movie "Hatari" - tried to draw the animals out of the brush, and you could just envision what Africa must look like.

As the children returned back to the house for refreshments, the African experience was also enhanced with our petite hostess having her best African wooden bowls holding various potato chips, African tablecloths covering the tables, while African music streamed inside and outside of their house.

Everyone enjoyed the tour and the unusual animals that they saw, but the hospitality and fellowship at the host's home was relished by the adults as well as the children. The yard was full of happy children doing what children do without a care, and the large porch and fire pit area were occupied with visiting adults discussing the various types of animals and the adventures of the host and hostess. The weather could not have been more perfect. It was a clear, crisp day - the kind that makes you appreciate living in South Texas.

After much discussion, we all agreed that this birthday party could not be topped. This was a party that the kids, the adults and certainly the birthday boy, have as a lasting memory.

Johanna is a proud seventh generation Texan. She lives on her family's South Texas ranch with her husband and two lively boys. Email Johanna Bloom or Anita Spisak at smellysocks@vicad.com.

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