I wrote a while back about my sister, about her long road of struggle and grief, her indecision about her future, and then her sudden and unexpected romance. That romance has blossomed quickly and took a giant leap forward this week when they announced their engagement. I am so excited for them and am praising God for such a surprising happiness. I have loved hearing their tale, and if it were mine to tell, I would record it here. But all of this has caused me to take another walk down memory lane to the night of my own engagement, and I thought I would put it down here for posterity, so my boys can know what a romantic their father was.(and is)
The hubby and I met the last week I was in France (another story worth telling). We hit it off pretty quickly. I can’t quite say it was love at first sight, but it was pretty darn close. It was helpful that we were both enrolled at the same college the following fall, or we may never have gotten further than that last crazy week in France. We corresponded that summer, and then met back up at college, and were seriously dating from day one. We talked big about graduating and finding careers before we got married, but after two years of staying up way too late talking in stairwells and getting very little studying done, something needed to give. We started talking about bumping that marriage thing up a bit.
It was getting near to Christmas, my sophomore year. We were preparing hard for the annual Madrigal Dinner concert series that the music department put on every year. But amidst all the singing and holiday busyness, I started noticing my roommates acting suspiciously, whispering together, or ceasing their conversations abruptly when I walked in the room. Then my favorite ring went missing. I knew I had left it above the sink, and was worried that it had fallen down the drain. My roommates wouldn’t give me a straight answer about whether or not they had seen it. But a couple of days later it magically reappeared. I was curious.
The Madrigal Dinners ran for three night in a row, and what with finishing up classes and finals and packing to go home for the holidays, I forgot my suspicions. The first night of singing went well. Then came the friday night performance. Steve took my sister as a date that year, since I was up on stage, but I noticed he kept leaving the hall. In fact, he missed most of the dinner, and I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. My two roommates had decided not to go to the dinners that year, and asked, since they said they were feeling left out of the festivities, if we could go downtown after Friday night’s performance for coffee and dessert. I was feeling pretty exhausted, but told them we could go, and afterwards, tried to persuade Steve to go as well. He was reticent since it was so late, but a big group of people decided to go, so he joined in. We all piled into two vans and started towards down town.
About five minutes down the road, we saw flashing lights. There was a bad accident, with a flipped car blocking both lanes. We stopped, and I suggested that maybe we should wait and go the next night instead. Steve spoke up against this plan in a surprisingly vehement manner. He told my roommate to turn around and we would find some back roads. I was surprised at his determination since he hadn’t really wanted to come in the first place, but asked no questions.
We got there eventually and sought out our favorite coffee shop. It was a cold night, and I wanted to sit inside, but everyone else in the group insisted we should sit outside and enjoy all the holiday lights. I was so tired I didn’t argue, but sat talking at a separate table with Steve, sipping my coffee, and wondering about the frantic search that was quietly going on in the group. I noticed my roommate feverishly digging through her purse, and others surreptitiously crawling under tables, hunting for who knows what. But I asked no questions.
I was beginning to relax and enjoy myself as I watched the festive horse drawn carriages pass by, when one suddenly pulled up right in front of us. The driver asked politely if anyone would be interested in a carriage ride. With surprising eagerness, my roommates, sister, and everyone else in the group jumped right up and crowded in behind the driver. Then they started hollering at Steve and me to join them. I just laughed since the carriage was already ridiculously overcrowded. I said we would be fine, staying put, and Steve agreed. They all seemed really disappointed, but I kept waving them on until just then, another carriage pulled up right behind the first. Again we were offered a ride. My friends continued to urge, we continued to decline. I mean, I didn’t even know how much a carriage ride would cost, and Steve said he was pretty sure he didn’t have enough. I was a little annoyed when my friends kept hounding us to take it, and then a little worried when Steve finally gave in and helped me in to the carriage.
Off we went, clipping along the beautifully lit streets, and there I was, all the while hissing in his ear about how we were going to pay for it. He kept telling me we would figure it out, so I tried to relax. Occasionally we saw the group in the other carriage in a side street, or crossing the intersection in front of us. Every time we saw them, they were hanging eagerly out the sides, waving and watching us intently. I was still completely clueless. I can’t even remember the conversation we were having, when suddenly he got down on his knee. I thought he was joking and told him to get up, but he persisted in kneeling. And there he was, proposing, and I, like an idiot, was wondering how on earth he had a ring in his pocket when he didn’t even want to come downtown in the first place.
In all the confusion, I finally realized that this was the real thing and I managed to stammer a happy yes. As I said it, there was an audible sigh of relief from the driver! He turned around grinning and apologized, explaining that the last time he had a proposal in his carriage, the girl had said “no” and the rest of the drive had been a silent and awkward misery.
The ride came to an end as we neared the coffee shop again, and there was the other group, waiting on the curb. Steve gave a thumbs up, and they all burst out cheering. In my dimwittedness, it was only then that I realized the whole thing had been a set up- my roommates wanting to go to coffee, the ‘random’ group of people who joined us so as to fill up that first carriage, and the perfect timing of the second carriage. When we got back to campus, I discovered that just about every student and teacher there was aware of what was happening that night, but me. I’m still not sure how I missed all the clues.
Later, as I kissed my fiancé good night, something heavy fell out of his pocket. He sighed as I bent to pick it up. It was an exquisite little black wooden box, lined with velvet and containing a beautiful piece of quartz, with a slit in the center just big enough to hold a ring. The bottom of the box had fallen apart, and I looked at him, puzzled. He then explained to me why he had missed most of the dinner that night. He had been sneaking out to the carpenter’s shop to put the finishing details on the little ebony ring box he had been working on. But the wood had proved too hard for nails, and gluing hadn’t worked much better. He finally managed to get it to hold together, and entrusted it to my roommate’s purse for the drive downtown, but it came apart along the journey. Thus the frantic search at the coffee shop for a missing ring, and a broken box in his pocket.
I still have the quartz and the pieces of that lovely little box, even though it never got to serve it’s intended purpose. I take it out occasionally, just to remember the crazy, wonderful hilarity of that night and all the crazy, wonderful years that have followed, riding side by side together.