By the time my now-husband proposed to me, I was pretty sure I knew when it was going to happen. I had given him my mother's wedding band (resized for my chubby fingers because hers were so slender), we had discussed when and where we might like to be married, and I felt confident that I would know when it was coming. And yet, he still managed to surprise me!
On Christmas morning of 2007, we showed up at his maternal grandparents' home in Tullahoma, Tennessee. My mother-in-law's family is large and rambunctious, and Christmas celebrations there are of the everyone-tear-open-your-packages-at-the-same-time-and-throw-the-paper-everywhere variety (he thought we were crazy when he did Christmas with my family one year. We sort the presents and open them one at a time, rotating based on age from youngest to oldest. My mother also used to make us carefully open the wrapping paper without tearing so we could reuse it).
Aunt Carol, my mother-in-law's older sister, also had a tradition of providing anyone who desired an alcoholic drink disguised in a coffee cup. (Jeff's Pawpaw, an old-time retired United Methodist minister, did not like drinking in the home.) Usually it was just a little Bailey's mixed in with the morning coffee, so I accepted graciously when she offered.
Upon taking the first sip, I discovered that she had left the coffee out that morning. It was pure Bailey's Irish Creme - at least eight or ten ounces. I was so busy with my drink that I neglected to eat any breakfast. We opened presents, laughed and talked, and everyone seemed to - for once - be getting along fabulously.
However, I was starting to feel a little ill. Too much Bailey's, too little food, and I knew we had a couple hours' drive ahead of us. I asked Jeff if we could leave, and he acquiesced. I noticed he looked a little nervous, but I didn't think much of it. I climbed in the passenger seat, closed my eyes, and drifted into a light slumber. When I opened them about thirty minutes later, I realized we were not on the interstate. Rather, we were headed in the opposite direction. We were going away from Nashville and toward the rolling foothills of the Cumberland Mountains. I began to ask him where we were going (for a split second I actually thought he had forgotten the way back to Nashville!), but then I thought better of it and shut my mouth.
I was feeling quite carsick at this point. Anyone who has driven Highway 108 up the mountain knows that it gets pretty twisty. I get motion sickness easily anyway, plus the overindulgence, and I was toast. But I knew exactly where we were headed. When we turned left at the intersection of Highways 108 and 56, I knew we were in the homestretch of the haul toward the Beersheba Springs Assembly. The Assembly is an old Civil War-era hotel that served as a hot springs and sanitorium. It is now the main campground of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. Jeff and I had been to the Assembly countless times for retreats, camp weeks, parties, meals, and more. The view from the main verandah is breathtaking:
We got out of the truck and walked to the overlook. Jeff kneeled and asked if I would join him in marriage. I laughed and cried and mostly just said yes.
We realized we needed a picture of the moment, but no one was around! Suddenly, a local police officer rolled up. I think he was going to tell us that the property was closed and that we needed to exit. However, we quickly told him our happy news and he celebrated with us, volunteering to take the photo:
And the rest, as they say, is history. Pawpaw is gone now, and we have added two more babies to the family. Aunt Carol still provides her "coffee" on Christmas morning, but now I make sure to eat breakfast too.