gratitude.

It’s four full days later, and I’m still overwhelmed. Not to mention more than a little tired; I’m pretty freaking old, after all.

A number of you already know at least some of the details, but here’s how it happened. I spent the day of my birthday doing two things. 1) Going to work, briefly, so I could get my flu shot, which I understand is an important thing for old guys to do. 2) Wandering around McConnell’s Mill State Park, specifically on the Kildoo Trail through the rocky gorge formed by the Slippery Rock Creek; this is kind of an old tradition that I thought was important to resurrect on my 40th birthday … and it was perfect: crisp weather and nearly no one else around. With the exception of the water rushing by, completely silent.

I returned home to get ready to have dinner in Pittsburgh with The Wife. We went off to Eleven in the Strip, armed with an enormous bag that apparently contained my present. And some other stuff, as I would find.

Actually, a lot of other stuff. A whole shitload of you had responded to The Wife’s plea for cards observing this milestone, enough that it took us three hours, in between courses, to get through everything. Once we finished giggling over the cards, I was presented with a small, red box. In it was a scrapbook. Its pages slowly revealed The Wife’s devious scheme: In the morning, we were leaving for Ann Arbor, where we would spend the evening at Arbor Brewing. And on Saturday, we would leave there and drive another hour to Lansing where we would take in Ohio State’s game against Michigan State. And then we would return home, at our leisure, on Sunday; I point out the leisurely part because The Wife had already made arrangements for me to have the day off.

Wow. That’s Surprise No. 1.

I got Surprise No. 2 on the way to Michigan Friday morning: The Wife put me on the phone with Fred and Ethel, who reminded me that they had received tickets to the MSU game in the university’s lottery. I had forgotten, and I was blown away. We were going to meet them at the hotel in Lansing Saturday morning after they spent the night with family in Grand Rapids.

Again. Holy shit.

After checking in at our hotel in AA, I immediately had to check out The Big Hole, to see if it was as ugly as I remembered. The Wife had never seen it before, and she was similarly underwhelmed when we walked in through an open service gate.

Get ready for sacrilege from Uncle Crappy: The rest of the town – which I had never really seen before – was actually pretty cool. And the brewpub … If you’re looking for a good meal and some excellent beer, I would highly recommend Arbor Brewing. We sampled, um, several of their products and couldn’t find a single one to complain about.

We went semi-incognito Friday night, but were in full game gear at breakfast on Saturday morning. The folks at Angelo’s were accommodating in their abuse, suggesting that we would enjoy a table they had ready for us in the parking lot out back. But breakfast was outstanding, and we headed to Lansing to meet up with Fred and Ethel.

The meeting was no problem, but it looked for a while like parking at Michigan State would be. The big public lot just west of Spartan Stadium we had all been targeting was closed because it was too wet, and we were funneled towards a garage a couple blocks to the east. Tailgating in a cold, dark parking garage wasn’t a pleasant thought, but Fred headed towards the top level and found a sunny – and nearly empty – deck waiting for us. We had a great tailgating session five stories high, occasionally shouting OH over the side to see what kind of IOs we would get in return.

We all had tickets in the biggest Ohio State section, just above where the band had been parked for the day; in fact, The Wife and I were seated in the same row, just a few seats away, from Fred and Ethel.

Surprise No. 3. I was reduced to a stammering wreck, just outside Spartan Stadium.

I don’t need to recount the game — you already know those details – other than to say it was as much fun as you might imagine. I tried to re-create my father’s appearance on television in this same building, waving the same flag he held, towards the end of the game. And this shot, borrowed from the Columbus Dispatch, clearly shows the four of us — find Uncle Crappy — enjoying the postgame Carmen Ohio before we all headed out into the night. The fans with the red shirts were pretty much the only ones left in the building at that point.

We returned to the hotel after the ass-kicking, had dinner at a sports bar in downtown Lansing, had another couple of drinks while watching Michigan thump Penn State and Auburn come back against Florida. And then, after breakfast at the hotel on Sunday, we all returned home.

Here’s the part about gratitude. Most of the regular Uncle Crappy readers were in on this deal, and all did a good enough job that I had no idea what was coming. Thanks for that; the genuine surprise was the best part. As I mentioned before, many of you contributed cards, calls, emails and comments here about my birthday; it is truly heart-warming to know that that many people would stop to think about me on my birthday. Thanks also for that.

Fred and Ethel: You get special mention as chief accomplices. My mom and dad also contributed mightily, even taking the trouble to drop off some of our regular tailgating gear with Fred and Ethel so we wouldn’t be lacking in East Lansing. Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou.

And then, there’s The Wife. Quite simply, I married the most thoughtful person on the planet, one whom I probably don’t deserve. I don’t think I can ever thank you properly, fully, for the 40th birthday gift you prepared for me. I love you more each and every day.

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peace.

Uncle Crappy and The Wife wish everyone a happy holiday. Be safe, have fun and be ready to tell me about the loot next week.