We were so young, weren’t we, when this all started? Barely 18 and 19, when I accepted that first date at Dalt’s, surrounded by all our high school friends that first Thanksgiving of our college careers. We were friends for a couple of years before that, meeting in Mr. Moore’s history class at Vines High School, but both spending the remainder of those high school years dating other people.
Not long after that first date, we made our first public appearance at Jami Heaton’s New Years Eve Party. I remember being so excited to go, and show off the necklace you had given me the week before, for Christmas. A gold disc engraved with “Loving You Always.”
I remember being embarrassed when I came over to your house a couple of weeks later. Your dad was home from the hospital (so sick during these months), and we sat around your kitchen table, eating Long John Silver’s (your dad’s favorite), and me having one of the very few conversations I’d ever have with him.
“What’s that necklace you’ve got on there, Melinda?”
“Oh,” my hand protectively clutching it, “Kevin gave it to me for Christmas.”
“Really, now. What’s it say?”
Blushing, I responded with a reading of those words engraved there, wondering if they thought us childish in uttering them so fast and so young.
I later learned that they didn’t. They knew, and even talked about me being “the one.” I smile at the thought of that conversation, especially since he died a scant couple of months after that.
Shortly before that happened, however, you came to visit me at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State…what’s up with that?), and stayed with John Hickey in his roach-infested apartment, where the three of us watched Twilight Zone reruns until we weirded ourselves completely out. The next day we set out for a day trip to San Antonio’s famed River Walk, and a visit to the Alamo. On the drive down is when we started talking about how many kids we were going to have, and there, somewhere along I-35, is where it hit us both that we were talking about a life together. A future that swelled with promise. A world, our oyster for the taking.
So you proposed to me on Father’s Day, at the cemetery, on a bench next to your dad’s grave. You wanted so much to include him, as you’d never had the opportunity to tell him that you’d found “the girl.” But again, he already knew, and the way you asked me remains one of my favorite proposal stories ever.
We worked on that wedding for almost a year, even though by today’s standards it was quite a simple affair. In the beautiful sanctuary of First Christian Church, Monsignor Smyth made history by co-performing a ceremony with my pastor in a Protestant church, just because he loved you and your family. We went through two pre-marital counseling sessions (one from each church), and giggled our way through the one that provided a “mentor couple.” We found out, didn’t we, just what we DIDN’T want our marriage to be?!
And you know what?
It hasn’t been what we witnessed in that tiny, dirty, unhappy home. Certainly, it hasn’t been perfect, either, but we stepped out in faith to finish college together, you pacing the tiny living room of our garage apartment, dictating your sociology papers, and me, typing them out, editing all the while, on my trusty Brother typewriter. We both managed to graduate with honors, and set out for home – Plano – and the little house on Lemmontree Lane that would be our first, and the place we would bring home both of those children we’d contemplated on that fateful drive a few years before.
It’s been a lot of fun, and a lot of hard work. You’ve put up with cutesy family pictures, and my hand-painted shirt phase, where you calculated that I made 25 cents an hour. I put up with the perfection of your golf game, over the years, and we both worked hard to build your business, along with our family. We saved our pennies and took fun trips that, as I look back, leave me wondering about fashion decisions.
But it all worked out, and our kids grew, and we moved to another home, before moving to another state.
In between running offices, entertaining, church-planting and serving-serving-serving, struggling and rejoicing through teenage years, and setting the last bird free from the nest, the ties grew stronger, deeper, with the thread of an almighty, ever-present God running straight through the middle.
Then, we finally came back home, to the ranch of our dreams.
We saw a daughter married, and welcomed grandbabies, both of blood and of heart, until our family pictures started looking like this…
We’ve ridden the waves of incredible challenges in the last few years of our lives. Even just yesterday, upon hearing some news that left my heart a little unsettled, all I wanted was you. Through all of it, only you. The strength of your presence, the way that you calm me, ground me, help me stay focused. Quite simply, I adore you.
Remember when we went to Carmel with the Rittlers a few years ago, and we saw that bronze of those two old people? It stirred something deep within, and I think I posted it to social media with the caption “The Goal.” It IS the goal, isn’t it? Those two impossibly young people who, 33 years ago, whispered promises of love, and 31 years ago, today, turned those promises into a commitment, set a goal to end their life together the way they began it.
Loving You Always.
I don’t blush with embarrassment anymore with the saying of it.
Today – everyday – I shout it from the mountaintops.
Happy 31st, my love. Happy, happy, indeed.
“My beloved is mine and I am his…” Song of Solomon 2:16 NIV