Christy and I have eaten at some unique places over the years. Like The Parson’s Table in Jonesborough, Tennesse – an old church building that was converted into a fancy shmancy restaurant (now it’s a special events facility). There’s St. Joseph’s Brewery in Indianapolis, another old church facility that was converted into a microbrewery not too long ago. We tried the poutine.
My parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary while I was a senior at Milligan. Kevin was a freshman at Anderson. So both of us were out of town at the time. Throw in the end-of semester projects and preparations for finals and it looked like we were not going to be able to do anything special for my parents’ silver anniversary until sometime during Christmas break.
Appearances can be deceiving though.
With the help of Grandma and Grandpa Craig, we were able to pull of what had to be the biggest coup in Todd family history. It was definitely one for the record books and it took a whole lot of effort from a whole lot of people to pull this thing off. But they did. And it was fabulous. It’s amazing how a plan comes together. Because of all the planning and uncertainty and moving parts and potential for disaster, I believe this was the biggest surprise I was able to pull off. It was an even bigger surprise than when I proposed to Christy.
Before we go much further, I want to remind you of one very important thing: context. This was 15+ years ago. The Internet was still very young and not readily accessible. Yahoo looked like this. Google didn’t even exist. Very few people had cell phones. And if they did have them, they weren’t much smaller than Zack Morris’s.
And texting? I don’t even think we’d ever heard of such a thing.
I know. We were in the dark ages of communication technology. How did we ever get in touch with all those people in Evansville when we lived 8 and 4 hours away from everyone? Why, snail mail, of course! Grandma and Grandpa Craig printed up a bunch of invitations and we mailed them to family, friends, neighbors…anyone we thought might want to celebrate this momentous day with my parents. We may or may not have even invited the local fire department, police department, and area bridge clubs. OK, we didn’t. But let’s just agree that we invited a whole lot of people.
So after inviting almost all of Vanderburgh County, we had to use all of our creative energy to pull this thing off. I remember talking up my concern about the upcoming finals and how I was going to be spending the weekend camped out in the Library in preparation for them. Friday and Saturday were going to be nothing but study days for me. My cover had been established. Mom and dad had no idea that Christy and I were driving up to Evansville that Friday. They had no idea that Kevin, Christy, and I would be sleeping at Grandma and Grandpa Craig’s that evening.
We had recruited some family friends to take mom and dad out of town for the morning and afternoon on Saturday. Once they were on the road, they had to make a quick emergency stop. I don’t remember what the excuse was, but they had to stop so they could call to let us know that the coast was clear.
Then we broke into my parents’ house.
We grabbed whatever bags looked like they might contain gifts and gently tossed them into one of our bedrooms. Because I like to keep surprises a surprise, there was no peeking at the potential gifts. We furiously cleaned and scrubbed and cleaned as quickly as possible, hoping to make the house as spotless as possible. Grandma was worried (and rightfully so) that Mom would be mortified if she knew a bunch of people were at her house and the house wasn’t clean. That would’ve been a surprise of a completely different sort.
As we cleaned, we began preparing the food. Grandma had ordered an anniversary cake from Donut Bank, the same baker who had made their wedding cake. The wassail was simmering on the stove. And in a very short amount of time, we had my parents’ house transformed. We were ready to party like it was 1999.
We had a shuttle system established. People parked around the block or in the nearby church parking lot. We would shuttle them to the house. That way there wasn’t any chance of Mom or Dad accidentally recognizing one of the cars, which could potentially ruin the surprise. Once everyone arrived, we gathered in the Dining Room and we waited.
OK. Most of us were patient. I really wasn’t that patient. I was anxious. I couldn’t wait for the surprise to unfold.
As their friends’ car pulled up, Mom and Dad got out of the car. The tightly-packed room fell silent as they approached the front door. Because of the layout of the house’s main level, we could not see the door from the Family Room. And they could not see us. My body tensed as we heard the door open. I couldn’t believe we had actually pulled it off.
Mom and Dad were talking about something as they opened the front door. Then, mid-sentence, Mom said, “Wow. Something smells good.” She could smell the wassail as it simmered. I asked her about this later and she didn’t think anything of it at the time.
Then she turned the corner into the Dining Room. Dad trailed closely behind, still out of sight. As she rounded the corner, she saw us.
I wish I had thought to have a camera with me because the look on her face was priceless. She screamed and ran back around the corner. She whispered to Dad, “There are people in our house.” Then they both came around the corner together and they were greeted with a giant
“Surprise! Happy anniversary!”
And she didnt’ faint. I really did think Mom was going to faint. I’m sure glad she didn’t!
We had a great time with Mom and Dad, surrounded by family and friends. It was a magical evening. And I still can’t believe we managed to keep the event a secret.
