My third best surprise of all time had to do with my beard. When Steve was born and came home from the hospital, it was just after we’d had a well drilled and had hooked up the toilet. An inside bathroom! Although it wasn’t exactly a room yet. It was a toilet sitting in the middle of a place that would one day have walls and become a bathroom when we had the money and time to get it finished. In those days, I told Alice that as soon as I had a sink to shave in, I’d shave off my beard.

Progress on the bathroom was pretty good, and in a couple of years, the walls were up, bathtub installed, and a bathroom sink in place. The day I hooked up the sink plumbing and made sure it was all working was the day I remembered my pledge. So, after Alice fell asleep that night, I snuck out to my workshop with my electric razor and shaved off my beard. Then I snuck back in bed. When Alice woke up the next morning, she was next to a strange man! Steve had never seen me without a beard, and was skeptical about his Dad for some time after that.

My second best surprise ever was for my Dad’s 80th birthday. He was never big on celebrations or presents for himself or for others for holidays. My cousin Dan Soldan approached me with an idea to have a surprise birthday party for Dad at the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant. Dan had a friend at the casino that would arrange for the room, and we worked together to invite as many of Dad’s friends and relatives we could think of. Alice and I were visiting in Dimondale on the big day, and I casually asked him if he’d like just the two of us to take a drive up to the Soaring Eagle on his birthday. He jumped at the chance.

Dad and I would often take the drive up to Mt. Pleasant. He would play the slots while I walked around or sat with him (I don’t gamble). So up we went, and as he was gambling, I checked in at the restaurant to see how things were progressing. I made a deal with the maĆ®tre d’ that when we came in and said “dinner for 2”, that he would lead us to the conference room at the back where everyone was waiting. When the time came, I asked Dad if he’d like some dinner. “My treat,” I think I told him. “Sure,” he told me, so off we went. When the waiter led us into the back room, 40 people shouted “SURPRISE!” It is lucky Dad had a good heart! He was really really surprised.

But my best surprise of all time, and a very high bar indeed for future surprises, came about this year on Alice’s birthday. The two of us are finding it increasingly difficult to get gifts for each other, because we really don’t consume that much, and when we do need something, we tend to just buy it. Alice’s birthday is especially hard, because it is on January 26, which is right on the heels of Christmas, and I’ve usually used up all my good gift ideas. We do find it hard to surprise each other.

This year I suggested to Alice that we take a cruise for our winter getaway. It turned out there was one we were interested in that left the day after her birthday. So we decided to leave home on her birthday, fly to Miami and stay at a hotel, so we’d be ready to take a taxi to the cruise ship port the next day.

We’ve done 4 cruises together in the past. For several of them, we’ve invited Steve and John to come along, but for various reasons, we were never able to get our schedules to mesh. I approached Steve and asked him if he’d be able to come along this time, but to keep it a secret from Alice. He said he’d look into it. He and John had a lot of things going on, and it was touch and go as to whether they’d be able to make it. While this was happening in the background, Alice piped up and said, “Why don’t we ask Steve and John to come with us on the cruise?”

“Good idea!” I said with as much feigned enthusiasm as I could muster. One of the next times they talked on the phone, Alice asked Steve if he thought they could come. Steve, already primed by his Dad, expressed skepticism they’d be able to make it. A week or so later Steve texted me to say they were definitely a go for the cruise. So I arranged for their passage on the ship, booked their flights, and also booked a room for them in the hotel we were staying at the night of Alice’s birthday. But when Alice next asked him on the phone if they’d be able to make it, he said, sadly, “No I’m sorry we can’t come.”

“I understand,” answered his gullible Mom.

Flying this time of year is always a challenge, because winter storms can close down our airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 6:05 AM, meaning the roads might not be plowed, so the 30 mile trip to the airport could be hazardous. Added to all that, the longest government shutdown in history had just ended. It was beginning to affect some flights across the country. But we made it to the airport on time, and with minimal difficulties, made the trip to Miami, where we caught an Uber to the hotel.

I was in text contact with Steve, and knew they’d arrived at the hotel ahead of us. When we checked in at the hotel, I was afraid the desk clerk would blurt out that there was already a Soldan staying here! But he was cool and I later learned that Steve had coached him that a surprise was in the offing.

Around dinner time, I suggested we head down to the hotel dining room for a birthday dinner. The plan was for us to find a table, and once we were settled in, to text Steve and tell him it was time to come down. Steve had the idea that he would call her on his cell phone and wish her happy birthday. Once they got into position, he would say, “look to your left,” and he and John would be standing there.

I was nervous as a cat, but did have the foresight to have my camera on my lap, and to have it ready to capture what came next:

And that, my friends, is the story of the best surprise I’ve ever pulled off in my life.

2 Responses to “Surprises”

  1. Stella says:

    This brought tears to my eyes! Happy birthday Alice and congratulations!

  2. Donna says:

    A tear to every mom’s eye!! nice job. It’s difficult to surprise a spouse when you’ve been together for many, many years. Happy belated birthday Alice.

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