Party on the Prairie: A Surprise Trip To Lloydminster, Alberta

February 17, 2012 in Canada, North America, Travelogue

It’s cold at 34,000 feet. Ice crystals are forming on the window beside me and the clouds below look like mounds of snow. I keep watching for some sky-sprite on skis to bounce across the tops of the hills, red hat trailing behind her. 

I’ve been sitting on this secret for weeks; months, actually. Since late fall when JP contacted me:

 “You know it’s Jess’ birthday in February, she’s turning forty!”

 “I know, I got your email asking people to write letters for the memory book, I won’t forget!” I replied. I thought his idea of collecting letters and memories from friends and loved ones was brilliant and the perfect birthday gift.

 “Good, I’m glad you’re writing for the book, but how would you like to be her present?! I’d like to fly you up, to surprise her!”

 There was no hesitation. 

 The last time I saw Jess was five years ago, just after Noah had been born and they’d moved to Canada for JP to run an ADM plant. She was frustrated and a bit lost in translation by her first international move. I offered to come up and visit, explain what the symbols on the washing machine meant, and help acclimatize her to being “Canadian.” They didn’t have a dining room table yet. I took a sleeping bad and slept on the floor. We drank a lot of tea, and knit while we talked. And I held the baby as much as possible.

 I met Jess in a 100 level Geography class in university.

I was bored completely (my Dad was a Geography teacher, and so am I) so I spent the three hours a week addressing invitations, and planning my spring wedding. 5% of the grade was attendance combined with 3 straight hours of quiet planning time a week and I didn’t miss a class. I got an A. Jess was frustrated with me. How could I pay no attention and get an A (Geography teacher dad) when she studied like mad and failed? (She retook it the next semester and passed.) Between continents and embossed lilies a friendship was forged that has lasted a solid twenty years. 

Things I love about Jess:

  • Her laugh. She has an awesome sense of humor.
  • Her art. She is an AMAZING artist.
  • She listens. I mean really, really listens.
  • She prays. For me, for strangers, for anyone and everyone.
  • She loves. Deeply and relentlessly. Being on the receiving end of that is a gift.
  • Her resiliency. She’s been through some tough stuff, and she’s built a beautiful life.

 I have to confess something: I’ve been a very bad friend. 

 Since I spoke to JP, before Christmas, I haven’t spoken to Jess much. In fact, I’ve tried HARD not to. 

 I’ve been afraid I would blow the secret!! 

 I got up at 3:30 a.m. and was at Boston Logan airport by 5:00 a.m.

 Airport security scrutinized Jess’ birthday gift carefully: A bouquet of 52 origami flowers, each with a message inside, one per week, for her entire 41st year. 

The connection in Chicago went smoothly.

All that’s left is to be let back in to my own country and make the 3 hour drive east to the border of Saskatchewan. 

I’m fairly bouncing with excitement.

I was seriously bummed when the Montalvo clan couldn’t meet us in Yellowstone National Park this fall and I had no expectation of a visit before we went to Asia. Which actually translates to no visit for maybe two or three more years. It’s been five already. Two more Montalvo children have joined the party that I haven’t even met yet. 

I’m doing my best to be cool, not bounce my knees with anticipation and smile serenely at the mennonite children sitting ahead of me who peer surreptitiously between the seats at my bright red hair. 

On the inside, I’m hopping up and down like Ezra before a camel ride and popping off rounds of confetti bombs inside my own head. I hope I don’t get a speeding ticket this afternoon. 

I love Jess. She’s one of my bestest-est friends, and one of my oldest too (I know, she’s only 40!!)

But here, I have to say something about her dear husband as well.

JP is also one of my favourite people. Now. Not to begin with.

The first time I met him was when Jess brought him to dinner at our house in Indiana. Hannah and Gabe were babies. I was so nervous that I made lasagne for them (Jess is allergic to dairy and I’d known this for YEARS). Jess ended up making herself a PB&J sandwich with the sticky strawberry jelly jar I used for the kids’ lunch. I was mortified. Clearly, this man was important to her, but I was protective. Jess and I had been through a lot the previous few years and I felt a bit mother-hen-ish about her.

When Jess stepped into the bathroom I cornered JP: “I’m very glad to meet you and you are most welcome here, but I just need you to know that if you are even CONSIDERING jerking my friend around or hurting her in ANY way… I will hunt you down and kill you.”

He laughed. But I wasn’t kidding. 

I publicly apologized and recanted when I gave the toast as the Matron of Honor at their wedding that following fall. 

Things I love about JP:

  • He talks fast. This means he can say a LOT in short time, and he’s worth listening to.
  • He irons his jeans and t-shirts. Okay maybe not NOW after 6 kids, but he DID with no ironing board on the floor of my Chicago apartment one summer. I mocked him, and privately asked Jess WHO she was marrying!
  • He’s a lover. Of God, of his wife, of his family, of friends, of strangers, of me, even though I threatened him straight out of the gate.
  • He’s a giver. I can’t say it enough: time, money, resources, the shirt off of his back. Perhaps the most generous man I know.
  • He’s a builder. You know, one of those guys who really “gets it” and understands that his place in the world is to fix and build stuff. He’s great at taking broken things, businesses, or people, and keeping the world, relationships, families and organizations moving forward. Anything he touches, he fixes, heals or builds up in some way.
  • He LOVES my friend. Every time I see him I hug his neck and thank him for that. If he did nothing else, that would be enough in my book. 

Flying me out was the cherry on top.


Post Script:

It was definitely a surprise and there was screaming; the good kind. 

I spent the evening laughing and catching up with my friend and struggling to breathe under the monkey pile of children that climbed into my lap, they have six of the smartest, funniest, most creative and endearing kids you’ve ever met. Levi, the baby, is positively edible. And if the giant love fest wasn’t enough, ‘Bella begged me to be the one to tuck her in and pray with her, “Dear God, Thank you for Nana, thank you for how much I love her and she loves me. Thank you she’s staying until Monday.” Sigh. Nana happiness.

And I haven’t even revealed the HUGE suitcase and GIANT box that I paid extra to check that are FULL of only toys. I brought a portable birthday party for eight! 

For those who’ve read my book: one other exception to the one bag rule: 

“You may have more than one bag if that bag is stuffed with Lego, Trio, a flying Millennium Falcon, Popping baby toys, a gatling style Nerf Gun, three smaller Nerf guns for the defender and an 18” tall horse (plastic, not living, of course) two pair of hand knit socks, a bracelet, a book for Daddy and a huge bouquet of origami flowers with birthday wishes written inside. You can take an extra bag (or two) for that.”