In our family the surprise is everything. Take any momentous occasion — birthday, anniversary, retirement — and our family is sure to attempt to build a sneaky surprise event around it.
Like the time Dad brought us all home to Ontario — from two coasts — to surprise Mom on the day she retired. We all arrived on schedule, and hid down in the basement waiting for her arrival. We heard her car pull in, heard her walk up the steps, heard her come in the door. She obviously sensed that something was up because she yelled out an inquisitive “Hello?!”
My grandmother Nettie, unable to let a greeting go unacknowledged, let out a tentative “Hello!” from the basement, and the surprise was uncorked. I don’t think she saw it coming.
Mom returned the favour several years later when we all returned to Burlington for Dad’s retirement party. With military precision we decamped from brother Mike’s condo and headed to CCIW where we descended on Dad’s office. I don’t think he saw it coming either. And we all got the added bonus of being able to tuck in to a cake with a picture of Dad printed on it — where else can you eat your Dad’s beard without getting into trouble?
These two joined the “surprise trip to Greenland” and the “surprise balloon ride” in the Pantheon of Rukavina surprisery.
To this point my most successful surprise for Catherine — and this was admittedly minor league stuff — was the time I phoned her from the office and managed to do an accurate enough impression of her Grandma Kerr that she believe I was she. At least for 10 seconds. It was sweet. And preceded by about 50 earlier attempts, over 5 years, to pull it off. So perhaps not as much a surprise as a clever deception.
A couple of birthdays ago Catherine Hennessey whipped up a good surprise birthday party for me; I almost ruined it because I wasn’t feeling well, and thought I’d phone in my regrets for her “dinner invitation.” Fortunately Catherine [Miller] jumped in and “encouraged” me to go. Ah, the boiled icing — there’s nothing like it.
Last night, though, Catherine pulled off a “perfect surprise” for me — a surprise 39th birthday party that I didn’t see coming. At all. Despite the signs, the obvious signs.
She had the advantage, of course, that I was away for the week, so she could connive and conspire without need for cover. So much of the planning went off in advance.
Saturday morning I got up to the smell of cake baking in the kitchen. I ambled downstairs to inquire as to the reason for the baking and Catherine told me she was going to a “spinners and weavers meeting at the Notre Dame Convent” later in the day, and had to bring dessert. I should have sensed that something was up when my further questioning about the reasons for this meeting — why at the convent? why so much dessert? — had fuzzy answers. But I came away thinking she was simply distracted.
Later in the morning, Oliver tried to tell me something was up: “birthday surprise cake” he insisted. I insisted back that my birthday — last Tuesday — was over now and did my best to explain that we all only get one birthday, and I would have to wait next year to have a birthday again.
For lunch Oliver and I went to the Formosa Tea House. I should have known something was up when they wished me a Happy Birthday, and insisted that Catherine had told them that my birthday was that night. I chocked the confusion up to language and didn’t think anything more of it.
My instructions from Catherine were to meet her at the house at 7:00 p.m. — after the big spinning dessert shindig — when we would go on our weekly Saturday night dinner and movie outing. I showed up a little late, with movie picked out and car at the ready in the driveway.
Catherine came out of the kitchen with a big grin on her face. Then Johnny and Jodi jumped out from somewhere. And then I noticed that the dining room table was festooned with all manner of desserts — everything from pumpkin pie to cheesecake to chocolate chip cookies.
It was only then that Catherine let the plan spill: this was my surprise birthday party. She was, I think, absolutely convinced that I had figured things out and knew exactly what was going on.
I was completely surprised.
Catherine has now raised the family surprise bar to a new level.
Twenty minutes later the guests started arriving and soon thereafter our house was as full as it has ever been. Much dessert was consumed. Cynthia Dunsford and I got mildly toasted on a mysterious currant-based alcohol concocted by a hypnotist from Argyle Shore. My friends from the Formosa arrived with apologies for almost ruining it all (if only they knew the depths of my haze!). A good time was had by all.
Thanks to all who came, and all who sent wishes. And thanks to Catherine for pulling off the perfect surprise. I love you.