Surprise

Margaret, our middle child, came to me in the late afternoon.

Perhaps I should have seen it coming then, but she betrayed no artifice.

“Dad” she said, “Mom needs a wine cruise. The activity is too much for her.” This was not a request. It was a directive.

Truth is, things were a little crazy.

Our three children and twenty of their closest friends had joined us for the annual Fourth at the Lake. The youngsters are in fact adults, recent college grads turned working stiffs. This makes the weekend both jailbreak and marathon. Many of the kids are Badger alums, and thus magna cum social. The weekend is a nonstop parade of beer pong, singing, guitar playing, short- attention-span iPoding, charades, fishing, bonfires and an hour of sleeping in any spot where they happen to stop moving when the sun comes up.

This year was marked by a beard-growing contest among the young men who then competed in shaving said facial scruff into the worst possible biker, porn star, Civil War vet, state trooper moustaches. One fellow also shaved the initials of Roach Lake into his chest hair, nearly losing a nipple while doing so. And he was sober.

It is all a wonderful social madness. But it is difficult for the bride. Like all Moms, Di is prone to worry. For three days her maternal instinct is multiplied by a factor of seven as she transforms from the mother of three to Mom of twenty-three … count ’em … twenty-three young adults who spend the entire trip acting like the adolescents we remember them as.

The festivities honoring our nation’s birth culminate on Independence Day. A half barrel of Miller Lite is ferried to the middle of our little pond in a fishing boat and then hoisted to a crudely constructed Celebration Island that is, in actuality, an aging swim raft lashed to the fishing boat with cheap rope. A boom box fuels a spasm of patriotism in the form of swimsuit-clad men and women mouthing lyrics to “Motown Philly” while reproducing an inexact version of the steps once executed by Boyz II Men and then falling into the water.

Our lake neighbors sit on the shoreline in lawn chairs with their mouths hanging open in amazement as a daylong tribal dance ensues. They talk about it all winter.

All in attendance will sometime find themselves in the lake. This is funny and expected, except to Diane who polices the area in her kayak making sure that none of the little darlings drown in the nine feet of crystal clear water.

“What if they hit their head? What if they hit the bottom?” Diane will worry.

“Yeah. And what if they spill their margarita?” one of the kids will respond.

And so it was in the wake of such activity that Maggie’s mandate came. As we hopped aboard our trolling motor pontoon she announced that she would drive. “You fish, Dad.”

We tooled slowly, quietly around the lake. The party had stopped. The waters were still, the evening perfect. I casted while the bride practiced deep breathing and slow chardonnay sips.

We had no inkling of what was to come. We were oblivious, unsuspecting. But why would we be leery? We were wed in August, not July.

As we came round the bay to my parents’ cabin, just down shore from our place, the surprise was sprung. They had staged it right beneath our noses. A large banner read “Happy 30th,” and there were all our young guests, now clad in makeshift polyester prom outfits and horrid blouses meant to honor the petroleum-based clothing of 1980. They applauded as we stepped ashore.

The tune “Ease on Down the Road,” which we danced to on our wedding day in Gerri DiMaggio’s jazzy style, wafted out into the summer evening. In honor of Diane’s strange obsession with small, green amphibians, a wedding cake depicting two frogs on a lily pad was presented to us.

We posed for a group photo. The aging groom grabbed some ferns from along the shoreline for the bride’s bouquet. The picture was snapped. He toasted his bride.

Then Diane spoke, “If we could have known thirty years ago that we would be with all of you today, well, it’s … this is … perfect.” She then began to tear up. The girls sighed. The boys went for another cup of beer.

As for me, I said nothing more.

It has taken thirty years, but I have learned what every man comes to understand after three decades of marriage.

Let her have the last word.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Comments? Questions? Write johneroach@mac.com.

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