I was planning a big evening when a monkey wrench was thrown into the works.

I wanted to surprise my wife with a party, but she got the impression I was cheating on her.

“Who is this Bernadette?” she said, confronting me after I got off the telephone. “Is she a new waitress down at the Suds and Grub Cafe?”

If she is, I never heard of her.

“You have been spending a lot of time down there lately, and I haven’t seen you smile this much in decades,” she said.

She demanded to know who her competition was.

She had only heard a portion of the conversation and jumped to a conclusion. But she was right about one thing – I haven’t smiled this much in decades.

“You men are all alike,” she bristled. “Wives give husbands the best years of their lives, and now you’re probably looking to trade in a 50 for two 20s.”

This was getting serious. I didn’t know whether to let the cat out of the bag or face getting served with divorce papers.

I told my honey that she had heard only part of the conversation and had the wrong idea.

“Don’t roll those eyes at me,” she said. “You are starting to burn me up.”

It wasn’t her that I was intending to burn up. It was the mortgage.

We had just made the final payment of the third, and hopefully last, mortgage we assumed on our house.

That’s right, we have bought our home three times.

The first mortgage was to purchase the house. We bought it with the intention of selling it and moving to a larger home later.

But skyrocketing interest rates in the 1970s and the births of three children in five years put the brakes on that plan.

Instead, we took out a second mortgage to make improvements and build an addition.

Just as we were about to pay that off, the college years rolled around.

Since all my equity was in the house, I had to borrow against it.

Equity. That’s a fancy name for pouring tons of money into an old house instead of saving for college or taking the family to Disney World each summer.

Throw in 10 years of orthodontic payments, and the family’s desire to eat three meals a day, and that eats up more money. That about sums up my financial picture.

Oh, let’s not forget car payments.

With most car loans averaging 60 months in length, 72 if you want air conditioning and a full-size spare tire, miles pile up faster than chicken bones at a wing-eating contest.

We were lucky if our cars lasted as long as the payments.

Sure, there are some tax benefits to carrying a mortgage, but I always viewed it as borrowing trouble.

Some people refer to that era as the good old days.

For me, it was a time when there was no such thing as dental insurance and kids rode in cars without car seats or air bags.

Paying off the mortgage and having my kids around to see this red-letter day is significant. That’s why I wanted to surprise my wife with a mortgage-burning party.

When she heard me talking on the phone, I was inquiring about a burning permit from my township.

Large fires require a permit, and we are allowed to burn only on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

I had planned to put up a fire ring, stack lots of wood and, with great ceremony, toss the mortgage into a roaring fire.

There is a certain freedom of knowing that one day, if we want to sell the house, we can and be able to keep the lion’s share of the profit, and maybe buy a vacation home.

“But that doesn’t answer my question about Bernadette,” my wife persisted.

Not Bernadette, dear. I had told the township secretary, “I wanna burn a debt.”

Tom Lavis can be reached at 532-5054 or tlavis@tribdem.com.

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