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The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.

-- Ashley Montagu

It was a brilliant idea. Machiavellian genius. Why hadn't I thought of it sooner? It didn't matter -- now that I had a plan, and a good one at that, there was no point wasting any time pondering my mental laxity. The family would find out sooner or later; that was inevitable. After all, I'd changed my name, and lying makes me very uncomfortable -- one pointed question and I'd gush like Niagara, spewing an icy cold torrent of truth that might drown my loved ones in confusion and resentment. Mom sounded apprehensive when I spoke to her on the phone. It was unusual for me to ask her to join me for dinner. Adding to her agony was my comment that I had "something important" to talk to her about. We set out together from my place. I had gotten as far as the light at the corner of my building when I caved to her frantic stare and blurted, "You know how you're always telling me that if David and I ever wanted to do some kind of commitment ceremony, you'd want to help out or host it?"

The frown on my mother's face morphed into a heartbreaking mixture of relief, astonishment, and joy, like an elementary school student who had convinced herself she'd failed an important test only to discover, upon receiving it back from the teacher, a shiny gold star next to the handwritten word, " Excellent! " Mom tried to suppress her excitement beneath a no-nonsense, all business-type countenance. But her trembling hands betrayed her as she reached into her purse and dug out a calendar, pen, and phone. "We'll have to pick a date," she said, her voice quivering. "One that will work for everyone."

"Mom, put that stuff away. We'll talk about it all over dinner. All right?"

More to calm herself than to answer me, Mom responded, "Okay. Okay. Okay," and then grinned from ear to ear.

I held off on telling her the rest until we had been seated at our table at Adams Avenue Grill and the server had delivered my glass of wine.

"Mom. Mom, look at me." She tore her eyes from her calendar and met my gaze. "What I want you to do is throw a party -- a surprise party -- for us to announce to the family that David and I got married." Mom blinked, not quite understanding. "Mom, David and I are already married. And I want you to help me--"

"What? When? Really ?" She kept her voice at a normal pitch, and I silently congratulated myself for deciding to tell her in public. I dug out my new driver's license and handed it to her. She beamed at it, and then at me, before her face grew stern again. "Who knows? Did you already tell Daddy?"

"No. Just you," I said, my words restoring delight to Mom's features.

I only make it to one out of every five family engagements. I rarely involve my mother, or anyone really, in my personal affairs -- case in point, David and I eloped without informing anyone. Each time Mom had offered to host a commitment ceremony for David and me, I'd blown her off. When it occurred to me that a piece of government-issued paper declaring me a wife meant the world to her (certainly much more than it meant to me), I knew that telling her first and allowing her to host a party would make her feel special. It would make her happy.

The next three weeks played out like a Marx brothers movie. Invitations went out to all family members with a warning that no absences would be tolerated. Like teasing hungry wolves with the smell of fresh meat, Mom dangled her secret before my curious sisters with sadistic glee. More fox than wolf, my sisters retaliated with crafty tactics of their own in their attempts to get my mother to spill. Jane, who is staying at Mom's house until renovations on her own home are completed, demanded, "You have to tell me, I live here." An avid Oprah fan, she guessed the "surprise event" was an intervention. Heather, who thought a professional photographer was coming to take family photos, tried to win my mother's confidence: "Mom, you tell me everything, have I ever let you down?" Jenny, who thought my mother might be retiring, tried a similar approach: "You know, Mom, I can keep a secret." Each sister swore that she would not tell the others. I played my part, asking my sisters what they thought Mom's scheme was all about, and occasionally accusing them of knowing and not telling me. Not once did any of them question whether the event might have something to do with me.

While everyone else was speculating, Mom and I were plotting. We selected a cake from Extraordinary Desserts (where I had to insist to our server that we did not need a "wedding cake," as my mother had called it, but a "small backyard party cake"). We went shopping at Target (where I agreed to red silk rose petals but forbade white-painted metal buckets). We selected music (I requested a Daddy-daughter dance and complied with "Butterfly Kisses," but I stood firm against a cheesy "Wedding Soundtrack" CD), and we ordered food (after I talked my mom into getting it from Buon Giorno, an upscale Italian restaurant, rather than the taco stand in National City that a friend of hers suggested).

The invitation had said to dress in our "Sunday best" for Saturday's soiree. Mom had placed white roses in clear vases on tabletops in every room. The food was spread out on the table. Each person was handed a champagne glass of Moscato D'Asti, my favorite sparkling sweet wine. My sisters eyed each other suspiciously when we were asked to gather around for my mother's announcement.

Once she had our full attention, Mom said, "I want to thank you all for coming, because this is a very special occasion--" Her voice broke, and then she lost it -- she tried to speak through gasps for breath between sobs as tears streamed down her cheeks. For minutes we stared at her helplessly as she bawled. All eyes were glued to my blubbering mother, eyes wet with sympathy and hard with impatience. I alone knew what she was about to say -- she'd rehearsed it to me dozens of times. Finally, her shoulders still shaking with emotion, she got it out: "I'd like to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. David--"

Before my mother could finish, glasses were lowered, stunned faces turned in my direction, and words came flying at me:




I smiled in response. Glasses were raised and clinked together, sips were taken, and then the rapid- fire questioning resumed.

"I'll explain everything, I promise," I said to my interrogators. "But first, let's eat."

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