My husband proposed marriage the moment the idea came to him, in a parking lot outside a restaurant in San Diego, without a ring or plans for a ring, and I liked it that way. Ever since, I’ve thought that spontaneity is the way to go with an engagement.
However, recently my view has changed.
It began when my husband and I invited all of our twenty-something nieces and nephews and their partners up to our country place for a rafting adventure on Labor Day weekend.
A few days before the event, we received an e-mail with the subject line, “Secret!…Shhh.” It was from our 27-year-old nephew, Eric.
Eric revealed that he had decided to propose to his long-term girlfriend, Kara, during the weekend with us. They have been together so long that he was finding it impossible to surprise her. If he suggested a special dinner or a weekend away, she’d know in a moment. But the rafting trip, arranged by my husband, did not draw suspicion.
“Are there any trails or hikes that you would recommend?” Eric wrote. “A nice view of the river or a scenic trail would be awesome.”
So what did the long-married couple do, when they got this message from the soon-to-be married nephew?
We tried to argue politely — this was a happy occasion, after all — but it wasn’t easy. “Perfect locations” flashed into our minds, but they weren’t the same ones. “Perfect timing” flashed into our minds, but I thought “afternoon” and Bob thought “evening.” Bob cited the afternoon heat. I pointed out the early darkness. Bob remembered mosquitoes.
My imagination said one thing, his another. I advocated a hike over rocks to the water. Bob thought city people might find that too hard.
Bob and I finally stopped arguing when Eric announced he liked the forest trail idea, on a remote parcel we own.
I scurried around doing unspontaneous things like pre-purchasing balloons to decorate their room during the proposal. I also walked the forest trail myself, a day early, and placed two chairs where the view of the river was most entrancing.
We planned a ruse so that Bob could show the trail to Eric ahead of time. The guys would go off to do some manly task, like cutting a tree.
When Eric arrived with Kara, a day earlier than the other guests, she was full of enthusiasm for the upcoming raft trip and swam in the river even though it was cold, coaxing Eric in, too.
As they frolicked in the water, my blood buzzed as if some kind of happiness additive were in my system, powerboosted by the thrill of keeping a secret.
After dinner Eric suggested a walk on the trail that Uncle Bob “just happened” to have shown him a few hours earlier. As soon as they left, Bob and I raced around like madmen, blowing up 25 balloons for their room, placing wild flowers on their doorstep, and arranging champagne glasses.
After about an hour, Eric and Kara came back. Her eyes were red. “I said ‘yes,’” she reported.
She had been totally surprised.
Eric told us, “I kept walking on the path wondering where those darn chairs were. They seemed much farther this time.”
“I saw the two chairs and thought, ‘That’s where Marion and Bob sit,’” said Kara. “We decided to sit there, too. Then Eric surprised me.”
We popped the champagne and I offered a toast.
I found myself saying to Eric and Kara that I had seen many things between them that make me think their marriage will be a success. I thought about my marriage; our anniversary in a few days will be number 33. I am touched by the importance of it all.
The secret continued a bit longer the next day, because Eric and Kara decided to announce their engagement after the raft trip. As 12 family members assembled for a barbecue, I noticed that Kara had slipped on her ring. Finally, the announcement came and the secret was a secret no more.
After many hugs, in the growing darkness, I picked up my guitar, which I still play tentatively like the student I am. My husband sat down next to me. I chose the song “Today,” a John Denver classic.
For the first time ever, Bob sang with me — for his family, for Eric and Kara, for him and me, and for getting engaged which, planned or unplanned, is special.
It was a magical night.
Marion Franck is a columnist for the Davis Enterprise. She is a part-time resident of El Dorado County.