We'd been living together for about three years when I finally asked Leslie to marry me. Imagining life without her seemed incomprehensible, so I decided to tie to her me with a band of gold in perpetuity, or at least as long the good Lord allowed (about 20 years together when she died. 15+ of which we spent married).
We had taken a trip to Montana over New Year's and she'd expected it then. I wasn't planning anything for then. The special surprise "hockey night" in Bozeman, Montana was not nearly as amazing as what she'd THOUGHT I had planned. There was fighting...in the rink...after the game. It was ugly.
Bottom line is, New Year's even proposals were too cliche. I wanted to SURPRISE her.
One evening months later while her father and I put together a book shelf in the cottage house I took a moment alone to ask his permission to marry his daughter. He said yes, and I began to plan.
In those days Leslie was still a flight attendant in good standing. I'd researched Bed and Breakfasts in Maine, someplace we'd always wanted to go, and Leslie set up standby flying for us around valentine's day (It was the week after, actually).
I visited Pittsburgh's "diamond district", Frost and Company in particular, taking a day off on the sly. I bought it, and walked back to my car thinking..."What if I drop it? What if I lose this thing down the sewer grate? What if someone steals it from me?" It was the largest single purchase I'd made in my life (except for my car, which I'd made payments on). I walked down the street to the parking garage with the ring box clutched in my fist, and my fist jammed in my pocket, scanning the streets like special forces in the kill zone.
I made it to the car without incident.
When I got back home to the cottage house I had to figure out where to stash the thing. The trip to Maine was a couple weeks off, and I needed to put it somewhere that Leslie wouldn't find it. I took the fuzzy little ring box out of the larger box that it was in, and searched our bedroom. I had an old cigar box that I kept for my important receipts. In it were all the Christmas and birthday receipts for things I bought Leslie. She knew not to look in there.
The cottage house had a single bedroom. You mounted the stairs to the second floor. At the top level to the left was a bathroom, to the right was a long hallway carpeted in circa 70's thick green plush. A long closet bordered the hallway to the left and it ended in the ever-open doorway to the bedroom. Inside you would see my computer desk, a Sauder $100 special, manufactured of the finest laminated particle wood materials money could mass produce. My computer sat against the wall. To the right of the computer, along the far wall sat our bed. Leslie's dresser occupied the opposite wall.
I say this to give you a picture of the scene. Maybe if I look hard enough I can FIND a picture of the scene, but I can't imagine that we ever took a picture of that room. It's certainly nothing we were ever overly proud of, or wanted to show off.
With the rest of the day off, and my recent purchase ingeniously hidden from view, I screwed around for the rest of the day on the computer. That's where Leslie found me when she got home from work. She got ready to change out of her work clothes. She was behind me, at her dresser, able to see only my back, when she said, "Oh! You got me a box for my Mary Kay pin!" (She'd recently become a Mary Kay consultant. They gave her a lovely gold leaf pin.)
One of my best and worst traits (from Leslie's perspective) was my desire to "surprise" her. Brief Sidebar:
After we'd been married she'd told me she wanted golf clubs. She'd joined a league at work, and was really getting into it. She had some old clubs, but wanted a new set. I fussed and whined about the expense and my schedule. She pushed the issue. I'd already bought the goddamned clubs. I was trying to surprise her. Oh! Jesus...how can I forget this. I bought the clubs by doing a search online at my office for the local sporting goods store Dicks. Www.dicks.com. Didn't even bother doing a search. Yeah...they um...they don't have golf clubs at that website. ANYWAY...back to the story. She pushed the issue and I finally snapped, "You're not getting golf clubs, okay? They cost too much, there's no way you're getting those for your birthday!" And she started crying. And I was like...okay...maybe it's time to tell her I already got her the golf clubs...this surprise isn't working out quite the way I'd planned.
We made up. I explained. My point is...I loved to surprise her...and even if the surprise was ruined...I'd attempt to salvage SOME elements of it.
End of sidebar.
