Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about romance. After 24-plus years of marriage, romance can be elusive. To help Carla and me, and hopefully you, rekindle the spark of true love, here is the 100% true story of the night I asked Carla Barron to be my wife, by far the most romantic moment of my life:
Up front I will admit that it was not a spontaneous, caught-up-in-emotion flight-of-fancy experience. Rather, it was a highly choreographed, logistically analyzed and obsessively scheduled gesture designed to overwhelm Carla with emotion prompting her to elicit the one word that would unleash our future together: “Yes!”
We started dating in May 1996, and by November I was seriously contemplating marriage. We were both out of college, had jobs and were maintaining separate residences as good Christian young people did. But as I tried to follow the 1996 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees exclusively on the radio driving between our apartments, I really saw benefits to making our relationship permanent and consolidating to one household.
My plans started with the ring. I could have gone to any number of jewelry stores, but I knew Carla had specific tastes. She wanted an emerald cut diamond solitaire. For years I had gone to the Gary Bear Barber Shop next door to Mayer Jewelers in downtown Lakes Wales, Florida. I didn’t really know any other jewelers. I trusted the good people at Mayer to re-create the ring I described, so early in my week-long Christmas visit with my family, I stopped in to look at diamonds and ordered the ring. They said they could have it ready before I headed back to Macon, quoted what I thought was a reasonable price, and the deed was done. My fate was sealed.
How to deliver said ring was not as simple. As a traditionalist, I knew I would have to talk with Carla’s parents to “ask for her hand in marriage.” As ridiculous as that seems now, I took their blessing very seriously. I targeted New Year’s Eve as the special night to pop the question, and I called Lanny and Cynthia to schedule lunch with them at Quincy’s in Milledgeville. I took an extended lunch break from my job as a features writer at The Macon Telegraph that day and drove the 30 minutes to meet them. I was so nervous I don’t think I ate a single one of Quincy’s famous yeast rolls. The Barrons seemed genuinely thrilled that I was moving forward with my relationship with their daughter, and they gave their blessing. I even paid for lunch, one of the few times I ever remember getting away with buying a meal for my generous in-laws.
I didn’t know if Carla was suspicious about my asking her out on New Year’s Eve, but we had been apart while I was in Lake Wales for Christmas. We wanted to see each other, and the idea of a night together as 1996 came to a close was appealing. I didn’t tell her anything beyond what time I would pick her up. I was aiming for as much surprise as possible.
I planned a themed date. It was a look back at our relationship over the year, from our first date in May to December. I selected one location in town to represent each month of our courtship, and after dinner at the Golden Palace Chinese restaurant, I took her to eight locations with some connection to an event from a month in our relationship. At each stop, I read an original poem I wrote for the occasion, and we reminisced about that month’s activity. It reminded us both of how our relationship had grown during the eight months of dating and began to have a cumulative effect by the time we got to December. The date could not have been planned or executed any better.
Our final stop that night was our beautiful church, Highland Hills Baptist Church. I chose Highland Hills to represent December because we had both been in the church’s Live Nativity production that month. Carla portrayed an angel, of course, and I was a wise man, potentially a stretch for my acting abilities, but the giant gold turban fit. It was also the perfect location to propose because of its beauty, privacy and meaning. We had met at Highland Hills in January, and it felt appropriate to get engaged there.
Timing was crucial. We arrived at the church a few minutes before midnight. The nativity drama had been in the church’s outdoor amphitheater, so we made our way down the steps in the dark to the front row. When we sat down in the middle of the built-in brick seating, I started shaking; whether it was from nerves or the temperature, I don’t know.
We talked for a few minutes about the events of our relationship from December, and I went through my reading about the Nativity drama. Firecrackers began to sizzle and pop in the distance, and as 11:59 showed on my watch, I recited from memory Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
When I finished, I retrieved the ring box from my pocket, got down on one knee and asked, “Carla Barron, will you marry me?”
Through tears, she nodded and said “Yes!”
In response, I went in for a kiss, to seal the moment and give her the affirmation of my commitment.
We have no doubt experienced unplanned, organic moments of romance in the intervening years, but though it was highly planned, that kiss, punctuating our engagement and a night of reflection and emotion, was the most romantic moment of my life.