So the pressure’s on our kids. What are they going to be able to do for us when we celebrate our 25th? I think we’ve set the bar pretty high. Fortunately, they have a few years to get things together. They might want to start planning now so there isn’t any pressure a decade from now.
This post was inspired by #ThinkKit’s post-a-day in December initiative, presented by Smallbox. Today’s prompt:Don’t look….it’s a surprise! Yes, I deviated from the prompt just a little bit. But that’s OK. This story must be told.
Whenever I hear this Jars of Clay rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, I’m suddenly driving around Elizabethton, Tennessee, with some college friends. And then when I hear the line, “to save us all from Satan’s power,” I hear Chalis say something about the history of this hymn and then I hear all of us in a heated theological discussion about what it means to be saved from Satan’s power. And then I see us pull into Taco Bell on a snowy night so I can have my bacon cheeseburger burrito.
And all is right with the world.
This may or may not have happened more than once during that winter.
So while this song is a good reminder of what the Christmas season is all about, it’s a much more personal memory. And it’s because of that memory that this song will always remain on my Christmas playlist.
And if that statement is true, I feel like we had a little taste of Heaven during Milligan’s Homecoming weekend. It was a weekend full of reunions and introductions and saying “hello” to long-lost friends. Here’s just a glimpse of the people and places we said “hello” to during Homecoming…
Bays Mountain State Park
Christy used to bring the kids here while we were in our grad school era of Tri Cities living (as opposed to the BK – Before Kids – undergrad era of Tri Cities living). We had to go back to Bays Mountain to say hello to the wolves, deer, and predatory birds. Of course, we also had to ask the fox what he says.
These deer were so calm that they barely even noticed the small group of paparazzi who had gathered to take their picture.
Although Cheers is long and gone, many of the old stand bys that have become closely associated with Milligan we still around. And it was a beautiful thing to be reunited with them.
We met Melissa/Bob/Miss Awissa at Firehouse for some Southern barbecue that was out of this world. I don’t think I really appreciated Firehouse while we lived there because… well… it wasn’t Shyler’s. I guess you could say my palate has matured because there’s plenty of room on my plate for both barbecue (assuming Shyler’s does eventually reopen).
Christy insists on eating her pulled pork with slaw. That’s probably the “right” way to eat it, but I don’t understand why one would want to mess with perfection.
Not only is Pal’s tasty, but it seems they’ve hired some mind readers, too…
I wish they would bottle that shrimp sauce so we could bring it home…
Unfortunately, they don’t. Oh well. I guess that just means we’ll have to go back soon.
No trip to the South is complete without at least one meal that includes Bo-Berry biscuits from Bojangles.
That’s our Goddaughter on the trampoline. She’s dressed up like a fairy princess. I think. And she’s practicing so she’ll be able to learn how to fly. Since she’s our Goddaughter, this really shouldn’t be a surprise. Should it? It’s just par for the course.
And Miss Awissa/Bob/Melissa would like for me to inform you that no, she is not pulling Mihret’s arms out of her sockets. They’re dancing to music that wasn’t playing. That’s kind of par for the course, too.
The Kids and Their Old New Friends
It was amazing watching our kids play together. Some of them met for the very first time. Some hadn’t seen each other in quite a while – and most of them probably didn’t really remember each other. But they played and played and played. It was heartwarming to see them play like they’d known each other all their lives.
The Hoover Farm
Heather and Randy invited us to their farm for a bonfire. It was great spending more time with everyone and it was just a little bit reminiscent of the bonfires we used to have at Milligan – without the kids running around and playing, of course.
We walked along the banks of Buffalo Creek for some family pictures. I couldn’t help but remember and pray for the guys I had baptized in that creek more than a decade ago.
I think the weekend convinced Aiden to consider attending Milligan (years down the road when it’s time for him to start looking seriously at college. I know it’ll be here before we know it though). Until I opened my big mouth and talked about the tradition of throwing a guy in the Creek after he gets engaged. Now I think we’re back to square one with him.
Milligan students of the mid to late 90s gathered with their families in Lower Seeger for a night of Vespers, not unlike the services we used to have every Sunday evening while we were students. It was moving beyond words.
I don’t know why it took us 15 years to decide to do something like this, but I pray that this will become a regular part of Homecoming weekends in the future.
After the amazing Vespers service, we had to take a quick walk through the Chapel. The kids, however, weren’t satisfied with just a walkthrough. They had to jump on stage.
We left Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains with our hearts full and already looking forward to the next time we’ll be able to say “hello” while standing in the shadow of Buffalo Mountain.
We had fun there. Spent half a day playing in the water, which was our plan. We finished the day at Sea World. One of the nifty little things we discovered was that while parking at Sea World is $15, it’s only $12 at Aquatica and your parking receipt at Aquatica is valid at Sea World for the rest of the day!
