Getting to Know You
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by John Nippolt
2020 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved

          The announcement came as no surprise. I understand. I’m there already. I know the feeling and most of the reasons why: “There will be no birthday this year. There will be no cards. There will be no gifts. I don’t wish for friends or visitors and I don’t want to go out.”

          Her feelings about this particular birthday had been the subject of some prior discussions, but there were no firm declarations of this sort. “I will cook my own dinner and there will be no cake.”

          What? No cake? Heresy! The very woman who taught my children the best thing about a birthday cake was you could have cake for breakfast the next day. No cake, indeed! The boy in me smiled at this ruse. This is my wife’s favorite time of year. It became clear to me at the beginning of our relationship that I should not combine Christmas with her birthday only two days following.  Birthday gifts are separate from Christmas gifts just like everybody else. That’s only fair and I heartily agreed with her. Also, the birthday cake will echo Christmas cheer: white frosting on white cake. Easy, I thought at the time.

          I felt bad for her and the non-birthday she had resigned herself to this year, yet I knew this was not going to happen. She wasn’t going to get away with this! After all, I have invested a great deal of time and energy for her special celebration. I’m surprised that she hasn’t guessed my favorite part of her birthday is the giving I get to do for her. She so willingly gives me her everything, right?

         We shop together during the holidays because it’s easier for her to find a parking space when I drive.  I drop her off at the entrance and go park the car. Usually I will find her inside on one of the aisles checking items off her list. It was the day before Christmas and I had to grab the cake and frosting mixes now. I ran into the market and without her seeing me, I grabbed the stuff I needed. I ran outside and hid my purchases in the trunk. I was back inside without a raised eyebrow. I could get eggs in front of her because she allowed they would be used for New Year’s breakfast and pies. I knew that was what she would probably think.

         Move ahead with me to the day after Christmas.  I realize I’ve almost forgotten the most important gift for her birthday celebration tomorrow. After all it was she who taught me to question: “How can there be birthday cake without champagne?” I look at the bottle of Prosecco in the refrigerator; sparkling wine will never do. A good lie about me having to go to the hardware store directs me to Baron de Rothschild’s finest bottle of champagne in our little port town. Mission accomplished again, without suspicion.

         Same day, a neighbor asked me a favor, would I water his plants while he winters elsewhere in a warmer clime?  Of course I would be happy to, no problem.  He lives five houses up the road. To show me his appreciation he offered me a fine feather lei, I suppose because I’m from Hawaii it would be appropriate.  He seemed to think I should have it. I accepted it immediately and told him my wife would get it for her birthday. He was pleased at the whole idea:  A lovely lei hulu in a koa shadow box from Martin & MacArthur. Wow! What a great surprise this was going to be. No gifts, yeah right!

         We wake on her day and I dare to sing happy birthday to her.  I’m rewarded with a kiss and a smile. The best omen. Here we go. After breakfast she is town bound to run errands and perhaps do some last minute shopping. It takes 15 to 20 minutes driving to town; that gives me a half hour for sure. Errands, finding a place to park add another 45 minutes.  At the least she would return in an hour and fifteen minutes.

          The cake batter mixed in minutes, poured into the greased pan at the same moment the oven announced it was ready to bake. Twenty-five minutes later the cake was cooling and the frosting ready in my painting studio, everything was out of sight. I hoped Candace would think I heated a breakfast roll in the oven while she was out, and she did; the perfect alibi to cover the aroma of baked pastry, and a cooling oven. I had all the measuring devices, pans, bowls and silverware washed, dried and put back into place before she returned. All went as planned, she didn’t have a clue.

          I spent part of the afternoon wrapping her gifts, signing cards, and frosting the cake. Instead of the dreaded numerals she was in denial of I put a 2 candle and a 6 candle for the number of years we have been celebrating this blessed event together.  When all was ready I smuggled everything, the gifts, cards and cake, into the guest bathroom shower. If my wife had to use the toilet I assumed she wouldn’t have a reason to look around the corner on the floor in the shower next to her. The champagne was chilling naturally outside for most of the day; December in the Puget Sound can be brisk. Before I came in to clean up, I moved it to the back door of our utility room where I could grab it handily when the time came.

          “Dinner,” her sweet voice called. “O.K. honey, here I come.”

         Without a sound, I grabbed the champagne and entered the kitchen with the bottle hidden behind my back. She was at the sink with her back to me. Perfect. In a single move, I whisked the bottle of Prosecco off the table into the icebox and closed the door. Now my back faced Candace, while I opened the champagne. The cork popped as would her sparkling wine, I returned to the table, filled her glass carefully and placed the bottle on the table, label facing away from her. I sat down across from her, carefully watching her eyes above the tilted edge of her glass of champagne. I was not disappointed. What a look! My girl knows her stuff and at that moment everything changed. The mood brightened. She turned the bottle, looked at it and then looked at me. “You bad boy,” she admonished me lovingly. Dinner was a delight and she still had more champagne in the bottle.

         I stood and excused myself to use the bathroom. “I’ll be right back.” I walked directly into the shower, picked up the cake and lit the candles. I turned off the lights re-entering the kitchen singing happy birthday. Her smile was radiant. She was stunned. I told her, “Don’t just sit there and stare, blow the candles out!” What great fun we were having, all the while she was telling me how bad I am and why she loves me because I’m so bad. I reminded her how much she loved her birthday with cake and champagne and how I could not let this day pass without our having this kind of time together. I stood once again and said, “Now, I really have to go.” Back into the shower I went for the gifts and cards. It all went down with the same surprise, how could I do this without her knowing, claiming she‘s a hard person to put one over on? I know better and you can guess the rest. Another birthday she said she can never forget. Today is New Year’s Day. Candace is still smiling.