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Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

Two years ago, I ventured north to Lake Shasta to meet Cheryl’s two best friends from her Southern California childhood.

This was quite the reunion. Cheryl hadn’t seen Sue and Nina in 20 years.

Her friends brought along their lifetime husbands, Duain and Eric. Cheryl brought me, her johnny-come-lately.

I discovered two things on this trip. One: Bonds forged in childhood can endure a lifetime. Time’s passage meant nothing.

Two: Lake Shasta has floating toilets. Try one. You’ll never forget it.

When the reunion ended, everyone vowed to meet again soon, but two years passed and no one pulled the trigger. Then this spring Duain texted. He was planning a surprise birthday party for Sue. Could the Shasta gang reassemble in San Diego County?

This wasn’t a small ask. Nina and Eric live in Washington State and would have to fly down. Cheryl and I faced a marathon drive.

But everyone loved the idea. A lot of bonding had occurred on Lake Shasta. And this time there would be no floating potties.

Duain insisted that we not text or call him as plans took shape. If Sue were to check his phone, that would blow everything.

With not much more info than that, we set out for SoCal three weeks ago. Cheryl carried along two bottles of Laird wine picked for this special occasion.

We stopped in Long Beach to revel at the Courtney grandchild, nearly 9 months old, who can vocalize and crawl and do other amazing things that were unimaginable when we first saw her in January.

On surprise party day, we got on the 405 for Carlsbad, arriving at the restaurant a half hour early. We parked where we could survey the entrance, yet hide among a cluster of other vehicles.

Nina and Eric texted. They were getting close. We exchanged vehicle descriptions so we could find each other.

More minutes ticked by. Sue and Duain still hadn’t arrived when Cheryl announced she had to use the bathroom.

Bad timing, Cheryl! What if you’re seen hotfooting it into the restaurant?

Sorry, she said, as she made a beeline for the entrance.

She returned without incident. Moments later, a vehicle screeched to a stop behind us.

Duck! Cheryl said.

We lowered our seatbacks and played dead.

Luckily, this wasn’t Duain. The screech came from Eric and Nina who, unbeknownst to us, had been cruising the lot. Spying Duain turning into a parking space just ahead of them, Eric had slammed on the brakes, then backed up.

Had they been seen? Seemingly not.

A few minutes later, Duain and the unsuspecting Sue came into view as they walked into the restaurant.

This was it!

The four of us formed up, while hoping that no errant email or text in recent weeks had blown the deal.

Truthfully, I was thinking a surprise was too much to hope for. Who orchestrates a party over two months with assorted friends, children and grandchildren — so many moving parts! — without word slipping out?

The hostess pointed us to the far end of the nearly empty dining room where Duain and Sue were seated at a lonesome table for four. Our hearts thumping, we advanced toward the birthday girl, closer, ever closer. I feared the excitement might strike us dead. Then blam! Sue bolted to her feet.

She’d spied one of us, then all of us.

She squealed. She dabbed at her eyes. Everyone began shouting.

The moment was beyond great. I get teary just thinking about it.

For the next day and half the childhood girlfriends were inseparable. We all lived in an enchanted space. Stories followed stories. Laughter followed laughter.

Duain, you done good.

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.

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City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.