I should explain to my Oz and UK readers that the purpose of the evening was to celebrate the 40 years ministry of "Apostle and Miz Shirley" as they are known to this congregation in Panama City.
Whilst the early part of the evening focussed on the Apostle's ministry and the impact the Apostle had on the many many he'd sent out to minister in other parts of Florida and other states, the second half looked at their family life through a variety of skits, songs etc.
Who ever said that Americans don't have a sense of humour? These southerners sure can laugh at themselves. There was a very funny video where Cheryl starred as her mother getting her exercise going to the shops. It was full of alusions to things that had apparently happened to Shirley because the audience was cracking up with laughter.
Apparently Shirley had arrived in the US with her wedding gown under one arm and her Frank Sinatra records under the other, so her grandson Chad did a Frank number taking off his grandfather's courtship of Shirley.
What talent that family has.! The three daughters - Donna, Cheryl and Katherine - did a great number, and grand-daughter Erin did a solo backed by the choir. There were many other musical items and a great solo tap dance in the manner of Riverdance. All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening, even for one who isn't part of the scene. And Zoe was a joy to share it with. We were towards the back of the room, whilst the immediate Ball family were of course in the front row.
And then the moment I (and the junior members of the family) had been waiting for. Katherine's husband made a moving speech and a presentation to Apostle Ball, then it was Shirley's turn.
They brought out this huge box, then Katherine set the scene, recalling Shirley's dedication to her immediate and extended church family, and then stated that it was ironic how much she gave, when she didn't have any family of her own that she knew of. She related how an email had arrived from Australia and that began a correspondence and exchange of photos that brought back memories of her mother's childhood. She told Shirley that the box contained a scrapbook about her family that Margaret had put together.
By this time, Shirley had opened the box and seen the scrapbook and her face was a picture of emotion. Katherine then announced that they thought that it might be even better if Margaret could be here in person, and in actual fact she was in the audience! By this time, Cheryl's husband Steve was escorting me down the aisle and up on to the stage.
You've all seen the television shows, and of course it was just like that. I was already teary whilst Shirley was looking at the scrapbook. So she was just amazed when I walked up on stage. She grabbed my hands and looked at me, and then there were big bear hugs. Apostle Ball was very moved, he knew exactly what it meant to Shirley. And of course the family was very excited, they'd been looking forward to this moment. She is a well loved grandmother and mother.
I was able to tell her publicly that her great aunts back in England had really grieved when they'd lost touch with her, and never forgot her. Our contemporary Ray - our only second cousin still in the UK - was not born until 1943, the year after Shirley had disappeared from their lives, but he had heard all about her.
That was pretty much the end of the evening, except for the Apostle's final word(s), so we were all tired. But today's the beginning of getting to know each other and go through the stories and what happened to all the aunts, so I'm looking forward to that. After the event I gave Shirley a couple more presents - a small photo album and a digital photo frame with a thumb drive full of photos, so she and the family can share them around.
So all in all a great day.