December 20th, 2017
I met Jerry in Omaha on Aug. 9, 1990, at a rehearsal for a wedding in Omaha. It was the wedding of Jody and Kathy, two people who are dear to us, and Jerry was a groomsman and I was a bridesmaid. Jerry was talking loudly to the other groomsmen, almost as if he wanted to get my attention. Which he did. I noticed him as I was talking with the other bridesmaids.
Well, at weddings, love is in the air. And Jody and Kathy’s wedding was no exception. Love was in the air, and it was a fantastic celebration with many family and friends of Jody and Kathy in attendance. After the wedding, there was a reception and there was dancing. Jerry and I flirted with each other and danced all night.
The next day, I flew back to Missoula, Montana, where I was finishing up my journalism degree, and Jerry returned to Dayton, OH, where he was a physical therapy tech in the Air Force.
1990 was before cell phones and email. So we wrote letters to each other, and Jerry flew out to Missoula a few months later to celebrate Thanksgiving with me. We cooked a turkey – the first time for each of us – and we had a great holiday.
We continued writing letters to each other on an almost-daily basis. We have a trunk of our love letters from that long-distance early courtship. (They are among my most cherished possessions.) Our long-distance phone calls became more frequent, and our trips to see each over long weekends became more frequent, even if we couldn’t at the time afford them.
In the process of all of this, we fell in love.
We invested a lot of energy, letter writing and phone calls to discovering more about each other. It wasn’t too long and we found ourselves talking about the future as if it was something we would some day share. We shared with each other about our goals, our fears and our values.
One night, in November of 1991, we were on our weekly phone call – Jerry in Ohio and me in Montana –and Jerry told me, something to this effect: I know we’re going to be together some day. And I know you’re probably getting asked by all of your friends, “Are you and Jerry going to get married?” Or “When are you and Jerry going to get married?” And I just want you to know that while I hope we will get married someday, I’m not going to be proposing this Christmas.”
I wasn’t disappointed, because I knew our love was real, and that the proposal would likely come at some point. It wasn’t like I was “waiting” to get married. I was starting my career in a place I loved, and our relationship felt strong and wonderful.
That said, I appreciated the conversation, and that Jerry gave me this “heads up.” Still, it felt a little awkward, so I quickly responded with, “That’s no problem at all, honey. In fact, what I really need – if you’re interested – are some new cross trainers. (I was playing a lot of racquetball at that time, and I did in fact need a new pair of shoes, what called at the time “cross trainers.” For those of you reading this who are too young to know what cross trainers are, they are a type of sports shoe suitable for a range of sporting or exercise activities.)
“Ideally, they’d be Reebok,” I added.
For some reason, that Christmas, I didn’t come home to Wyoming. I think it was because I was working my first career job as an advertising sales consultant at The Missoulian newspaper and was working through the holiday, not to mention I had no vacation time left due to the various Fridays I had taken off to visit Jerry in Dayton, Ohio. And, it should be mentioned I really needed to earn income, given the phone bills and plane ticket bills that were stacking up on the personal credit card.
Jerry was going to be flying into Missoula to spend the Christmas holiday with me, and he was due to arrive in the evening of Dec. 20.
Dec. 20, 1991, was a Friday, which meant I did as I usually did and went to Happy Hour at a favorite bar with some Missoulian coworkers. This particular bar had the best long island iced teas, and was famous for its “nachos bar.” We had a great time and I was excited and blabbing on and on to my coworkers about Jerry’s pending arrival and our upcoming time together. I indulged in only one beverage since I had to drive about 7 miles to the airport to meet and pick up Jerry.
I stopped at home first, where I had a message on my answering machine (do you remember what those were?!). It was a message from Jerry calling from his layover in the Denver airport, saying his flight would be delayed by an hour but that he couldn’t wait to see me. So I putzed around, trying to pass the time, feeling excited as I anticipated Jerry’s arrival.
Impatient, I headed to the airport early. In 1991, Missoula was about 35% smaller in population than it is now. The airport was quaint and not very big. I was one of the only ones at the airport and I was early, so I wandered around looking at the various house plants, and looking outside one of the windows every now and then.
At the time, my mode of transportation was a gray, Ford Taurus. And it burned oil. Or maybe it leaked oil. I have a great memory, but for some reason I can’t remember which problem the Taurus had. I just remember I was seemingly always adding oil to it “just to make sure” it had oil.
As I wandered around the airport, with nothing to do and time on my hands, it occurred to me to go add a quart of oil to the car while I had the time – and to ensure we’d make it back to my apartment with no vehicle problems. We didn’t want to squander any of our precious time on the side of the road with car problems fresh after being reunited. 🙂
As I was outside pouring oil into my car, I noticed a bearded man with a huge video camera over his shoulder. (People who are my age or older will remember that back in the early 1990s, a high quality video camera was big enough to hold a gigantic VHS tape, and then some, and it was so big that one had to “rest” it on your shoulder to bear its heavy weight and to keep it steady.) This man with the camera on his right shoulder seemed at first to be lurking a bit. It was as if he was trying to see my face as he walked by. I thought he was going to ask if I had car problems and if I needed help, but he just said “Hello,” and continued into the airport.
After I added the oil to the car, I did the same.
