By Megan Bame
For the Salisbury Post
On April 14, some folks from Rowan County made a three-hour trip up the mountain for a surprise birthday party. Andy VonCanon was turning 25 on April 16, and his fiance, Brittany Whitmire, had planned the shindig in his honor or so the guests thought.
As it turned out, Andy was in on the planning from the beginning, but they hadnt been planning a birthday party.
They were planning a wedding a surprise wedding.
Andy and Brittany met at a Future Farmers of America (FFA) leadership conference and were both selected to serve as state FFA officers in June 2000. They worked together that year, becoming friends and gaining what would later become valuable event-planning experience.
After their time as officers was over, they more or less went their separate ways, sending a few postcards over the summer.
During the year, the six officers had visited nearly everyones hometown, except Brittanys. So, in December 2001, Brittany invited the now-retired state officer team to her home in Brevard with plans to visit the nearby Biltmore House.
As it turned out, Andy was the only one who made it. They went to the Biltmore House as planned and soon after realized their friendship was growing beyond the bounds of the FFA.
In October 2005, the two were hiking in DuPont State Park when Andy proposed.
From the beginning Brittany didnt want a big wedding; in fact, she would have been happy to elope. However, Andy did get some say, and he at least wanted family to be able to attend. Eventually they compromised to keep it small, but add a twist.
Andy and Brittany did most of the wedding planning in the fall of 2006. They lined up the photographer, the preacher, the wedding site and a bluegrass band for April 14. Then Andys mom, Jane VonCanon, called Brittany to say she wasnt going to be able to make it to the birthday party, but Andys dad, Marvin, would be there. Instead of divulging their plans, they changed the date to May 5, though they realized it would be a stretch to pull off as a birthday party, considering it was three weeks after Andys birthday. Luckily, the photographer, the preacher, and the band were available for May 5. Then, Janes plans changed and they rebooked for the April date, but asked the folks to hold the May date, just in case.
In late January, the birthday invitations went out to family and friends. Andy and Brittany had decided that the fewer people who knew, the better, in order to pull off the surprise.
In the end they believe there were only six folks who knew the preacher, the photographer, the band leader and three friends. They didnt tell their parents and decided not to tell folks who responded that they couldnt make it. Brittanys sister-in-law and nephew were two who were noticeably absent, along with a few aunts, uncles and cousins.
They realized those folks would be disappointed, some even upset, but it was a risk they decided to take. They hired a good photographer and look forward to sharing the memories of the day with those who couldnt attend.
The party/wedding was held at a house in Lake Toxaway that Brittanys aunt recently remodeled for the purpose of renting out for special events. The guests, under the guise of a surprise birthday party, parked at the community center across the street and mingled in the backyard until the appointed time for the guest of honor to arrive.
A few guests even remarked that Brittany really went all out for a birthday party.
On the other hand, the rented white tent seemed a necessity since the forecast called for a 70 percent chance of rain that afternoon.
(Turns out it didnt rain until the festivities were over.)
When Andy arrived, the gathered group of nearly 75 shouted, Surprise, and sang Happy Birthday.
Dressed in black pants, a white dress shirt and a tie, it was Andys turn to address the guests. His announcement went something like this: I want to thank all of you for coming and for wishing me a happy birthday, but the surprise is on you because in about 10 minutes were going to get married!
And thats exactly what happened.
Brittany went inside and slipped into a simple but elegant wedding gown, pulled on her teal cowboy boots and was escorted by her parents, Jimmy and Jackie Whitmire, to the front porch, where her groom waited with his parents standing by. The guests had moseyed to the front yard, gathering near for the sweet, simple ceremony.
The barbecue birthday lunch had become a reception, complete with side dishes supplied by the guests and cupcakes as the wedding treat. The band entertained, the newlyweds danced, and the cousins in attendance … well, they had their fun decorating Brittanys car with a few supplies Brittanys in-the-know friend had on hand.
The most difficult part of keeping it a secret was remembering who knew what, the couple recalled of the events leading up to the wedding.
Since Andy was aware of the surprise party, he quickly recognized when folks would almost slip up, or backtrack to cover their words that might tip him off about the party. But there were a few close calls and purposeful interventions.
This past Christmas, the couple announced that a wedding date of Aug. 4 had been set. The wedding would take place near a waterfall in DuPont State Park, requiring a short hike. It would be small and casual. In truth, it was always a bogus date. They have no idea what the rules are for weddings at the Park, but they needed to appear to be moving forward with wedding plans as friends and family asked over and over, When are you going to set a date?
As their parents repeatedly asked what they could do to assist with the wedding planning, the couple politely put them off with one excuse or another. Just a week before the party, Brittany intercepted a second letter intended for a potential caterer after the first letter was seemingly lost in the mail.
The two put in many hours cleaning up the grounds around the house in Lake Toxaway. They cleaned the yard of leaves and branches left from fall. They planted pansies, spread mulch and pressure washed the exterior siding, and pruned back frost damaged plants that got bit by the deep freeze the previous weekend.
Brittanys family all thought that Andy was doing all this work for his own party, believing that he thought it was just to help Brittanys aunt get ready for a party that she was throwing. Even Aunt Susan played along according to Brittanys instructions, fully expecting a birthday party.
On Friday, Andy collected greenery and flowering branches for the table arrangements. As he was leaving the Whitmire farm with several buckets full of greenery in the bed of his pick-up, Brittany was pulling in and momentarily panicked. She later asked Andy, What would you have said if I would have been Mom or Dad pulling in? Andy was prepared: I would have said that I was getting stuff together for a plant ID practice.
Both are thankful that they can leave the creative stories behind now.
They nearly blew their cover just minutes before Andy was to arrive at the party. Andy had traveled to Pisgah Forest to meet a small contingency from Chapel Hill, including the preacher. They had planned to meet at 11 a.m., depart by 11:30 and arrive at the house by noon. As they left, Andy called Brittany to make sure her dad was at the house.
In fact, he was on his way to get ice for the ice cream makers. Brittany instructed Andy to pull off and wait so that they didnt pass each other. Andy and the caravan from Chapel Hill pulled into the next gas station, drawing concern and cold-feet queries from the pastor. Jimmy pulled in the same gas station, purchased several bags of ice, and headed back without noticing the car that Andy was driving. Within minutes, they were back on the road and the surprise was intact.The couple says that their goal was to have a relaxed, casual affair that they could make their own without the pressures of getting wrapped up in perceived expectations. The day belonged to them. They dreamed up the idea, they planned it and they certainly pulled it off.
Megan Bame is a freelance writer.
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