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©September 2001

Carol Jane Remsburg


The Afternoon of the Gotcha




It was one of those days when everything had been planned out to the tiniest degree.  It was Don's annual barbeque (or semi-annual).  In any case, this year was designed to be a blowout year of food for our guests.  Hubby Don had planned to "wow" them.  I had no doubts that he would.  Me, I ran the behind-the-scenes stuff to make all ready.  Then even I was caught unawares.


It all began on a mid-June Sunday morning, the subtle talk about a cookout over coffee.  What would the menu be?  How much food and what type and who ought we invite--all this before 7 AM and my second cup of coffee.  To be truthful, I only half-listened while waiting for the next part of the Sunday edition to be passed along.  Don was being awfully chatty for such an early hour in the morning.  I grunted a few times and patently ignored him.  I didn't even want to think about a barbecue.  His feasts are legendary for him, but debilitating for me.  I didn't even want to consider it.


By late July, I knew it was inevitable.  Don was in forward-motion on his plans and couldn't be stopped.  This year, however, he decided to opt later in the year for September rather than August.  Simply for the possible cooler weather was his reasoning.  I couldn't fault him.  Even with central air, some folks like the porch and the outside.  It would be better.


The menu was altered a dozen times, but the core foods remained.  The guest list counted over twenty and I cringed.  Our house was too small for that kind of crowd, the weather HAD to be good to accommodate the crowd and allow the overflow into the outdoors.


The closer the date of the barbecue, September 16th came, the more I dreaded it.  Our home is an on-going experiment in what real estate agents dub "fixer-upper."  And while it's still tidy and neat, certain things still aren't finished yet.  Some on his guest list I've never met.  I began to get antsy.


I knew the house would never be showcase ready, but all was done to allow the crush.  Then came the food and necessities for the cookout.  Many trips and anguish followed.  At one point I'd have paid in blood for fresh turkeys.  I was lucky I didn't have to after a four-store search.


The menu?  Oh, allow me:


Two 15 pound deep-fried Cajun turkeys in peanut oil, and two 8 pound oven-stuffer chickens the same, an 8 pound beef tenderloin marinated in BBQ sauce (Jack Daniels) and smoked, an 11 pound pork tenderloin marinated in salsa and garlic also smoked with apple juice in the drip pan, 12 pounds of freshly made (at 6 AM) tater salad, an enormous tray of wet cornbread, a Dutch-oven of homemade baked beans, Dixie coleslaw supplied by my mother-in-law, 3 dozen deviled eggs (supplied by my sister), deep-fried batter-dipped fresh mushrooms and squash—with fresh iced tea, homemade lemonade, sodas, and other drinks.


I had worked around the house until I felt I would drop on Saturday.  Sunday morning came and we were up before 6 AM.  After a shot of coffee, I was busy peeling the potatoes and all that followed.  All the food would be prepared THAT day, only prep work the night before on the meats (injecting and rubbing of the birds and marinating of the beef and pork).


I knew I was looking at six hours of hell before our guest arrived.  Don was outside with his cooking equipment by 8 AM.  I was to be at his beck and call between everything else. 


By 9 AM I had finished the potato salad and the cornbread and was working on the beans knowing I had to run the vacuum throughout the house again in a frantic last-minute rush soon.  Our daughter also kept me busy and I kept sending her back outside.  Outside means she can't make more mess.


It was a quick trip to the corner store and ATM for emergency cash and a ton of ice for the outdoor drinks.


Finally by 10:30 I could race into the shower after being advised that Don wouldn't need me for 20 minutes.  I jumped into fresh clothes, slapped on some makeup and blew my hair dry.  It was a token attempt.  The meats would be coming off soon and I would have to slice and serve them up.  Ever have to slice up 40+ pounds of meats still steaming-hot?  Even after the required "rest" time, that stuff will toast you.  My ever-ready sink of hot, sudsy water managed to get changed again and again.  My hands were raw by the time our guests began to arrive.  A few got a "Hello" over-the-shoulder type of deal.  "Make yourself at home, I'll be right with you."  All the while doing that "Damn-ouch-IT'S HOT" little dance in the kitchen as I wrestled with the meats.  The only thing more aggravating what having Don holler in via little Erin, "Is it done?"  My response was "It's ALL done!"  Yet he wouldn't be satisfied unless he could SEE me say it.  Back to the scalding, sudsy water!


Finally, finally, nearly everyone who was coming arrived.  The tables in the kitchen and dining room were laden with the feast.  And in the last 24 hours I had broken and torn EVERY single fingernail I had meticulously grown out and polished over the last two months.  I was hiding my hands and their jagged nails.  I hadn't even taken the time to clip them back. 


Most everyone at the gathering knew each other and those that didn't were introduced around (amid Don's hollering for another fresh pot with a lid).  The weather was grand with a good breeze.  The AC in the house was off so I opened every window thus the air was fresh inside and out.  My candles were lit, the food was fresh, and we should all be ready to eat.


Just after I had directed one group to begin down the food line, Don rushed inside with a vengeance.  "Put that plate down!  Come outside for a minute!"  This is SO unlike the Don.  It put me off guard.  Wha-a-a!


Then I figured he was up to something new.  I thought he was going to take a moment to thank our guests for coming to the banquet.  Oh, he did, but at that moment he also was commemorating our 20th wedding anniversary. 


"19 years and 367 days ago . . ." he began, and he slipped me the ring.  If I hadn't already been so tired and worried by my burnt fingers, I might have fainted.  The shock of it all kept me from making a scene.  Nearly EVERYONE there had known about it—except for that initial group I was sending down the food line—and me.  Even Erin hadn't known. 


