The Big Night

Judy - birthday - California Pizza Kitchen - Nov. 2013By Judy Berman

Memories are made of this – family get-togethers. Any misty-eyed moment doesn’t last for long. That’s just our family’s way.

Last weekend, we gathered at Buca di Beppo’s to celebrate my birthday. For me, the kitchen and dining area reminded me of a scene out of the movie, “The Big Night” (1996). My family gave me a memory book of my life in pictures with brief stories attached.

It made me feel like I’d received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars. Before I could blurt out (Sally Field style), “You like me. You really like me,” the jokes began.

Danielle, my eldest, pulled out a copy of a newspaper clip from The Syracuse Post-Standard’s editorial page. In it, my story, “Surviving the Summer With Teens.”

I shudder as I recall the final straw that summer. Our daughter’s car, and the tree in front of our house, is swaddled in toilet paper, and the paper hangers leave cackling loudly and squealing their car’s tires from here to the state line in the dead of night.

That mental snapshot and others emerge. From the moment our children are born, we gasp in amazement and wince with every milestone they pass. Their hesitant first steps across the floor, riding a two-wheeler unassisted for the first time, leaving home and going off on their own.

Then, Danielle handed me a letter I’d written in 1991, just days after she moved to Florida to go to college. Their furniture was sitting somewhere in a moving van that apparently had taken a detour. She told me she’d converted the Faberware box that their electric fry pan came in into a makeshift kitchen table.

So, I did what any loving parent would do. I wrote offering to send her “my empty Faberware box. That way you can have matching tables. Kim (our neighbor) says she may send you some empty boxes, too. You can use one for the end table – one for the nightstand.”

I talked around the edges of things. I didn’t ask if she was homesick. I tried to keep it light. She toughed that out, as well as a number of other hurdles, and did us proud.

Just like our youngest, Jenn, did when she was on her own in Oklahoma in 1999 and an EF5 tornado slammed thru just miles from her apartment. She’d heard from others at college that when there’s a sound like a freight train, head for a closet. She did with her hamster, Thumper, until the danger passed. Dave and I were in Florida interviewing for a job when we saw TV coverage at our hotel of a monster tornado (winds in excess of 260 miles per hour) and a smaller funnel cloud. The tornado pummeled Moore, Oklahoma. It was several days before we could reach her and learn the reassuring news that she was safe.

It turns out that our daughters, however, were more worried about how we’d handle the empty-nest syndrome. In a photo with Dave and I posing next to an SUV I’d flipped in Alaska, Danielle noted that I’d “forced Dave into her mid-life crisis with crazy hair days. Eggplant and violet for Judy, and blue and pink for Dave! Maybe they would be better off with some supervision.” (NOTE: I did not “force” Dave to dye his hair. I URGED him to. Family joke dating back to the movie, “L.A. Story.”)

In the memory book, I saw myself as my children see me. They viewed my early start in life, as a preemie, as an indicator that I was a fighter – as one who considers setbacks as challenges to be overcome and forges ahead.

Fortunately, my Big Night turned out much better than it did for the brothers (restaurant owners) in the movie. They were struggling to make a go of it. Another restaurant owner offers to call a friend, a popular jazz musician, to play a special benefit at their restaurant. Primo (Tony Shalhoub) prepares his specialty, a gourmand’s delight, for the big night. But things don’t go as planned.

Maybe, they turned a negative into a positive. That’s the outcome I hope for – for myself and others. Cheers! Here’s to a wonderful year ahead.

Do you have a favorite family memory? Please share.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video Clip – “The Big Night” (1996) –  

Main Photo: Dessert with the family at California Pizza Kitchen, Orlando


  1. Sounds like a wonderful night. Our family is a lot more likely to “to do a roast” than anything sentimental. I suppose we love to hide under humor but every once in a while we do tell each other how important they are to us. My brother turned 83 this year and I treasure the time I get with him. He is amazingly healthy and sharp. We have a contest as to who is going to outlive the other. He is considerably older than me but so far he’s doing fine. Happy Birthday!