The plan had to change. The original plan was this: Arrive in Portland. Drive to Kennebunkport. Spend the night at our fancy schmancy B&B (Captain Lord's Mansion...gorgeous...we always planned to go back...sigh), and the next day go to dinner at Maine's only 5 star restaurant, frequented by George Herbert Walker Bush and family, no less, "The White Barn Inn." Wine her, dine her, and propose to her at dinner.
Instead I moved my timetable up. Somewhat.
There were a couple weeks before our trip, and her father was already making hints to her.. Because he knew something she didn't...and he was going to have his own kind of fun. He knew the timetable, and the agenda. "You know what, Les, I'm starting to think that Jim isn't ever going to propose to you." Little things like that. Hinting without hinting. I had to propose soon. I was running out of time.
I've already told you about her mom and her and their numerous hourly phone calls. This was Valentine's weekend. This was our big getaway. I made her promise not to call anyone while we were there. Under any circumstances. I made a huge deal about it, feigning annoyance at all the calls all the time. ENOUGH of that, Leslie, when we're on vacation, NO phone calls. TO ANYONE!
We flew into Portland a couple weeks later. I kept hounding her about the calling thing. She promised. We hadn't yet checked into the B&B.
We drove through the village of Kennebunkport. It was charming. We were out of season, so some of the shops were closed. I think in New England they're called shoppes. Because they're more charming that way. She went into a shoppe looking for souvenirs. I went to a hobby shoppe looking for wooden sailboat kits. I wanted a ship in a big glass viewing box. I purchased a beginner's version and we met back in the street and walked to a restaurant to have a beer and some thick New England clam chowder. It was amazing.
Driving across the bridge toward the Bed and Breakfast we stopped off at a store and bought a couple bottles of wine. We had no plans.
We checked into the B&B and were shown first the great room, then the kitchen, where a crock of hot Glogg bubbled and we were told to help ourselves (we did) and then up to our room. I believe it was the Lincoln room. It was beautiful. A massive four poster split the room. A wooden stool sat beside the bed to aide in ingress and egress. I said massive, I believe. Against the far wall, a huge wooden ship was displayed in a polished glass box (WIN!) Across from the bed was a fireplace, and next to the fireplace was a settee and a chair with a lamp. The bathroom had a jacuzzi tub.
I changed into comfy clothes and started the fire...with a lightswitch, just like my forefathers must have. I made as if to plop down in the chair with my book, but decided instead to get the wine. Leslie got ready to change into her comfy clothes and I retrieved a wine bottle, opening it, and pouring a glass for her and a glass for me with shaking hands. She sat on the settee and I handed her glass to her. She picked up her book and took it from her and put it down.
Now or never.
"Leslie," I said, cracking open the hinged velvet box from Frost and sitting beside her on the settee, "will you do me the honor of being my wife?"
|If I blow this picture up big enough it'll seem like I got her the Hope Diamond|
"Yes," she said, nodding, and her eyes filled with tears and I kissed her and smiled nervously. (later she said if I were to have really done it properly I'd have knelt. I was so pissed I forgot to kneel.)
"You remember your promise, right?"
She looked at me, puzzled for a moment.
"No phone calls under any circumstances."
Her mouth fell open aghast and she stared at me incredulously for perhaps two seconds before I said, "I'm just fucking with you. Call the world, baby."
And she did. BUT NOBODY WAS HOME!!! She was so frustrated. She called around until she eventually was able to tell someone. Maybe it was my sister. Maybe it was her sister. (I know her older sister said, "You weren't already engaged?")
We planned to marry in a year and a half to give us time to plan. To make the season right. Fall wedding. We loved Fall. The vacation was amazing. We went to a light house and ate lobster and looked out at the cold forbidding ocean from sharp rocky beaches. It was only a weekend, but it was one of the best vacations we ever took. She confessed the next night that she thought I'd propose at the White Barn Inn. But she'd never put together the empty box with the proposal. I'd panicked for nothing. SURPRISE!