While we had fun playing in the splash park area and zooming through the lazy river rapids (or whatever that ride is called), we didn’t take any pictures. Didn’t want to get the camera wet. I know. You’re disappointed.
I did realize that I’m turning into an old man while I was there. And I’m pretty OK with that. I walked around in a t-shirt with a ball cap on. No way was I going to get sunburned.
On Thursday, we took a free shuttle to Busch Gardens in Tampa. While there are certain advantages to using this shuttle, like saving money on gas and parking, there are also some disadvantages. The shuttle picked us up nearly an hour late. And we had to be back in the bus by 7 p.m. It’s tough doing trying to do an amusement park on someone else’s schedule. But we managed. And we had a good time.
We met up with the Newlands, who are friends of our from Milligan. It was great getting the inside scoop about Busch Gardens (they have season passes). It was also fun watching our kids hang out with their kids. The most memorable part, however, might be the flamingo that wanted Brent’s phone.
Some other highlights from Busch Gardens include (but aren’t limited to)….
Meeting Big Bird
Riding the Super Grover Roller Coaster
Aly catching a lizard
Love love LOVE the expression on her face!
Seeing some really cool animals
Watching a two-toed sloth actually MOVE
As you can see, our day was jam-packed full of fun. And it turned out to be a good thing that we had to be back at the bus by 7, anyway. A storm came through and shut everything down for quite a while. We wouldn’t have been able to ride any more rides. So we weren’t missing anything.
On the way home, we followed the NBA Draft with some other families. I was glad to hear about some very familiar names as top four picks. We’re quite proud of Vic and Cody – even though I’m not quite ready to say I’m a fan of the Bobcats!
Of course X is for x-wing. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you shouldn’t be surprised by this at all. What else could X be for? X-Men? I guess. X-ray? Maybe. Xylophone? A cop-out. If any letter is perfectly combined with any word, it’s X with -wing. X always has been and always will be for x-wing. Unless I do this challenge again next year. Then I’ll have to pick another word for X because using x-wing again would be cheating. Right?
From video games to role-playing, I’ve always chosen to fly an x-wing for the Rebellion. OK…there was that short stint where I was totally engrossed in the TIE Fighter video game experience while in undergrad, but we’ll not dwell on that right now. It was because of the x-wing that I begged my parents to take me to Showbiz Pizza. I didn’t care about the food. I didn’t care about Rock-afire Explosion. All I cared about was climbing into that cockpit and destroying the Death Star again and again and again. This was my favorite game of all time. All. time. I would give practically anything to own one of these machines. I don’t think any other game comes anywhere close to the amazing awesomeness that was the Star Wars arcade game.
As a child, I regularly played Star Wars with Darren, who lived a few houses down from us. We would act out scenes from the movies and even make up our own stories. We would draw out battle plans and brief the other Rebel pilots before going out on our missions. It seems that Wedge was always getting in trouble with us, the commanders, because he wouldn’t pay attention during the briefings. Of course, when it counted, Wedge was always came through as our x-wings engaged in heavy fighting against Imperial TIEs.
Did you know there’s a International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day? You’re already late for this year’s event, unfortunately. It’s always the first Saturday of February. But you can go ahead and start planning ahead for next year’s celebration if you’d like.
We have our own ice cream for breakfast tradition. It started on an International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day while Christy was at a conference in Georgia. Somehow along the way, Ice Cream for Breakfast Day moved to when she goes out of town for her annual Girls’ Weekend Getaway with her college roommates. You know what they say about when the cat’s away….or something like that…
Last year, I upped the ante and made chocolate waffles to go with the chocolate and vanilla ice cream. I’m not sure what we’re going to do this year to top last year’s entry, but I need to decide soon. Girls’ Weekend starts this Thursday!
Any suggestions? I’m kind of leaning towards homemade donuts…
This birthday celebration could go down as the most memorable in history. I can’t imagine how it could be topped. To be honest, I’m kind of scared about the idea of someone trying to top it…
My birthday is March 1. Becky is my “almost-twin,” with her birthday really close to mine (I don’t know if she wants her birthdate broadcast, so we’ll leave it at that). In the few days leading up to our birthdays, Heather announced that we were going to have a big birthday extravaganza one evening at dinner. She hyped it up every day until that fateful evening.
When I arrived at the party that evening, there were two chairs at the end of the tables with big signs attached saying “Birthday Boy” and “Birthday Girl.” I’m not one to like having attention drawn to myself. So, agreeing to sit in the Birthday Boy chair was kind of a big deal. I got several birthday wishes from people and I was OK with that. It was a nice little shindig, but I wouldn’t call it anything earth-shattering.