    1. Thanks for the birthday wishes, Kate. We did have a fun time that night. They also did a “roast.” Good-natured ribbing along with the sentimental memory book. 🙂 A strong family connection – like you have with your brother – really is the best. Tell your brother that I wish him a “very merry un-birthday” and that he has an excellent sis.

  2. Our family is all about using humor. We’re not especially close though, so we use humor as a means of communicating so we won’t start tearing each other up by talking politics or religion.

  3. A belated Happy Birthday wish to you, Judy. It sounds like your family gifted you perfectly on The Big NIght. I’m so glad you posted the photo. I love seeing you and Dave again! As far as restaurant celebrations go, Elisabeth and I started going to the Red Lobster for Father’s Day and my birthday. Because I was a December baby, the spacing was perfect. We started the tradition when she was young enough to laugh when I called the place Fred Lobster. I may not seem as funny anymore, but we all still love going to Red Lobster.

    1. Thanks, Mark. We love these outings. Now that we’re all living in Florida, we do get to see each other a lot more. “Fred Lobster” sounds like a fun place. I’m sure the mere mention of it stirs many happy memories for Elizabeth as well as you.

      So glad to hear from you and “see” you.

  4. It was a great night and we had so much fun. I am glad you liked your book, Danielle really worked hard to pull it all together! Good things happen when your daughters collaborate. Love you Mom! Now make them be nice to me for my milestone birthday coming up!!!

    1. I get misty when I look at the book you both worked on. Great job! Luv you, too.

      Now, about being nice to you on your milestone birthday. I’m sorry. That’s not in the cards, Jenn. A ribbing and a roast coming up. 😆

  5. What a great lookin’ family! Are you related to any of them?? : )

    A belated Happy B-day from yours truly, Judy, and a wish for many more. A roast is always fun, as long as it’s “over easy,” and your daughters wisely opted for that cooking method. Good thing they did– they knew Mom coulda fried their bacon easy!

    Great stories, thanks for sharing. I remember seeing Big Night in a theater. We had no idea what to expect, just took a chance. Absolutely loved it, especially that wonderful, no-words-spoken final scene. That’s love and family, all right.

    I’m the oldest of six, my folks have been married for 65 years, every family gathering brims over with laughter, and to date, there have been no murders or assaults with a turkey leg. Count me lucky, too. Cheers, Judy! : )

    1. Thanks, they are a great family. Are we related? Well, that’s a tough question, Mark. I used to tell my kids that I found one in a cabbage patch and the other was a two-for-one special at the grocery store. (Don’t think they bought it.)

      Thanks also for the birthday wishes. Yes, it was an “over easy” roast. Otherwise, pay back is a bear. 😆 I’m glad you’ve survived your family’s get togethers. They do sound like a lot of fun.

      I also loved “The Big Night” – the story, the music, the food (my godparents are Italian). I recall being ravenous after the movie. 🙂

  6. Sounds like a great evening. Family get-togethers are always to be treasured.
    By the way, maybe it’s just me but I wasn’t able to get to Surviving the Summer with Teens by clicking the link. I did get to it but by putting your name and the title in Google Search.
    A belated Happy Birthday!

    1. Thanks for letting me know about the link. When I click on it, it does take me to my story. But it takes me to the section where I am able to edit the story. I appreciate your making the effort to get to the story … and for the birthday wishes. 🙂

  7. Happy Birthday! I’m so glad to hear that you had such a great time with your family. I have many precious family memories but surprisingly my favorites are not special occasion memories. My favorite memories are little moments here and there spent with my parents and siblings.

  8. Sounds like a great evening Judy, that is so nice that everyone could visit. I like the idea of the memory book, sounds like a great gift. This also sounds like get-togethers with my husband’s family, great stories with a lot of laughs. Happy Birthday!

