Monday, December 18, 2006


So, for the past two months I have been secretly planning, plotting, and preparing for my wife’s 29 + 11 year birthday. This could not be a simple party, this had to be big.

After all, we are dealing with a large, round number.

So, I snuck onto her computer, downloaded all of her contacts, and sent out the following message to them all:

(The Lovely and Talented) Carrie E. turns 40 this December 24. Forty. Four decades. Two score. Twenty, twice. December 24 is a good day for eggnog, but a lousy day for a birthday, unless your name is Jesus. So, whereas the aforementioned Carrie:
  • has only had 2 real birthday parties
  • turns 40 way before her husband
  • deserves a party full o' friends
You are hereby invited to a surprise birthday party on December 16, 2006 at here in lovely Astoria, Oregon. Festivities start at 6:30 pm. Children are welcome, but gifts are not. We ask only that you bring you, yours, and your appetite.

For the out-of-towners, we have space for people here- bring your own pillow (no offense, but the whole shared pillow thing is my weird little phobia.)

Please RSVP to this email address- no calls, please- she's a clever one, that Carrie.

Then, I sat back and waited. I quickly realized that this was going to be quite the event. Her parents were coming from Northern California, her sister and family for Orange County, and friends from all over.

Time wore on, and many more details were set up. About a month into the planning, she started getting suspicious.

“You’re going to throw me a surprise party, aren’t you?” She asked. “Please don’t. I don’t want a party.”

I thought fast. I was about to get busted, and a lot of planning had taken place.

I figured the most unbelievable thing was the truth. “Yep, you’re right. I’m going throw you a huge party. People will be traveling in from all over. Your sister and parents are flying in, as are a bunch of Forest Ranchers. Now that you’ve figured it out, you’d better act surprised.”

She stared at me for a few seconds. Then she started laughing. Right in my face. “You can’t even close the cereal box. There is no way in hell you could set up something like that.” She sat back and giggled.

I played hurt. “Now I feel bad. Do you want a party? I bet we could get some people together for dinner or something…..”

“No, that’s OK.” She kept giggling.

“What?” I asked, feigning injury and emotional duress.

“I just realized how much credit I gave you. You can build a server out of an old typewriter and some bailing wire, but you’ll let the kids eat cake for breakfast and lunch!” She laughed out loud again.

“No, seriously, I can throw you a little party- you can make sauce and I’ll….”

“Oh I can cook? No, no, no.” She went back to giggling. "That's OK." She started laughing hard again.

I sat back and hoped it worked. I decided to throw her further off the trail. I went upstairs and bought her a small gift, to help throw her off the trail. Then, I played it up the next night.

“I felt bad I wasn’t doing anything big for your birthday, so I kind of got you something….” I said.

“You are so bad at secrets.”

“Yeah, well I got you an iPod Nano, and it is engraved. Will that be OK?”

Yes let me know that it was OK without saying a word.

A little more time passed, and more people confirmed. I did some head counts and realized that the house was going to be filled with people, and the house wasn’t quite up to the task.

Well, shit.

I needed to get back to work. I ordered and installed the flooring,

Then, her friends in town stared avoiding her, afraid of spilling the beans on the whole party thing. Hell, at this point, I was afraid of slipping.

“Buddy, do I smell bad or something?” She asked.

“No worse than normal.”

“I’m serious. I think people are avoiding me. You’d tell me if I smelt bad, wouldn’t you?

“Yes, dear. I’m sure you’re just imagining things.” I had my best poker face on.

“No, people are avoiding me. They don’t call, and if I call, I can tell they are rushing to get off the phone.” She sat back and pouted.

“It’s all in your head, sweetie. Don’t sweat it. Maybe folks are just busy. It is the holidays.”

“Whatever.” She went off and sulked.

Then with two weeks to go, I decided to start working on the stairs and hallway. I purchase materials from the discount shop in Longview, and came home and started to tear apart the old stair rail. I was working like a man possessed- less than two weeks, but I could get it done!

I even worked out an excuse- our friends Vance and Marci were going to come to dinner, so I needed to get the work done before they came. I ripped and tore and pulled and pried. I was standing in a pile of debris, wondering just how in the hell I was going to get this done when she called from upstairs.

“I need your help! I’m trying to take the kid’s Christmas pictures up here!” She called from the attic studio.

“I’m working on the stairs!” I yelled back.

“That can wait, get the baby dressed!”

“But Vance and Marci are coming!”

“They’ll understand. They’ve seen the house before. Now hurry up and dress the baby!”

It was at this point I realized that I actually had to stop working and dress the baby. I had broken 2x4’s on the floor, sheetrock chunks littering the room, nails everywhere, and a houseful of guests expected in six days, but I had to stop working and help with picture taking.

This had gone on for every part of this construction, from the floor, to repainting the dining room. I tried to work fast, and she (unknowingly) threw up roadblocks. If I tried to paint trim, she left the baby with me. Got my tools out? She put them away.

It was all terribly annoying, but I still had hope. When faced with stopping work for the evening to dress a child, I realized at that point that I had probably lost the war.

The house was going to be what it was, and I would either be killed or not.

I did as I was told, and worked on the stairs for the rest of the weekend and into the week. As I was about to assemble the railings (involving a lot of careful miter saw work), the big storm hit and took out the power for the last two working days.

So, I gave up.

The first out-of-town guests arrived the day before the party, so I took off work and hung out with them. I told my wife I was at the office, and was careful say goodnight to my friends and be home by 5:00 pm.

We went to a dance recital, and then decided (as we were without power at the house, to get dinner. We pulled into the parking lot for the Cannery Café where I immediately spotted my friend’s car and their personalized license plates. As this couple was supposed to be some 600 miles away, we instead went to Stephanie’s cabin.

The day of the party, I spent the morning moving construction materials and nailing trim.

I had told my bride that I needed to work on Saturday, as the storm had messed some things up. I said I had to drive to Knappa. I said I had to drive to Jewell and Seaside as well.

She gave me a stern look. “Don’t forget, we are going out to diner with the ‘Bachs. It is at 6:30, you better not be late.”

“I won’t. I’ll keep an eye on the clock.”

“You better. You’re always late for these things.”

I dropped her off for her Brownie meeting at 1pm. Then I drove to the Portland Airport to pick up guests. They landed at 4:00, and we left Portland at 4:45pm.

We hit a construction crew (clearing fallen trees) on the way back, but I managed to drop off two carloads of people at the restaurant at 6:25 and bolt home. I called from a block away, and told her to meet me out front.

She climbed in, looking a bit peeved that I had cut it so close. We parked around the corner and went inside.

She walked into a diner filled with fifty people ages 1 to 78, who cared enough to brave storms, wash in cold water, and travel distances ranging from a few blocks to 1,200 miles for a girl in a small Oregon town that we all feel is pretty wonderful.

You know what?

They guy who can’t close the cereal box honestly surprised her.