You have to realize that the man I married isn't one for romantic gestures and NEVER on a public scale.  The "Don" has presented me with flowers 3 times in the 23 years I've known him—twice before we married (once at the engagement) and then once nearly 10 years later when Erin was born.)  Cards, well he's gotten better about that but often both of us only give a token nod to birthdays and anniversaries—that's just how we've been—UNTIL this past Sunday.


The man had been saving all year—working side jobs evenings and weekends.  For months I complained that we never saw him at all.  I worried about him.  He wasn't twenty or even thirty anymore!  He was tired most of the time.  And I thought he was saving his money for his trip to the races in Charlotte.  Oops!


Yet, he'd worked all these months as a GOTCHA!  Oh YES he did.  And, he did it perfectly.  He had witnesses and everything.


Tears?  Emotions? 


I knew within seconds just WHY he'd done it.  It's not that his gesture didn't well up within me with the full knowledge of his love for me.  I was stunned, awed, and "almost" overcome—yet, that backdoor mind is always at work.  Yes, I knew!  And, I knew why.


Allow me to explain.


Way, way back on the Christmas of 1979, our first Christmas, I had only been dating this man since March of that year.  I knew I loved him and adored him.  No one else would do.  He, on the other hand, wasn't a sure bet.  His own mother, whom I'd met only once, had decided this man would never marry.  I didn't care then.  I was nineteen.  Nineteen year-olds rarely think with their minds, they think only with their hearts.


I had been saving steadily over the last three years.  And while Don and I had pooled our ready funds for Christmas to our respective families, I kept my secret stash to myself.  I closed the account and bought him the best camera that $428.58 could buy back in '79.  It was a VERY nice Nikon portrait camera—and one Don could use.  He still has a wonderful eye for a shot.


I had done this in late October.  I spent months being quite pleased with myself and swearing my entire family to secrecy.  Then I was on the hunt for special boxes.  Okay, the box-within-box-within-box type of deal is a bit stale by today's standards, but it was pretty cool back then.  I ended up with a 6' by 3' box and a whole lot of others to fit inside—AND some bricks.  You should have seen me trying to wrap it, Daddy had to help.  They didn't make wrapping paper to fit that back then.  The night we wrapped it, I cried for hours.  Without Daddy, it never would have happened.  (Remember girls, there is NOBODY like your Dad to come to your rescue when stuck trying to wrap an awkward gift!)


Still, come Christmas morn in '79, our family gathered 'round the tree.  We kids were grown.  I was the only one still at home, those who lived elsewhere arrived by 6 AM.  I rushed away and brought Don over.  We enjoyed our coffee, the stocking surprises that Mom always had, and cinnamon rolls.  As old Bing played on in the background, we began to open the gifts.


In our family, every year there is ONE big gift.  Now this is normally one supplied by Mom & Dad for they LOVED the gotcha.  But this year was to be my turn and I nearly had the hives in anticipation.  The gotcha is always the last, nearly 'forgotten' gift.


That year it couldn't be forgotten.  The present took up half the room.  I watched him from the organ bench.  I have no idea who took the picture—I'm just grateful they did.  My heart was so full of love that morning.  I wanted him to know how I felt without saying the words that would frighten him away.


Little did I realize that I'd put him on the spot.  Please remember, I was nineteen and rather dither-headed.  I DID know this fella had a hard time making ends meet.  How should he react to his girlfriend and her family when presented with an expensive gift and he didn't have one of the same caliber to return.  Geez, he felt awful.  I never thought . . . until later.  Bless him, but he withstood it and was gracious about it all.


Now, almost 23 years later, and two days shy of our 20th wedding anniversary—he got me back.  Oh YES he did.


The man was doing PUBLIC speaking!  Was I ill?  Perchance I might be hallucinating?  Was utter exhaustion playing a role here?  Nope!  It was Don stepping forward and gathering around those he knew that he wanted to share the day with—even folks I didn't know.


They say denial is the first emotion.  I have to give the shrinks that one—because it is.  My mother-in-law rushed forward to snap pix of the ring on my abused hands with their coarse and ragged nails.  Hugs and well wishes were rampant.  My only escape was to feed the famished—back into the house I led them—and left them.  I escaped back outside just to breathe.  It would take days for me to recover from the shock.


The rest of the party went well.  Folks ate, played, conversed, and took our "styro-foam take-it-with-you" seriously.  Food moved into folks and out of the house at an amazing rate.  Can you say NO leftovers?  The dog cried.  But she wasn't left out either.


And finally, just after I knew I'd been gotten and bested, on Tuesday, September 18th 2001, our actual 20th wedding anniversary—Don gifts me with a matching diamond necklace before I've ever finished my first cup of coffee.


Can you say "double-whammy?"


And for HIS 20th wedding anniversary, I get him a $158 "tail-gater" grill to go for his October trip to the races!  And "I" thought that was being big since we NEVER celebrate this stuff.


After twenty years, this man still surprises me.  I'd like to say that I should have known, but to be truthful—with this man you never know.  It's like living near a volcano—it fumbles and fumes and sometimes seems like it's dead—then when you least expect it . . .Wow!


Yet my love for him isn't his surprise gifts.  It's his steadfast love.  His is a quiet love, often unspoken and usually by gesture.  He is my life's companion, my ear, and my best friend.  He is of the stolid sort, where each day ought to be deemed tame and docile—he always views me with suspicion for I am as turbulent as a rushing stream after a storm.  He never knows if I'll run hot or cold.  He opens the door each evening never knowing.  Perhaps that's best for him.


Still, I've been GOTCHA'D!!!


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