  9. A memory book! That sounds like a lovely idea, something to treasure! But you really should have made that ‘You like me?” speech!! 😀 And there’s nothing like a family gathering accompanied by great food! Some of my best memories of my Mum and Dad were days like that, they seem to stand out more in my mind. Something to do with the pleasure part of my brain I suspect, wants to hold on and keep that memory at the front and not push it to the back!

    I read your post on surviving the summer with teens! What lovely years they are, like the ‘terrible two’s’ only with longer legs and and a greater determination to all sorts of mad stuff! 😉 It’s funny how something sooo stressful at the time can years later be terribly funny – what is that, why do we laugh so much so many years later!!? And was that picture of your teens, taken in the early 90’s? Just a guess, by clothes and hair. I’d love to know if I guessed right – or maybe not! 🙂

    I have to say though, worrying about your daughter stuck in a tornado is probably about as high as anxiety can get – that’s pretty alarming! 😯 Do you get many of those where you are now?

    Oh, and happy birthday Judy!!! I hope this year is a really great one for you – and don’t count the numbers, decide what age you want to be and then live it! Hopefully not a teen, that might get a little stressful for your grown up sensible children!! 😀

    1. Oh! You’re good. The photo of my two daughters and the young man who became my son-in-law was taken in December 1990.

      With distance, you gain perspective. That’s my theory … and a sense of humor over things that weren’t so funny at the time.What might have been stressful at the time becomes a great, wildy humorous yarn later on. Your take on the teen years vs. toddlers is hysterical. 🙂

      We rarely get a tornado in Florida. But where my youngest lived is known as Tornado Alley – they get so many of them.. Wikipedia says: “Although the boundaries of Tornado Alley are not clearly defined, its core is northern Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska.” You might recognize that one state. It’s where Dorothy (Wizard of Oz) hailed from. 🙂 My youngest wisely chose to leave Oklahoma after she left college.

      Suzy, thank you for the birthday wishes. Long ago, I decided to pick a number I like and stick with it. Celebrating the anniversary of my 39th’s birthday, however, does make it harder and harder to explain the existence of my adult daughters. 😆

      1. I think it was the jackets that narrowed down the date, and the permed hair. I was 21 in 1990 and had those too! 😀

        Thanks for the info on Tornado Alley, I’ve not heard of that area before – I’ve heard of Kansas of course! But had no idea it was in a Tornado Alley, I thought tornado’s were more widespread in America. If I ever need to come and live in the US, at least I’ll know what bits to avoid! 🙂

        39 is a perfect age Judy! 🙂 My grandmother decided she was 39, and she stayed 39 way into her 80’s!! I’m convinced if she was alive today (104) she’d still be 39! 😉

        I see what you mean about the complication of your daughters – ah well, they’ll just have to adjust their ages too. This could get really complicated! 😀

        comment from earthrider to suzywordmuser:
        I figured if 39 was good enough for Jack Benny, then it was good enough for me. I love your grandmother’s attitude. Yes, the age thing gets complicated … but, it’s fun.

  10. Happy Birthday my friend. That is a magical night with all your love ones that made you lit up with joy through the years. Wishing you all life’s wonderful blessings.

  11. I just found your blog and I’m glad I did. Happy birthday. Also, I just watched “Big Night” — again — with my 15 year old son, last week. Great movie.

    1. I enjoy your posts as well, Ann. Glad to find a kindred spirit who loved the “Big Night.” I’m not sure if I was more in love with the food, the music, the story, or … Stanley Tucci. Thanks for the birthday wishes. 🙂

  12. What a beautiful birthday post Judy! And what precious memories were created and relived on your special day! Wishing you a rather belated, but warm Happy Birthday 🙂

  13. I don’t know how I missed this post, Judy, but I’m glad I found it eventually. Sounds as though you had a great birthday with your wonderful family. I’m glad about that, too.

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