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Thirty Years and a Day

Disclaimer: this is a completely off-topic author note about my parents’ love story, their upcoming thirtieth anniversary, and my scheme to have them meet Lionel Richie. Regular author notes will resume next week.

Only crazy people get married in the fall in Newfoundland. That’s not a scientifically-proven fact, just a common sense assessment; given the vagaries of my home province’s weather, taking a chance on an October wedding is dangerous indeed. I hope to make that gamble some day (if I can con some woman into saying yes), but back in 1983, it was my insane parents –– Iceberg partners Jacqui and Peter Tam –– who rolled the dice.

And it worked out: thirty years later, they’re still married, and still as crazy as ever… though admittedly, it might have been my arrival in 1984 that brought on the insanity. Whatever.

Next Tuesday, my folks celebrate thirty years together, and that is an occasion worth recognizing. Many people know something of their story, because Jacqui shared it in her award-winning A Daughter’s Gift… but allow me to highlight certain points.

Peter, my dad, was a bit of a rogue, hailing from a tropical paradise called Trinidad. He was known for roaming the bush with a cutlass, and being the trusted chaperone for everybody’s sisters when they went to the beach (think Mike Strong, but younger). When he arrived in Newfoundland for university, he was one of seven ‘black’ kids in the entire province, and he got into his share of mischief. That hasn’t changed.

Jacqui, my mom, was about as well-behaved as I am, but unlike me, she wasn’t terribly dull at the same time. She worked on Land Rovers in the garage with my grandfather, and was his trusted co-pilot (and plow operator) when blizzards closed in, and people needed to be rescued from their houses. She loved to read, dreamed of being a writer (look how that turned out), and sewed her own clothes. That also hasn’t changed.

They met at a disco when they were both studying at Memorial University, and from the beginning it was clear that they were meant to be. I know, that’s too sappy a thing to say in our cynical times, but they’ve earned it –– thirty years, remember.

An interracial couple in a time before I think that term had even been coined, they had plenty of hurdles to overcome. Jacqui had to go to faraway Ontario (that is, forty-five minutes from where she lives now) to complete her Masters in Journalism; Peter had to go home to Trinidad so he could apply for citizenship independently (there would be no suggestion that they were getting married just so he could get into the country). In an age before Skype, this apparently led to some appalling telephone bills –– the first one was so expensive that Jacqui’s first reaction was to pick up the phone and call Peter (internationally again), so they could talk about it.

But when the MA was done, and immigration status was granted, they were able to reunite in Newfoundland, and there they were wed on October 1st, 1983. That night, in a reception that my grandfather hosted in his spotless garage, they danced to their wedding song: “Three Times A Lady” by Lionel Richie. And so, their great new adventure began.

When it came to marking their thirtieth anniversary, I was determined to do something special. I have a pretty decent track record of making strong efforts on the bigger anniversaries –– twenty and twenty-five in particular –– but that had only served to set a high bar for me to clear. I needed something worthy, but that was proving quite difficult…

Until I happened to notice that Lionel Richie was on tour, and that his schedule would put him at Casino Rama –– about two hours from where my parents live now –– on October 2nd.

A day late… but close enough!

Possessing this information, I hatched a simple plan: I would secretly purchase tickets and book a room for them at Casino Rama. I would then concoct some flimsy excuse for them to both book off the day after their anniversary, and surprise them with the arrangements as a present on October 1st. This was not an unreasonable proposition –– even a fool like me would be capable of executing the plan.

lionel richieBut then, I discovered something fantastic: before the performance, there would be a meet-and-greet at which guests could (as the name implies) meet Lionel Richie. The tickets cost a bit more (maybe more than a bit) but there was no way I could let that opportunity pass. And really, making sure they were able to leave for Rama a bit earlier wouldn’t disrupt the plan too much. We were good to go…

Except for the fine print. Damn the fine print.

See, the folks at Casino Rama (or on Lionel Richie’s advance team) take security seriously. Duh. Tickets for the reception could not be shipped in advance; only picked up at the will call by the those who purchased them, once they presented the credit card with which they were purchased, and accompanying ID. In other words, if I bought the tickets for my parents, I’d still have to collect them. Now, I’m a fan of Lionel Richie (for some inexplicable reason, his music was always playing in the house when I grew up) but I would not be crashing my parents’ thirtieth anniversary celebration. So, what to do?

The more enterprising among you might suggest I should have surreptitiously lifted one of my parents’ credit cards… but then what would happen when the statement arrived and said CASINO RAMA – LIONEL RICHIE beside a rather large figure? Shrug and try to play it off as the best identity-theft buy ever?

No, I realized that the surprise would have to be ruined –– but for the greater good. So I wandered into my mother’s office and declared: “I need a credit card with a lot of room on it.” When she asked what it was for, I had to blurt out the whole plan.

So now it’s all booked (we used her card, and I paid it off), but she and my dad know the whole big surprise. The anniversary is ruined –– except for that part where they’re going to meet Lionel Richie, and hear “Three Times A Lady” in person, thirty years and a day after they danced to it at their wedding reception. It’s one of those songs, I think, that will mean even more three decades later.

Happy anniversary, guys. You remain the inspiration for all the best things I believe, and all the greatest dreams I possess. More adventures lie ahead… have fun.

And try not to embarrass Lionel Richie.

The adventure continues…