CUTCHOGUE, NY — In her daughter's 18 years, the world has lived through some dramatic and often terrifying times, Beth Shipman of Cutchogue said. That's why celebrating her daughter's birthday Wednesday during the time of coronavirus meant an extra dose creativity — and a celebration, including a toilet-paper roll inspired cake and a drive-by birthday party, that won't ever be forgotten.
Beth wrote her daughter a note on Facebook: "Grace Emily, Your life started at a time when I was wearing masks and gloves while working at USPS to protect against anthrax. I carried you through 9/11. Today we celebrate your milestone 18th birthday in a way you never quite envisioned or planned. You were born to be strong! We are blessed that you are happy."
Beth and her husband Bill organized the surprise drive-by party on Wednesday afternoon; Grace’s sister Kate suggested the "drive by party," telling their mom, "It’s a new thing!" Beth said. Grace's sister Faith helped with the decorations, too.
The long line of family and friends, including Grace's grandparents and her childhood school bus driver and her fourth grade teacher, were a testament to the triumph of hometown love over any challenge, even coronavirus. Beth herself is a school bus driver and some of the kids from the bus turned out, too, to help share in the celebration.
The invitation to guests read: "We know this is a birthday she will never forget; we just want it to be a positive memory. So, if you are up for a car ride, we are celebrating Grace’s 18th — from a safe distance."
The caring community turned out in force, in a show of North Fork spirit. "I reached out to our family, her friends and our community for their help. They did not disappoint," Beth said.
The crowd who drove by the Shipman home Wednesday with balloons honked, yelled "Happy Birthday" out the window, and held up homemade birthday messages and signs. Grace's friend Kaela McGowan even tossed a roll of toilet paper to the birthday girl from the car, Beth said.
And then there was that toilet paper roll cake, which Beth made herself. "I had a couple of cans of peaches in my pantry and put the peaches in Tupperware. I used the cans to back the rolls. You should have heard the comments and hysterical laughter that ensued when we cut the cake!" she said.
Grace was thrilled with her birthday: "As soon as I understood I would be spending my 18th birthday locked inside of my house due to COVID-19, I immediately felt so disappointed. 18 is a big birthday, it’s the year you become an 'adult,'" she said. "I had really wanted to spend the day with my friends and family," she said.
Although things didn't go as initially planned, Grace said: "I certainly got a memory that I will never forget. It made me feel spectacular knowing that we live in such an interconnected community. I was blown away by the amount of people who came to wish me a happy birthday, and it really meant quite a lot to me. I’m thankful to everyone who left their homes during this crazy time to make my day. I really appreciated it."
Grace's friend Katie Hamilton added: "We were really sad we weren’t going to get the chance to celebrate our best friend's 18th birthday with her. So I was really excited that there was a way we could wish her a happy birthday with everything going on."
Beth said she was moved by the outpouring of love.
"Knowing this would be a birthday she would never forget, we reached out to friends, family, neighbors and our community to make that memory a positive one," Beth said. "It was a wonderful turnout, that brought me to tears and had Grace smiling from ear to ear. Thank you to everyone who was able to come out and help us surprise her. This 'birthday party' was even better than I envisioned. Our friends, family and community are amazing. The entire day left me verklempt. My heart is full."
She added: "It touched my heart to see Grace’s face when she realized what was going on. I think this ended up being a wonderful day for Grace as well as for Bill and myself, as parents. Nothing is better than seeing your daughter truly happy!"