There was Christmas music playing throughout the airport and slowly, more people started arriving. Jerry’s flight, which had a brief stop to make in Bozeman, was due to arrive shortly. So I just waited and fidgeted. I was so excited to see Jerry! We were in love, and, well, the saying, distance makes the heart grow fonder, is absolutely true.
Those of us waiting for passengers that were on the flight, started to line up by the doors that would be the ones they would all came through after landing and disembarking the plane. I was first in line. Of course.
I waited in anticipation for those doors to open. And then they did. Passengers started coming through. There were many passengers. More than 100. The first few stopped as they approached me, and asked me, “Are you Shelli?” And I said, surprised and confused, “Yes.” At first, I thought the worst – that they were going to tell me Jerry didn’t get on the flight and that they were asked to pass a message along to me. I didn’t know why else they would ask me if I was Shelli.
But the crowd continued and each of them stopped when they got to me, and each stuck a Christmas bow to my body or head or handed me a bow, or patted me on the shoulder, saying, “Merry Christmas” or “Congratulations.” I was confused, and I was blushing from all of the attention.
Covered in bows and growing impatient to see my boyfriend, I just figured Jerry, who is romantic, wanted me to feel special, and maybe he thought having so many people wish me a Merry Christmas would make for an unforgettable experience. Mission accomplished. Now, where’s Jerry?! I thought to myself.
And then, “Ho Ho Ho.”
One more time, I heard a deep-voiced, loud “Ho Ho Ho.”
I looked up and – finally – I see Jerry, only he’s Santa Claus. Dressed in a Santa hat and coat, he rushed toward me and we embraced. Jerry hugged me so tightly that I was lifted off the ground. After he set me back on the ground, he looked at me, and exclaimed, “Merry Christmas!”
And then, next thing I know, Jerry’s on his knee, holding my hands and asking me to “open the present” that is taped to his chest. I peel off the wrapping paper from the front of his Santa coat, and there are the words: “Shelli: Will You Marry Me?”
I melt. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was getting cross trainers.
I said, YES! Of course I’ll marry you! We had some brief happy tears, and a little more public display of affection, before we heard applause and whooping and hollering.
The passengers and flight attendants that Jerry had enlisted during the flight to help him with his proposal, as well as others who had gathered out of curiosity, congratulated us. And there was champagne! The flight attendants located a few bottles of champagne and poured several small servings to distribute to everyone. It was a fantastic celebration for us, and it was meaningful to share it with a bunch of wonderful strangers who had played a part in helping Jerry propose to me.
Oh, and this is all on video. Remember the bearded man with the huge video camera on his shoulder who seemed to be lurking? That was a guy also named Jerry, who Jerry had hired to capture the whole event. The moment is recorded! (Unfortunately it’s on VHS, but I’m getting it transferred to digital as I write this.)
Jerry and I celebrated 25 years of marriage this past August. We have three sons – Wolf, 17, Hayden, 15, and Fin, 10, who are our greatest blessings. This memory of when Jerry asked me to be his wife, and when I said Yes, is a significant one because, in fact, I would not have this great life, or our sons, if not for Jerry choosing me and asking me to marry him on this day 26 years ago.
I feel compelled to mention here that just because Jerry and I are still deeply in love and celebrated our 25th anniversary doesn’t mean our marriage hasn’t been at times challenging or that it’s all bliss all the time. That would be lying. We have done a lot of work, and growing, and overcoming of struggles, to get to where we’re at.
This year, to commemorate our 25th anniversary we embarked on a 25-mile day hike that included climbing a (previously) unnamed mountain that is dear to us. That 25-mile epic journey was similar to the 25-year epic journey that has been our marriage. It was 10.5 miles of hiking before we even got to the part where would start climbing our mountain. At times, the terrain was loose and felt uncertain. The adventure had many sections that were just sheer work. At a couple of points, clouds came in quickly and we grew concerned, causing us to check in with each other and make sure we were in agreement on continuing or playing it safe. At times we wondered if we were up to the task. We got tired often, demotivated at times, and every now and again, impatient with one another. There were times when I was strong and Jerry wasn’t, and the other way around. There was also a lot fun, great conversations, laughing, inspirations, amazing views, and an epic celebration, complete with champagne, on the mountain’s summit. Like I said, our 25-mile day hike and mountain climb was a perfect metaphor for our 25 years of marriage. It was the best kind of celebration. Hard-earned and fulfilling.
I’m so glad I didn’t get cross trainers. 🙂
People like Warren Buffett and Sheryl Sandberg have referred to the choosing of a partner in life as being the most important decision one will make in his/her life. I couldn’t agree more.
A couple of my closest friends get a little irritated when I refer to Jerry as my best half. Not because they think he’s not amazing, but because they are my close friends and they don’t want me to sell myself short. That’s kind of them, and I love them dearly for it. But I’m sorry, friends. Jerry is my best half. Most, if not all of my successes in the last 25 years would not have been possible without the unconditional love and support that Jerry provides for me. I wouldn’t take the chances that I take with my business and work without his belief and love and support. It’s that simple. And we wouldn’t be living this epic life if Jerry weren’t such a fantastic “trooper” and so open to an adventurous life.
Thank you with all of my heart for reading this, and for walking with me down this memory’s lane.
I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and happy new year!