As I loaded up my truck with the gracious goodies that folks brought this Tuesday afternoon, I was filled with an immense sense of peace and gratitude. We’d made it to roughly the halfway point in the school year. And now it was time for a little rest and relaxation.
Photo Time Machine
This week I’ve had a great opportunity to slow down and reflect a lot. In my reflection I was reminded of just how very fortunate I am to be here at this moment, surrounded by a loving family and such a supportive group of friends and colleagues. One of the things I like to do in moments of reflection is go through old print photos. There’s just something about holding a photo in hand that draws me in every time.
On this occasion, several photos took me back 20 years. In one I was standing beside an Atlas Van Lines 18 wheeler, covered in snow. In others, the snow-capped mountains that seemed just outside the truck’s window, glistened. Instantly, it was as if I was back on the trip that would span the course of a little over two weeks in the winter of 2003.
On The Road Again
My college basketball playing days are over and I was still working to finish up my college degree via distance education. Then, one day, my friend, Joe, who drove for Atlas Van Lines, called me up about an opportunity to make some good money just before the holidays. Up till this point, moving furniture had largely been reserved to the summer months for me, but I couldn’t let this opportunity slip away, as I had little ones who were counting on Santa to come through.
There was a bit of apprehension, though. Not only would this mean leaving my kids for an extended period of time, I would now be away from my girlfriend, Kerrie, for longer than we’d ever been apart. In the months leading up to this trip we’d grown inseparable and I knew that she was the woman I ultimately wanted to spend my life with.
Nonetheless, I had plans, but no steady source of income yet, so I loaded up my gear, kissed them all goodbye, and headed out to traverse the country, unsure of when I may return. Life on the road is complex. The work of logistics and relocation is grueling. If you know, you know.
Long Distance Love
Through the rumbling of those big wheels, and the sporadic cell service in various parts of the country, I’d lie in the bunk talking to Kerrie on the phone. We talked about everything, for hours at a time. While I had a PlayStation in the back to play at my leisure, talking to her was all I wanted to do.
Hearing her voice, the level of care and concern for me and the conditions we’d found ourselves in on the road. Cracking jokes and hearing her laughter filled me with warmth on those cold nights traversing the northern part of the country. She was my best friend and, though the distance, I could feel her presence.
A Proposal in the Making
I knew well before that trip that I wanted to marry this woman who lit up my life. Cracking jokes and hearing her laughter filled me with warmth on those cold nights traversing the northern part of the country. But then one night as we were talking, and I looked out into the blankets of snow falling around me, I committed to it in my mind – I’m getting a ring as soon as we get back and I’m going to ask her to marry me on Christmas Day.
That trip would span over two weeks. When I returned, it was shopping time. I went to Kerrie’s mother, Colleen, and asked for her blessing. Then, with her blessing, and by my side, Colleen and I went shopping for the perfect ring. Now, mind you, I don’t have a lot of money for this ring…but I was determined to make it work.
I secured the ring weeks before Christmas and it was a great challenge not to let it slip. I was so excited, nervous, anxious – all the feelings.
Crazy Gary’s Blessing
Then, Christmas Day was here. We arrived at Kerrie’s mothers house where all the family had gathered. It was a small house, and it made for a very intimate setting for this occasion. I noticed Kerrie’s step-dad, affectionately known as “Crazy Gary”, slip out onto the porch and knew this was my opportunity to obtain his blessing to ask for his step-daughter’s hand in marriage.
Now, I don’t know about you, but the prospect of asking a guy named “Crazy Gary” for his step-daughter’s hand in marriage was pretty daunting. Gary was about as rough and tough of a guy as they came. A bear of a man at roughly 6’3”, 250 lbs, with a big, burly beard. He didn’t talk too much but you’d know when he did, as his voice boomed. And he was a member of the United Brothers Motorcycle Club. I’d come to know Gary as a big ole teddy bear in the days that would come but, in the moment, I was scared as HELL!
As I walked out on the porch, there he sat with a freshly popped Busch beer and cigar. He looked up at me and offered me a seat beside him and a beer. I cracked one open and we began to talk about life, work, me finishing school – all the things. At some point I’d worked up the courage to finally ask for his blessing.
“Gary”, I said, looking right at him.
As he looked back at me I asked “I’d like to ask for your blessing to ask for Kerrie to marry me.”
The next several moments felt like an eternity!
Finally, with a steady and calm demeanor, Gary responded “are you sure you want to do that?”
In an instant, he let out a bellowing laugh that seemed to shake the porch. Then he said “of course, young man! Not that you need it but you have my full support. Now when are you gonna ask her?”
“Well, sir. I was kinda hoping to here in a few minutes’ ‘, I responded.
We laughed again, did a cheers with our Busch beers, then embraced in a hug.
Gary is no longer with us, but I will never forget the warmth he shared with me and how he took a serious moment and made it light, yet so very memorable. I carry that with me forever. Rest in peace my dear brother.
As we re-entered the house it was clear that those inside heard our laughter. “Something sure was funny”, Kerrie said.
We opened gifts, laughed a lot, and ate. Then, it was time for the moment of truth. Colleen and Gary knew, my two kids knew, but no one else. On this Christmas, December 25, 2003, I dropped to one knee, popped out the ring, and asked “Kerrie, will you marry me?”
It felt like time stood still. And then she responded with a resounding “Yes!” We kissed. We hugged. And we were showered with congratulations from our dear family. I immediately told the story of what Gary had told me outside and it was met with thunderous laughter. Classic Crazy Gary!
Our Journey of Love and Growth
I’ll never forget that day, and all the days that led up to it. Those days would go on to shape the next 20 years of my life in such profoundly positive ways.
It’s quite humbling and awe-inspiring to think back on our journey together. We were just two kids who’d worked extremely hard to climb out of some pretty tough childhood experiences. We were both finishing up our schooling and trying to figure out what life held for us. And, over the years, we have built a life together that is greater than anything I could’ve ever dreamed of when we started this journey two decades ago.
I’m forever grateful for the love, encouragement, and support my wife has showered upon me over the last two decades. It is my deepest hope and prayer that she has felt all of that reciprocated. Life with you, Kerrie, is the most amazing journey and I am so grateful that you said “yes”.
Stop and Smell the Roses
Life comes at us fast. And in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, changing careers, raising kids, and all the things that pop up along the way, it can be easy to forget just how far you’ve come. I encourage you to – whether it’s an old box of photos, past writings, or scrolling through an album on Facebook – take a long look back at your journey. Undoubtedly, there will be moments such as I describe, and more, that will absolutely blow your mind.
You haven’t made it here by accident. All that came before laid the foundation on which you stand today. Embrace it. Celebrate. And keep writing your unique and magical story.