Christmas Surprise

My check from Our State came yesterday. The check for the biography work came today. Noelle and I drive to BigCity, NC and head straight for the bank.

“I’d like to cash both of these and withdraw $459.96 from my savings account please,” I say to the teller.

“Do you want it in small or large bills?” she asks politely. I always wonder how bank tellers can be so even-faced handling such private pieces of information about people all day long.

“Anything’s fine. If you could please count it out and put it all in one envelope that would be great.” I feel like I should be nervous but I am not. This is just what I need to be doing.

“That’s 10, 11, and 12. Then fifty nine, and ninety-six.” She counts it all twice for me to see, then tucks the $1,259.96 into an envelope and seals it with a smile.

“Thank you.”

I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’ve also never bought something so expensive that felt so right. It’s Christmas and Dad doesn’t know it, but I’ve had his vintage Martin guitar in the hands of the certified Martin repairman for the Southeastern United States. Randy’s had the Martin for six months, working slowly at it, studying the chemistry of the wood, using steam to remove the neck, hand filing the bone, re-fretting it and buffing the entire body. It’s the facelift of a lifetime in guitar terms, and it will add to the value of the guitar, ease my worried mind, and make the best gift of all time for Dad. So what if I’ve dropped my savings account on a gift? It’s the thought that counts, and the thought behind this has been growing into its own story for quite some time now.

Fifteen minutes out of BigCity, NC, up a steep gravel drive, is Randy’s shop. I open the door and am greeted by a computerized voice: “Door is open. Door is open.” Then Randy peers from behind his workbench and greets me with a smile. The machine that is talking is part of a $5,000 humidity and air temperature control system he has in the shop that allows him to manipulate the wood in stable conditions. I close the door and a humidifier across the room sprays a fine mist into the air. A screen on the opposite wall indicates that the humidity is too low. The sprayer shuts off, and the numbers on the screen stop blinking – everything is equalized again.

I hand him the envelope and he hands me a specially typed note to my father that includes details of all the work he did on the Martin. There’s no way I could explain it all to Dad in technical terms, and Randy’s letter serves as a seal of approval. This is it. This is the kind of thing Dad never would have done for his own guitar because of the money and I’ve been able to save enough and do it for him. And when Randy pulls the guitar out of the case, it all comes together. The action is meticulously fine. The neck is perfectly aligned with the body from end to end – not an easy thing to accomplish. The body is polished and no marks remain from the tragic party incident. The bone is fresh and filed to a tee and the fret bars have all been replaced. It plays like magic, the sound reverberating inside the body of the Martin for swollen, melodic seconds.

But when I make it out of the city, back into the valley, and finally to my parent’s new house, Mom says she has to talk to me. I’ve managed to sneak the guitar into the house and Dad knows there’s something in the back room, which is off limits from now until Christmas, but he doesn’t know what it is. Or so I thought – that’s when mom says: “Dad said to me today, ‘I bet Katey’s going to BigCity, NC for the guitar. This has something to do with music.’”

“Well, crap! What’d you say mom?”

“I told him I didn’t know why you were going.”

But this makes me too nervous. I’ve worked too hard and too long to have this surprise blown. Mom and I devise a plan. We agree to pretend that there is a kitten hiding in this room as Dad’s Christmas present. For the remainder of the evening, she and I take turns going in the room that is off limits to Dad to “check on things.” This drives him crazy in a fun sort of way and by the end of the night, he is guessing left and right about what the gift could be. He strikes out every time.

And when it is time for me to go, I go in the back room and walk out with a fleece blanket in my arms, puffed up in the middle, and carry something secretly – though right in front of him – out the door. The Martin still sits in the back room, but we’ve hidden it.

This plan’s got to hold for three more days, then it’s Martin time!

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