Janelle Ellzy: Memory Maker
SHE EMPHASIZED A MILESTONE
The more I contemplate legacy, the more I give consideration to how it’s created and how it’s celebrated. The first tendency is to think of it as big accomplishments and celebrated achievements. But it is more. You come to know the early tracks you laid down for your life when listening to such songs as Stevie Wonder’s, “I Wish”, Lauren Hill’s, “Every Ghetto, Every City” and Lukas Graham’s, “7 Years”. The more I contemplate legacy, I realize it’s not the big thing, it’s the everything leading to the big things, starting with your birthday, the day your legacy begins.
Clarity came on a recent trip to Bangkok, Thailand for the birthday celebration of Atlanta, GA resident Janelle Ellzy. Much was confirmed. Yes, we build our story, but it is the participation of others and how we celebrate every anniversary of our birth that makes it sticky.
Twenty-four of us—siblings, cousins, friends and co-workers—flew across states, oceans and time zones to share in Janelle’s 50th birthday celebration, not because we needed to go this far for a birthday party, but because Janelle, and her story, means something to us. She, in turn, showed us how much we mean to her and the life she has been able to build thus far. What we all learned through this adventure—and that’s exactly what is was—is that the cornerstone (birthday) is the launching pad for milestones. We also learned none of us can have a birthday celebration this year. It just won’t compare.
So here’s the story.
It began in October with a logo inviting us to save the date. A few months later a silk invitation, chopsticks and a website link arrived. You instantly knew you wanted in. By March, 24 people had said yes.
Two weeks prior to travel a zippered, TSA-approved bag filled with travel needs, including an eye mask, a book of things to do in Thailand, and a metal luggage tag in our favorite color, embossed with our initials and home address, arrived via United Parcel Service. Shortly thereafter we were informed a group had been created on WhatsApp to help everyone stay in touch.
On the third Tuesday of June texts and photos began to flow as we headed to Bangkok from a variety of cities: Seoul, Tokyo, Moscow, Singapore, Shanghai and Laos. Greeting all of us at Suvarnabhumi Airport during late-night hours were representatives of Destination Asia, with well-cooled, comfortable vans to take us to the Pullman Bangkok Grande Sukhumvit Asoke Hotel. Upon entering our rooms we found a small red bag containing vacation needs and an itinerary for the week’s birthday events. The itinerary read rather generic: welcome reception, city tour with lunch, rooftop cocktail party and farewell dinner. But you already know.
We spent our free time getting every kind of massage, riding the Skytrain and subway, visiting red-light districts, getting custom-made clothes, flying off to Phuket, enjoying monkeys and elephants, taking cooking and martial arts classes, shopping and enjoying local scenes. Then there were the shenanigans of Janelle, who did not bring us this far for ordinary. This woman, who has built a wonderful life for herself within the food and beverage industry, and has awards to prove it, let us have it! Here’s how it all went down.
Thursday Evening - We gather in an open space at the hotel where cheerful staff members greet us with cocktails. In the midst of chatter and laughter two doors swing open from which dancers and drummers, in traditional garb, appear in performance and invite us to join in. We agree, and upon completion enter the dining room met by a buffet the likes of which I haven’t seen since Sean Comb’s 26th birthday party. After the revelry we return to our rooms. There to greet us are silk robes in our favorite color, embroidered with a dragon.
Friday Afternoon - After an intriguing tour of the Grand Palace complex, and Wat Pho, a complex of Buddhist temples and home to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, we board the vans and head to lunch. Given the disposition of the crowd, a nice local restaurant would do, but not for Janelle. We try to compose ourselves when we arrive at the river’s edge, board large wooden canoe-like boats and are taken to Supatra River House, a restaurant with an exquisite river view, good food and an amenable staff. At each place setting is a card emblazoned with the same logo that met us at the airport.
Sunday Evening - It’s time for the birthday party. Vans pick us up and deliver us to the Bangkok Marriott Sukhumvit. We ride 48 floors up and are escorted to a reserved area on an outdoor terrace overlooking Bangkok. There we are served cocktails, sushi, fresh tuna, fried chicken, Wagyu beef, calamari and some very good French fries. One hour in we ascend to the Octave Rooftop Bar & Lounge on the 49th floor and are again escorted to a private seating area where we enjoy more cocktails, the view, and some of the best hip-hop served up by a DJ in a glowing blue booth.
Monday Evening - It’s time to say goodbye before early morning flights. We arrive in the lobby at 4:15 as instructed and posted up in the driveway are 15 Thai Tuk Tuks, their drivers, a photographer and a police officer in full regalia. Ain’t none of us mad. As we move through the streets of Bangkok residents wonder and wave. We wave back. We believe we’re heading to a restaurant, but not just yet. We arrive at a pier and suddenly a pagoda-styled boat, emblazoned with our destination, arrives for our pleasure. We board and move across the Chao Phraya River surrounded by luxury hotels. Upon our arrival at the Thiptara Thai Restaurant at the Peninsula Bangkok, we are greeted by staff and escorted to a bar, and a table where a traditional drink, featuring Thai rum, is being made for our enjoyment. We lavish. An hour later we are seated at the waterside and met with place settings featuring silk squares, made of the same fabric as the original invitation, with our names in gold. Above our plates are long wooden boxes. Inside are chopsticks embellished with #50inThailand on one and our full names on the other. I’m done! During an extremely tasty dinner we’re served wine and cocktails of our choice as we enjoy boats going by and a harpist playing traditional Thai music in front of a pond filled with beautiful flora. After dinner we return to the lounge area. As we imbibe and talk amongst ourselves, the banyan trees and lush tropical gardens, there is another surprise, a full fireworks show in celebration of Janelle.
Like I said, yes, we build our story, but it is the participation of others and how we celebrate every anniversary of our birth that makes it sticky. Honoring your life, every moment of it, and celebrating your birth, the beginning of it, that is your legacy.
Photos and text © Jelani Bandele 2019