It was just over ten years ago that I asked Wendy to marry me. These days it seems that video technology and social media have made popping the question an industry unto itself with ever crazier stunts and extravaganzas. In August of 2005, however, few people had heard of Facebook (it started in February 2004) and Twitter did not exist. So, in the small town of Pella, Iowa I was just this one guy trying to find a creative way to ask the woman I love if she’d marry me.
The theatre seemed a good place to do it. Wendy and I met in community theatre and the stage was our shared passion. The other thing that I wanted to include were friends who had walked with us through this particular tumultuous stretch of our respective journeys. And so, I staged a little production for Wendy’s surprise that began with scheduling a dinner at Monarch’s restaurant with our friends, Kevin and Becky.
I picked up Wendy at her apartment that gorgeous, late summer evening. She’d just gotten home from work at Goalsetters and it had not been a good day for her. She was running late and wanted to get freshened up before dinner. As she prepared for the evening, I received a call on my cell phone from Pat telling me that he was at the Community Center auditorium and needed some help. Our community theatre’s summer production had just finished a week or two before and there were a few large, straggling set pieces that needed to be put away. At least, that was the story I fed Wendy. She was a bit annoyed at the interruption and asked why it had to be right then, but I assured her it would just take a moment and that Kevin and Becky would understand.
We arrived at the Community Center and I encountered the first hiccup to my master plan. Wendy was still putting make-up on in the car and told me to go in and help Pat while she finished. I went in and informed my co-consipirator that Wendy would be in momentarily. The moment lingered, however, and I became increasingly nervous as it became obvious to me that she was not planning to come in.
My heart was already pounding with anticipation as I stepped out of the Community Center door and motioned for Wendy to come in. “We need your help!” I yelled to her in the car. I could feel her increased annoyance as she got out of the car and trudged up the steps. Hastily I improvised a story about needing help holding the curtain back while we hoisted a flat up into storage. I ignored her grumbling as we made our way into the Community Center, into the auditorium, and up to the stage.
The stage was empty and the overhead floods were on. I led Wendy onto the stage telling her that we just needed her to hold the curtain at the far end while we lifted a flat. What Wendy didn’t know was that when she hit her mark, center stage, she was going to get the surprise of her life.
As she reached center stage the lights went out to the pitch blackness of a closed auditorium. Amidst the darkness, all of our friends who had been hiding behind the tormenter curtains lining the back of the stage came out to their places in front of the curtains. A spotlight came on suddenly and highlighted the two of us. I turned to look at Wendy whose eyes had grown huge in shock.
In the spotlight, I dropped to my knee and pulled out that little box. It suddenly dawned on Wendy what was happening. There, center stage, surrounded by friends and loved ones, I asked Wendy to be my wife as she melted into tears, said “Yes,” and then leaned down to kiss me.
Dinner at Monarch’s with Kevin and Becky turned into dinner at Monarch’s with all of those who shared the moment with us. It’s amazing to think that it was a decade ago. “A lot of water under the bridge,” as they say. Still, it doesn’t take much for me to be right back in the midst of that memory, and I’ll admit that my heart still skips a beat when I go there.
I should mention that I had our photographer hiding on the floor of the auditorium. As soon as the lights went black, he popped up from between the rows of seats and began snapping pictures. We turned the photos our our engagement into 5×7 notepads that were given out as gifts to guests at our wedding reception.