Family throws drive-by birthday for matriarch

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

CRANFORD, NJ — The children of Cranford resident Patti Williams were able to surprise their mother with a drive-by celebration at her home to celebrate her 70th birthday on Saturday, Oct. 24.

Despite COVID-19, friends, family and neighbors walked by and drove past 20 Roger Ave. in Cranford to deliver well wishes to Williams on her special day. Although a birthday party wasn’t in the cards this year, considering the pandemic, Williams’ three children still found a way to celebrate the matriarch of the family.

“I’m turning 70,” Williams said in her front yard during her birthday celebration on Saturday, Oct. 24, although her actual birthday is Nov. 4. “I’m very excited to turn 70, and it’s the first time I’ve ever had my birthday with the three of my children by myself — Eric, Karla and Adam.”

Williams was quite surprised and pleased when she found out what her children had planned for her.

“This is awesome,” William said. “I didn’t know that this was happening, so it’s so awesome. I feel very special and very blessed to know that my children planned this for me. This was all a surprise. I knew my kids were coming, but I did not know I was going to have the drive-by. That was very, very special. I have a lot of very special people in my life.”

Williams was also surprised at the wide variety of people who stopped by, a tribute to the range of her activities.

“So far, a lot of my people from the grief group that I lead. I also had friends from the community and just friends in general. They’re all very, very special people. Some of my family were also able to stop by.”

Still, her children are her greatest gift of all.

“I’ve gotten presents, which I haven’t opened yet, but my three kids are my presents,” Williams revealed. “This morning, I danced with Lance for exercise — he’s my instructor that works at different gyms, and I’m a part of his classes, and he brought me roses and a cupcake. We danced to my favorite songs, so it was very special. This is indeed one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. I feel very blessed and I want to stay active. I just want to be the best that I can for my family. I miss the rest of my family, who couldn’t be here because of COVID, so I’ll celebrate with them separately and keep extending the birthday.”

According to Williams, the reason why her birthday celebration was two weeks before her actual birthday was because Saturday, Oct. 24, was the only time all three of her children could get together at the same time.

“It’s my mother’s 70th birthday,” one of her children, Eric Williams, said during the birthday celebration on Oct. 24. “To pull this together, we were able to get her email contact listing and sent out emails to everyone we could. It was an easy thing to do. We were able to reach out to everyone, and here we are. I think she was surprised. I think when someone hits a milestone like this, you need to do something to represent it, even though you can’t get everyone together.”

Williams’ daughter, Karla Williams, agreed that the drive-by was the safest option during these times.

“Fortunately, I was able to work with my brothers to put this together for her,” Karla Williams said during the birthday celebration. “We wish we could have the entire family here, but we just felt it wasn’t safe with COVID. So, she’s got a lot of grandchildren who’d want to see each other, but we just decided that this is the safest way to do it and then we can just be here for the family. She was really excited, when she saw what was going on. Us just being here today was great for her. We plan on celebrating with each of our families separately, trying to space it out during the two-week thing, because we were just concerned for the health of my mom, the kids and the whole family.

“We’re all from Cranford originally. So we would just like to thank the Cranford community for everything that they’re doing to keep everyone safe and just to keep supporting everything that’s going on.”

Williams’ son Adam Williams echoed this sentiment.

“I think my mom enjoyed this,” he said during the birthday celebration. “This was something different, something to celebrate the 70th birthday, given the times. My kids have a lot of presents for her when we get to see her, when this is all over. But I’m here today, and this is my gift. In my opinion, she actually looked surprised.”

He said he remembered their father, the Rev. Bruce D. Williams, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Cranford, who died 20 years ago, and what he used to do for her.

“This is something similar to what my dad would do for her, if he were still alive,” Adam Williams said. “He’d do something special for her. So I’m glad to do something special for my mom. This surprise has definitely made this birthday memorable for her.”

Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman