Simon and I were inseparable once I moved to Texas. There were a few moments where he would not-so-eloquently tell me to go away and give him space. But he was usually just hungry or tired and got over it pretty quick. We all get like that from time to time, amiright? We spent the next three months just living life and seeing if it would be sweeter together. I got a job at a dysfunctional, family run bank (which could be its own novel), he worked at a hotel. We spent our time outside of work trying new restaurants, hanging out with friends, attending church events, and really doing whatever young people do without family nearby, with disposable income, and with time! Sometimes I would just read a book in the hotel lobby where he worked, stealing glances with him in between guest check-ins. One time we contemplated a “quick” 12 hour drive to Albuquerque for a green chile hamburger. We didn’t end up going, but we could have if we wanted to.
By April 2004, after a whopping six months of dating, we both knew it was time to put a ring on it. He thought a simple band would aptly represent our love but I insisted that a diamond, albeit small, would hurt the wallet a little more thus firming up the commitment. Stupid reasoning, but I was set on getting a diamond. C’mon. They’re sparkly.
I knew Simon had the ring in his possession and that engagement was imminent. He mentioned he had known where he was going to propose since he was 14. That felt a little impersonal to me. Simon had been an avid Boy Scout so I was starting to worry that getting that ring would involve a hike, mud, bugs, and tying knots. Still worth it – so I mentally prepared myself to get out of my comfort zone.
On Tuesday, April 6th, 2004, we both took the day off work. He said we were taking the three hour drive from Dallas to Atlanta, his hometown. Note: Atlanta, TX is not the same as Atlanta, GA. Atlanta, TX is a sweet little town of 5,000 that makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time and regained some innocence in the process. Atlanta, GA is a big city where you take the MARTA and eat burgers at The Varsity. Clear as mud? Great. So, we’re driving to Atlanta, TX. He pulls over about an hour outside of the town and goes to pee on the side of the road. Tres romantique. He continued along Highway 77 until we were almost within Atlanta city limits. He pulls over on the side of the road again. Figuring he was peeing AGAIN, I sat there, slightly frustrated, looking at my poor bare left ring finger. He wasn’t getting back in the car so I got out to see what the problem was.
We were on a quiet stretch of the highway shoulder by a large tree and he was staring up into it. I hadn’t noticed that tree before in our many trips to Atlanta. East Texas is close to Louisiana and Arkansas and it’s considered the Piney Woods region. Lots of tall, thin trees and swamp areas. But we were standing under a very sturdy, old oak tree. There weren’t many trees like that in the area. Simon said that tree was special. He explained that his grandparents used to visit the tree over 50 years ago. He said they got engaged under the tree and went on to start a beautiful family. Then Simon got a little teary and a little shaky and said he wanted to start a beautiful family with me. The sparkly ring came out and I said yes. No hike, no mud. Only a perfect tree.
His parents and my parents were already in the loop. His mom had a heart-shaped cake waiting for us at the house and my parents were happy to receive the call that I accepted the proposal (like there was any doubt!). Simon had plucked a few flowers from around the tree before we left. We drove to his grandparents house and he gave the flowers to his grandmother. “Where did you get these?” she asked. “At your tree.” He replied. She responded, “What were you doing there?” He smiled, “Gettin’ engaged.”
Five years later, Simon’s dad’s highway construction company was awarded a job to expand the highway shoulders. Our tree was slated for removal. His dad did the best he could to avoid the orders but eventually had to cut it down and slather that sacred ground in asphalt. But since he had to haul away the tree, he had special plans for that sturdy trunk that was so much more than dead wood. He had rocking chairs carved for Simon’s grandparents and a large hope chest made for us that sits in our bedroom to this day.