I was born on Christmas Day, 1967.
Last week I turned 50 years old. Half a century. Huzzah!
A couple of weeks ago my wife Amy asked me if I had any pearls of wisdom to share as I approached my fiftieth birthday. I thought for a minute, then said something to the effect of, “I think people just want to be cared for”. Scrooge. Winter Warlock. Probably even Trump. Doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, how much money you make…
People just want to be cared for.
A couple of months ago my (unbelievably amazing) wife asked me to schedule myself to be off work from December 7th to the 11th. It was to be a surprise 50th birthday vacation present. She wouldn’t say to where. In the weeks that followed, I’d occasionally ask (badger) her to tell me where we were going, so I could prepare for it. She finally relented and told me we were going to Baltimore. That’s cool, I thought. I like Baltimore.
Our kids are 19 and 15 and are fairly self-sufficient. Still, we had a family meeting to go over daily routines and emergency procedures. Regardless of our copious notes Amy and I felt confident and calm about their ability to run their own lives for the 5 days we’d be gone. Besides, I thought, we’ll only be an hour-and-a-half away!
In the days leading up to December 7th, Amy had some strange requests. She wanted us to pack only one suitcase, and she wanted me to lay out the clothes I wanted to take, and then she would finish the packing. She also told me we had to be leaving Harrisburg by 6 AM. I thought these things odd, and told her so. She was steadfast in her denial that anything other than a Baltimore trip was happening. So I believed her.
We were pulling out of the driveway at 6:05 AM on Thursday December 7th.
Amy drove. As we approached the Baltimore area, I noticed we were passing exits to Baltimore, and said so. Amy said, maybe the GPS knew a faster route. When we got off the exit for BWI Airport, the jig was up.
“We’re going to the airport???” Somehow I always knew, but as I said, Amy’s steadfast denial was so…completely steadfast…I believed her. Amy beamed and said, “Yes. We’re getting on a plane.” She still wouldn’t tell me where we were going, until we checked in at the airport, and the woman at the counter asked for our final destination…
“Ft. Lauderdale, Florida,” I heard my wife say.
“What’s in Ft. Lauderdale,” I heard myself say. “Are we going to the beach?? I’m not prepared for the beach!”
“Yes you are,” Amy replied, grinning slyly.
For the next couple of hours, waiting to board the plane, I was in shock. I don’t fly much, and have a pretty bad case of Turbulence-aphobia. Once we were on board and settled I was just fine…I mean, it was only a two-and-a-half hour flight, right? And I don’t think I bruised Amy’s thigh too much as I gripped it every time the plane shimmied.
Amy was positively giddy. She’d pulled off the greatest 50th birthday surprise I’ve ever heard of. And from the moment we touched down in Ft. Lauderdale, I was giddy too. She had thought of everything, planned everything, squirreled away money and paid for everything. I literally had nothing to worry about. Amy even honored my request to stay off the social medias during the trip. We both were very present the entire week. This was truly a gift.
We stayed in a beautiful little beach town called Lauderdale by the Sea, about 20 minutes north of Ft. Lauderdale. ‘Twas a hidden gem for sure, and forever special to us now. With plenty of restaurants and shops, but not commercialized at all, really. The small resort where we stayed was right on the beach, and had everything we needed: Beach umbrellas and chairs, 2 heated pools, bikes, a full kitchen. It was perfect.
Over the next 5 days we ate well and drank heartily and talked with other vacationers & locals. We sat on the beach and swam in the pool. The temps were in the 80’s the first couple of days. 50’s the next two, and then 70’s on the last day. We even became Uber savvy as we didn’t have a car, and had to get from point A to a point B too far to walk several times during the week.
Highlights from the trip:
- Amy surprised me, again, and chartered a small boat (think gondola) where we had a bottle of wine, and an absolutely delicious meal while touring the canal in Ft. Lauderdale. The Octopus was surprisingly and memorably delectable.
- A couples massage, where a small, stern looking Asian woman pummeled me for an hour. I always keep my boxers on when I get a massage. She was having none of that. As she finished massaging my lower back, she unceremoniously pulled my boxers down and pummeled my glutes.
- A bike ride through the town on a crisp, cool, southern Florida December morn.
- We were there long enough to have our favorite restaurants, and even a favorite server. There was live music everywhere we went!
It was a little discombobulating being in southern Florida in the middle of December. It was hot and sunny and there were Christmas trees and decorations everywhere.
Even Santa stopped by for a visit.
It was a relaxing, rejuvenating, connecting, fun-filled, crazy surprise. Everyone we told the story to let me know the bar’d been set very, very high.
I have a couple of years to plan…
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our kids’ role in all of this. They kept the secret for months. And then handled everything at home, on their own, for 5 days. I never worried. That was also a priceless gift. Elliott drove Emma to school and to her first high school dance. Their maturity and reliability belies their years. I know Amy couldn’t have pulled it off without their cooperation and assistance.
In the days and weeks that followed there would be other family Christmas celebrations.
Christmas Eve we spent with both our families and they all gave me thoughtful and generous gifts and well wishes. We even had my favorite cake: Chocolate with peanut butter icing.
Amy gave me one more gift for the ages, as if a trip to Florida wasn’t enough. Perhaps my holiest of holy grails: a first printing copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. I’d always wanted one. And she remembered all these years. I was deeply touched. Yeah, she’s pretty freakin’ amazing.
We topped it off with a lovely night out with old, dear friends.
I truly felt…cared for. And I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate my first half-century. All thanks to my thoughtful, caring, sneaky, beautiful wife.
Thank you Amy. You’ve been by my side for more than half of my 50 years.
How lucky am I.