Last week, a UPS carrier delivered a package. It was addressed to Christy but she wasn’t there to receive it. So I had to take the package. I knew that it was a present. I knew it was my present. So I did what some of you might think was pretty insane.
I didn’t look at it. At all.
I took the box, walked directly to our bedroom closet, and left it there. Once I walked away, I didn’t think anything else about it. I did make a mental note to let Christy know it arrived. But that was it. No peeking. No shaking of the box. No searching my wife’s web history to figure out what she had bought for me. I just ignored it.
I’m pretty sure Christy thinks I’m crazy. Maybe you think I’m crazy too. I’m OK with that. It’s not the first time I’ve been called crazy. I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last, either. But there’s a reason I refuse to discover my gifts ahead of time.
Let’s turn back the clock to a time that one would think would have been much simpler, a time when the world was my oyster and I was ready to take life by the horns as I surged into adulthood. Yes. This story begins some 18 years ago when I turned 18…
A month or two before my 18th birthday, my then-girlfriend and I were walking through the Mall. As we left some store that sold videos and movie memorabilia, she turned to me and said, “I know what I’m going to do for your birthday. I’m going to get your friends to chip in and we’re going to buy you that Star Wars letterbox collector’s set.”
Okay. Whatever. You’re dreaming.
That’s what I thought. I mean…the whole idea sounded really cool. But I wasn’t holding my breath. Those suckers were pretty expensive. I didn’t really think anything of it.
Until my birthday started getting closer. All of my friends told me they were going together to buy me something. My then-girlfriend also talked about how they were combining their efforts to get me something that I’ll really love. It was so obvious to me what they were doing that I just assumed they knew I knew what they were doing – you know? After all, she’d already told me she was going to do this.
Apparently, I should not assume anything.
On the night of my birthday, my parents took all of us out to eat at Elliot’s Steakhouse. While we were there, my friends presented me with my gift. And while I was deeply appreciative of the gift, I was hardly surprised when I tore open the paper and saw the blue box with the Star Wars hologram. I thanked everyone profusely and probably said something like “This is really cool,” or something similar.
I did not, however, react like Nintendo 64 Boy (see above).
I found out later that the fact that I didn’t run around with my head about to explode really disappointed some of my friends. They expected a more surprised reaction. Mom was even a little frustrated with my stoic reaction. It’s quite clear that they didn’t get the memo that I already knew they were giving me the present. Don’t get me wrong. It was an amazing gift. We watched all three of them after the after-graduation party that year. I threatened my suitemates’ lives over that collection while I was in college. It’s just that I’m not a very good actor. I couldn’t pretend to be surprised, even if I had been smart enough to think that I should have pretended. I guess I could have reacted like Iago.
After that debacle, I resolved that it’s really better not to know what gifts I’m receiving. There’s a whole lot less pressure on everyone. They can keep it a secret. I can be genuinely excited when I receive the gift. Everyone’s happy. I think Christy thinks I’m nuts. But that’s OK. I’m kind of used to her thinking I’m nuts. After all she’s lived with me for 14+ years. So I’ll keep taking packages that are delivered from UPS/FedEx/USPS and putting them away without giving them a second thought. No one has to worry.
Because I’m pretty bad at faking anything. Especially on Christmas.
If I remember correctly, my Darth Vader nightlight was a Christmas gift that was hand-painted by Aunt Patsy. I was quite proud of that gift!
Kevin was given an R2-D2, but it fell off his dresser and broke one morning. I think something fell on it.
Darth Vader is hiding somewhere (it might be neatly packed away at my parents’ house). I may have to unpack it and put it somewhere in my office.
I’m sure it’s no secret that I’ve been a die-hard Star Wars fan since the first day I played with the action figures. That story has sucked me in time and time again. When my friends would come over, we’d play Star Wars. And we wouldn’t just play with the action figures. We’d turn my bedroom into a War Room, of sorts – briefing Rebel pilots on their next missions. We’d draw diagrams and battle plans. We’d even chew out other imaginary pilots for not taking it seriously enough.
Yeah. We were hardcore.
When the girls next door would come over and insist on using my action figures as dolls for playing house, I’d do whatever I could to figure out a way to steer the play towards Star Wars. I even used Greedo as a recruiter, trying to convince Luke Skywalker to leave his family and join the rebellion. Luke would refuse Greedo’s invitation, saying it was too hot to fight.
My response? “It’s hot because of the war. The weapons are making the planet hot. It will cool down once the war stops. Joining the fight will help it end sooner.”
Unfortunately, my argument didn’t work and Luke went back to complaining about the heat. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
This period of my life also revolved around Sesame Street. Sesame Street helped teach me how to read. Sesame Street also taught me how to tell time. I learned very quickly how to know it was 3:00 (I think it was 3) in the afternoon – because that’s when Sesame Street came on!