CENTER MORICHES

Locals celebrate birthdays with drive-by parades

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Across the country and around the world, people have been forced to find new and innovative ways to celebrate milestone events as the COVID-19 virus has found most people under mandatory quarantine.

Birthdays are just one of the occasions where traditional celebrations, such as dinners at a restaurant or a party at a communal play place, have gone by the wayside. Now, birthdays are being marked by virtual Zoom parties, where the birthday boy or girl blows out his or her candles in front of a laptop, tablet or cell phone. But one of the most popular trends to emerge during the pandemic is the birthday parade, a caravan of cars that drive by the celebrant’s house to bid well wishes. Center Moriches is no exception, having had its fair share of birthday parades over the last several months.

Michelle Mitchell has two daughters who celebrated quarantine birthdays. Mitchell’s daughter, Kayla, turned 17 on March 22 in the beginning of self-isolation; Mitchell pondered how her family could make Kayla’s birthday special with- out a traditional party.

“Our last day of school was March 13, and I began thinking right away about her birthday,” Mitchell recalled. “I decided to invite some close friends over for a surprise outdoor brunch, but then realized that the situation was more serious.” Mitchell changed gears and instead organized a surprise FaceTime call with Kayla’s friends. In addition, many of her friends stopped by her house to leave gifts and treats at the door.

Fast forward one month, and mandatory self-quarantine is still in place; Mitchell once again finds herself having to celebrate a birthday in lockdown. This time, it was her youngest daughter, Lauryn, who was turning 14 on April 30. Big sister Kayla stepped in and decided that a birthday parade would be a perfect way to honor her younger sister’s important day, despite some hesitation from Mitchell.

“I thought, what if no one shows up?” she said. But to the Mitchell family’s delight, Lauryn’s birthday caravan was a “huge success,” with a total of 24 cars joining in the fun.

“Lauryn was absolutely surprised to see the huge parade of cars coming to see her for her birthday,” added Mitchell. “Some cars were decorated, some played birthday music... some people gave posters or homemade cards, gifts and candy. The creativity and generosity of everyone’s time and effort was so touching.”

One good Samaritan has made it her goal to spread even more cheer during the pandemic birthday celebration by donat- ing a large, blowup birthday cake to lead parades. Lenneke Symes invested in the inflatable some 15 years ago and has used it faithfully every year since to celebrate family birthdays.

Symes’s birthday float came in especially handy in May, when it was used to mark her father-in-law’s 85th birthday.

“We planned his birthday for a year,” she said, noting that they would have rented a hall and had more than 75 guests flying in from different states.

COVID-19 halted the festivities, so instead, Symes and family members decorated her father-in-law’s porch and enjoyed a socially distance birthday, accompanied by the birthday cake inflatable.

“After leaving, we still had the balloon on the truck and drove it slowly through his 55-plus community. Many people waved and smiled as we passed by. I suggested to my husband that maybe I could do this in our town,” said Symes.

She made a Facebook post to offer the service on several local community pages and the news soon spread like wildfire. Since then, Symes has participated in approximately 30 parades and has at least 30 more scheduled. Symes has provided the balloon and drives it herself completely free of charge, all while coordinating around her work schedule as a dispatcher for the Suffolk County Sheriff ’s Department.

“I am not looking to do this as a business,” she noted. “Just trying to bring some cheer during these strange times. I enjoy doing it. It is a way to get out of the house and not feel cooped up and bored. It makes me smile to see so many people happy.”

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