An 85th Backyard Birthday with Family

Photographs by Michelle Beckwith

Photographs by Michelle Beckwith

My ever lovely grandmother, Bernadette, reached a milestone this past year, her 85th birthday. We usually get together as a family to celebrate by going to a restaurant or doing a potluck, but I wanted to something extra special for her this time. She is my last surviving grandparent, and great grandparent to my children. I have fond summertime memories of times spent riding my bicycle to her house to read scripture and watch classic movies like Ben Hur, all while eating heaping bowls of ice-cream. As I've gotten older and watched my own little family grow, I've learned the value and importance of family connections and how they must be treasured and maintained. Your family loves you no matter what and, at the end of the day, will always be there for you. 

After 10 years in the wedding photography biz, I've started dabbling in floral design, styling events for many of my intimate wedding clients. Lots of people come from all over the world to elope in the scenic Bay Area, from Napa to Big Sur, and I've been having fun arranging everything from bouquets to centerpieces, alongside styling the finer details that can be hard to plan from afar. I then get to photograph them on film, elevating the look of the whole event to fine art status. When my grandmother's birthday came around, I took the reigns on planning the party and used it as a wonderful opportunity to plan a sweet and intimate affair.

Weddings tend to have a muted color palette (which I totally love shooting since I'm a classic romantic at heart!), but I relished in the opportunity to have some fun with with the bright colors of summer for the party. I kept everything about the party plans a secret. My grandmother had no idea of the color scheme or that I had planned pretty dinner tables and live music. She was just excited that everyone was coming over for dinner I think. Amazingly without any guidance, she even picked the perfect dress that matched the pink floral motif to boot!

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My grandmother has this fantastic stone fountain in the back garden. I floated dozens of gardenias in the water so that the scent could waft over us in the summer breeze. My grandmother's love for the California Spanish Mission style was initially what inspired the design, so I settled on a light hearted fiesta theme. The flowers were arranged in terra cotta pots and I used to simple runner underneath them to help the tables feel a bit more causal. My friends have a taco cart so no one had stress over bringing a dish to share, and the sangrias flowed freely. I also arranged for a Mariachi duo to serenade us during dinner and it really set the tone for the evening. After a few drinks, we asked them to kick it up a notch and the kids happily danced on the grass. I made the red velvet birthday cake myself and tried my best to dress it up with some fun candles. I don't always make the prettiest cakes, but I do know there weren't any leftovers! 

When the guests started to arrive, I think everyone was pretty blown away by the setup. We normally just pull the patio furniture out onto the lawn and eat off paper plates in out laps, so this was a real treat! My favorite part of the party was seeing my grandmother sit in my vintage peacock chair, smiling at all of her family during dinner. I teared up and went to hug her, holding her tight as I whispered in her ear that I loved her very much. I've just put together an album for her to share with her friends. I know that she, and the rest of our family, will treasure these memories for years to come.

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Photographer and florist Michele Beckwith Rentals by Stuart Event Rentals Mariachi by Mariachi Trio Guitarras De Mexico