Leeanna Ellis

Leeanna Ellis

It had been months since I had seen my brother, AJ. The pandemic had kept us apart. I was here in Nebraska, while he was at his house — a group home for people with disabilities — in Davenport, Iowa.

Last month, that all changed as restrictions were loosened and he was allowed to visit my parents on a long weekend. It couldn't have been better as that Saturday, June 6, was his 36th birthday.

AJ Smith

AJ Smith, brother of Managing Editor Leeanna Ellis, poses for a photo with a sign to celebrate his 36th birthday June 6.

Prior to this, my mom and I were trying to determine how we would celebrate his birthday. AJ doesn't understand the coronavirus pandemic. I'm not even sure he knows that it's happening.

What he did know then was that he hadn't seen his family in four long months. During phone conversations, he would ask when someone would be coming to get him. That just breaks my heart, and I'm sure my parents' too. How do you tell him we can't?

So as my mom and I discussed AJ's birthday, I asked about the possibility of him coming home. He just wouldn't understand why he couldn't have a birthday party. We would make the best of it either way, but I just wanted to be able to celebrate with him.

A few days later, my mom had gotten the word: AJ could come home for a visit. I was ecstatic. That meant I could go home for a visit, too.

One of the positives to come out of this pandemic has been the unique ways people have marked special occasions, whether it be birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations or baby showers.

There are plenty of videos on social media showing fire trucks and numerous vehicles parading by houses of youngsters celebrating their birthdays.

A drive-by birthday parade was the perfect for my brother. AJ loves parades.

Staff members for the organization that operates his group home had arranged such an event only a few weeks earlier. While talking to my parents and me on the phone, my brother proceeded to tell them he was waiting for the marching band — his favorite parade entry. Of course, there was no marching band, but we weren't going to tell him that.

My mom and I immediately began planning. She ordered cupcakes and I planned to make a sign for the yard. She also sent out invites to all of our family and friends.

I arrived at my parents the day before the event. My brother hugged me so tight and it was one of the best feelings after not seeing him since February.

The next day, we placed the sign in the yard and sat back in the shade to wait. Car after car drove up. AJ greeted each one with a smile and a wave. He's not the best at social distancing — he's a hugger — but he enjoyed it nonetheless. He received cards, gifts and even balloons from all those that passed by.

AJ Smith

AJ Smith, brother of Managing Editor Leeanna Ellis, talks to his grandma, Leota Buffington, during a drive-by birthday party.

Our grandma even sang him Happy Birthday.

I couldn't stop smiling. This sweet, fun-loving boy (he's my little brother, he will always be a boy) was happy. He was with his family and all things were well. And for a moment, we all forgot about the pandemic and life was good.

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