As I’ve chronicled in the past, across several blogging platforms, my wife loves nothing more than for me to try and surprise her for her birthday and for her to guess what it is I’m getting her. Loooooves it. Can’t get enough of it. Lives for it, really. It’s the only good reason to have birthdays. Or Christmases. Or anniversaries.
The way this almost always goes down is that she’ll pester me for hints for days on end until I finally give her the most perfectly hand-crafted hint, one designed to in no way convey actual information about the gift at hand while at the same time being completely valid as a hint about said present. Then, with the hint still hanging in the air there next to my self-respect, she dashes both by pulling the answer out of the ether and then announcing that she knows what it is. Almost always, in these cases, I am able to tell from her tone and facial expression that, yes, she does indeed know. I then have to tell her to go ahead and say it, which she does, and then she gets to watch my expression as it transitions from one of hope that she’s gonna get it wrong for once to one of dammit, she got it right again. This, for her, is fun. And it’s happened time and time again, and I’ve only been able to keep gifts a secret on a scant few occasions.
Over the course of our marriage, though, our major annual celebrations have dwindled somewhat to the point that we don’t really do anything huge for one another, even at Christmas. Sure, I might find something crafty off of Etsy that I know she’ll like. Or she’ll get me something Doctor Who related. But mainly if there’s something out there we want, we usually just go get it and don’t have to wait for a big celebration to ask for it as a gift. This has greatly cut down on the amount of gift-guessing on her part, which is the major downside as far as she sees it.
This year was different. For her birthday in October, I knew I had to come up with something good because she had given me a massively cool and very expensive gift for my birthday in September in the form of a leather satchel. I’d been searching for just such a satchel at the time she picked this one out, as I was trying to find a replacement for my decade-old Magic Bag (a.k.a. the CompUSA laptop bag which I won as a runner-up prize in an online sweepstakes I’d evidently entered in 2002 and which has served me well since, save for the daylight I could see pouring in the fabric around the reinforced strap rings). I’d figured that if the Magic Bag had to be replaced I may as well replace it with something cooler and had begun looking at leather bags. The thing is, I’m terribly picky about the requirements such a bag would have to have–being as it would have to live up to the reputation and utility of the Magic Bag. I’d finally found something I liked and showed it to the wife. She balked at the price of $140, which I had to admit was a bit more than I usually spend for personal luggage. Then she proceeded to go online to Etsy and find a bag that cost four times as much and was four times cooler. This she purchased for me for mine day of birth. I didn’t even have to try and guess what it was.
After the bag had arrived and I’d had a few days to bask in its glory (it is quite possibly the coolest thing I own) she let it be known that I’d better have big plans for her birthday, cause I now owed her.
I pondered this for some time. It was going to be difficult to come up with something anywhere near as cool as that bag. My first impulse was to schedule some sort of vacation destination–which I’ve had good luck with in the past. However, I was already contracted to act in two upcoming plays at the local theatre and would have very little time unaccounted for in that department, not to mention the freelance writing gigs I was also contracted to complete in a timely fashion. This sucked, because the wife had managed to get several days off in a row during the week of her birthday, but I was acting in Dracula: A Rock Opera during that time and couldn’t get away. Thankfully, my mother-in-law, who I adore, agreed to come up and spend that week with us, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about it. I still had to come up with a gift, though, and the days in which I could put it together were rapidly decreasing in number.
Now, ladies, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but most guys in long-term relationships have a gift in their back pocket that they know they can rely upon to get them out of the dog house if need be, or which they can use in case of emergency for big-event gifts such as the one I was facing. (In fact, I have one friend who, I am told, has a secret stash of pre-purchased gifts that he knows his wife will love and which he raids as needed to keep things on an even keel. And if you happen to be married to one of my friends, wouldn’t you like to know if it’s you?) I too have had a gift in my back pocket for some time, but it’s one that was going to take some effort to achieve. The wife and I, whilst driving down town a year or so ago, spotted in the window of a gallery a beautiful piece of country-chic art that the wife was really taken with. It appeared to be a series of narrow, aged boards, around an inch and a half thick and probably four feet in length, fastened together and with bits of old posters still adhered to some of them, as though these boards had once been a part of a fence on a busy thoroughfare which was a popular place for people to adhere notices to. Painted onto these boards was the silhouette of the neck, head and front feet of a horse. The paint appeared to be very thick, but some of the layers of it had chipped away and been repainted over, leaving wonderful textures to it. The wife loved it. The thing is, though, once we got a close look at it, her admiration turned to disappointment as we realized that it was not boards at all, but instead a print on canvas wrapped around a 1.5 inch thick frame. This meant it was light-weight as well as beautiful, but also fake as anything. Sure, the texture of the horse had been incorporated into the texture of the print, but it just lipstick on a hog at that point. She no longer wanted it, particularly after we saw the $480 price tag on it.
My back-pocket gift was the idea of recreating this work of art–not copying it exactly, but approximating it with my own touches added to it. I even had some old lumber around in our woodshed, just a gathering age and looking appropriate to the task. The major difficulty would be the horse, since I’m not a good enough artist to paint one on my own that would look at all good. However, I thought I might be able to trace one on from some sort of projection of a horse, assuming I could find a projector. The real question was whether or not I needed to pull the trigger on such a project given the short amount of time I had.
While the wife was at work, I drove down to the gallery and had another gander at the original. It still looked impressive and expensive. And while the cost could be justified by the amount she’d spent on my bag, I knew she would never be happy with a print picture of wood when the real thing was within grasp. Feeling guilty for potentially stealing the intellectual property idea for my proposed gift, though, I went ahead and purchased some copper jewelry from the same gallery. It would serve as either a bonus gift or an emergency backup gift should my artistic project not pan out. At that point in mid-October, though, I had time on my side since the wife’s birthday was not until October 30. But there were a few other things I would need should I decide to pull the trigger on the project.