Earlier this month, my parents celebrated 50 years of marriage.
They’ve never been ones to make a big hoopla about their anniversary, but this one warranted something special. There was no way my siblings and I were going to let fifty years go by without a celebration.
A party was out of the question. Our folks would never go for it, there’s still this whole COVID thing raging, and my parents conveniently planned a road trip for the weekend. They were headed six hours south to visit my brother’s family, where a 5-month-old great grandson was long overdue for some snuggles.
Normally we would let such low-key plans fly. But fifty years? Nope. Not happening.
Our family is spread out between three different states, so family time is rare and precious. My siblings and I decided the best gift of all would be to bring us all together under one roof, even if only for a single weekend.
We also decided to keep it a surprise, which was soooooooo fun to plan! Oh, the texts that ensued to plan this event make me laugh to this day.
My parents planned to leave early Friday morning. Little did they know that my sister would follow them a few hours later, with a brief pit stop at the Kansas City airport (the halfway point to my brother’s home) to pick up Maggie and me, who would fly to the Lower 48 on a red-eye the night before. We’d pull into my brother’s driveway around 6 PM, sneak onto the porch, ring the doorbell, and somehow my brother would get my parents to answer it and SURPRISE!!!! Once everyone recovered and dried their tears of joy we would enjoy a simple dinner of BLT sandwiches with fresh Nebraska garden tomatoes. The next day would be all about family: baby time, watching the Husker vs. Oklahoma football game, more baby time, a gourmet surf & turf meal with king crab and beef tenderloin, and a few late night card games of Pitch.
We had Plans with a Capital P.
Buuuuuuuut… you know what they say about the best laid plans…
Things started to go awry on Thursday night (technically Friday morning) when Maggie and I boarded our plane around 2:15 AM. Over an hour later we still hadn’t left the gate, and by 3:30 we were dragging our weary selves to another aircraft. At this point I was too tired to fret about our suitcase of salmon in the hull below, and hoped for the best when we finally departed Anchorage just after 4:30 AM. Once we were airborne I hopped on the plane’s wifi network and texted my siblings, warning them that we were most likely missing our connection.
Or were we? My brother and sister stepped in as personal travel assistants, frantically researching alternatives. They learned that our connecting flight was delayed as well, so perhaps we could make it! If not, there was a flight one hour later into St. Louis that had potential. We were not giving up! The texts were flying faster than the speed of our jet!
Suddenly, our mom interjected herself into a new text thread:
Grandma in hospital. Weekend cancelled.
Now we were a jumbled mess of worry for our grandmother, anxiety about how to proceed, and profound disappointment that this weekend was unraveling so quickly. Oh, and I was still 30,000 feet in the air so didn’t have much control over the situation.
We decided we’d try to salvage the weekend: my brother would drive north instead, and if I could make the KC flight he’d pick me up on his way. It was a solid plan.
We landed in Seattle 40 minutes before the KC flight’s departure, and the gates were close enough to make a valiant run at it. Sadly, we sat on the tarmac waiting for a ground crew for so long that by the time we stepped onto solid ground, the KC flight was off in the air.
At this point I worried that we’d taken an overnight joy ride to Seattle for no reason, and needed to turn around and head home. I had plenty of time to weigh our options while waiting in the lengthy customer service line. The next flight to KC didn’t get us there until midnight, which wasn’t feasible considering A) it was now Friday morning and we had not slept since Wednesday night, and B) we faced a 3 hour drive upon landing. Fortunately, the airline agreed to reroute us to Omaha instead. We had to go “through” Dallas with over a three hour layover, and wouldn’t arrive until nearly midnight. There would be no BLT dinner, but we’d be there for an anniversary breakfast instead.
I guess this was now Plan D? I’m losing count.
News was looking up on the Grandma front, and the hospital even allowed visitors. We’d be able to see her! What a silver lining to this mess. My brother headed north and spent the evening with my parents, while my sister remained in Omaha for our late night airport pickup.
And finally, it happened. We landed! After 21 hours of traveling (and don’t even ask me how many hours without sleep) we were f i n a l l y in Omaha. It wasn’t where we intended to go, but it was exactly where we needed to be.
My sister swooped in to pick us up, and on the drive we realized we had one hurdle left to pulling off our surprise: sneaking into our childhood home unnoticed. Obviously our parents would be asleep at this late hour, and our brother was on site but not answering texts any longer. Asleep as well, we surmised.
Elle and I grew up decades apart, but as teenagers we both spent plenty of nights avoiding the same squeaky step while tiptoeing to our bedrooms past curfew. We swapped stories and strategies, and by the time we rolled up the lane with our headlights off (because, obviously) we felt confident in our game plan.
Our scheming was all for naught, as my brother was awake and standing in the driveway upon our arrival. He feigned going to bed and actually fell asleep, but had the foresight to set an alarm to smuggle us inside upon our arrival.
I love remembering this moment. Our parents were asleep upstairs, but out in the driveway their three children + one granddaughter were giving each other giant, joyous hugs. We should have all collapsed with exhaustion, but instead we tiptoed to the kitchen table and shared stories in hushed giggles for the next two hours! Had we really pulled this off? Were they suspicious? Were they seriously still asleep?
Eventually we made our way to bed, and for once we all successfully navigated that squeaky step unnoticed. Sleeping arrangements were less than ideal since we couldn’t risk inflating the air bed, but we chose to snore rather than complain. G’night!
It felt like I’d merely blinked, and the next thing I knew it was morning. Surprise Saturday had arrived! My parents knew my sister planned to drive out for breakfast, so weren’t suspicious to see her car in the driveway. Everyone was gathered in the kitchen… and then….
Cue the squeaky step, because we were comin’ on down!
They saw Maggie first, but I followed closely enough to see everyone’s reaction. My dad looked up from the breakfast table, and his face transformed from confusion to shock to joy in a single blink. Meanwhile, my mom nearly collapsed into the refrigerator. Both were in tears, and I wasn’t sure who to embrace first.
You can imagine from there: Hugs. Laughter. Smiles. Confessions, explanations, relief. It’s a happy blur.
We only had a day, but we made the most of it. It was filled with several silver linings (or “shining linings” as Elle kept calling them, which Maggie and I decided we like better). We marched in twos up to Grandma D’s hospital room, so happy to love her up and see her improving. Maggie and I crashed a birthday party in the park – more surprises with our other side of the family. My Grandma Q rearranged plans and joined us for dinner – still surf & turf, with steaks instead of beef tenderloin.
Good food is a guarantee whenever my dad and brother are grilling, but this meal felt like an extra special gift. It was spontaneous, unexpected, and the table was a little extra crowded. In the best way.
After dinner my parents were good sports about posing in the dorky t-shirts we made for them. (The front has a Husker volleyball logo, so we are hoping they eventually forgive us. And maybe wear them?)
It always goes too fast! The next morning there was barely time for brunch before we had to load up and head back to real life.
I can’t say that we’ll make it a habit to fly from Alaska to Nebraska for a weekend getaway, but in this case it was 100% worth it. Congratulations to my parents, and cheers to squeaky steps, successful surprises, perfectly imperfect families, and all the silver linings that made this golden anniversary extra special. 💕