A new engagement

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I spent several evenings poring over maps and sunset tables. Tulsa doesn't have an ocean nearby, but I thought there had to be some place where you could see the sun set over the water. Somehow, in the days before the World Wide Web, I was able to figure out the approximate point on the horizon where the sun would be on the target day: Saturday, January 21, 1989. And then I found my spot on a fishing map of Lake Keystone that I'd picked up on one of our rambling Saturday drives: Walnut Creek State Park, west of Prue on the north shore. There was a peninsula that jutted far enough south, and the lake ran straight due west far enough, that it should be the right spot to see the sun go down over the water.

A day or two before the big day, I left work early to drive out and see if my calculations were on target, and to scout out a good spot to sit with a view of the lake.

Saturday morning I drove from my 1985 Toyota Camry from my apartment on the east side of Place One (3249) over to her place on the other side of Cincinnati (3252) to pick her up. We were going to the Audubon Society's bald eagle watching event just below Keystone Dam. She grew up learning about all sorts of wildlife, particularly wild birds and sea creatures, from her parents as they went on family outings to the Delaware beaches and looked out the back window to the creek and woods beyond her suburban Maryland yard. It would be exciting to see the national bird in the wild.

The weather would be nice: About freezing in the morning, but getting up into the 50s, mild for January, and sunny. We drove across the 21st Street Bridge, then out Adams Road, State Highway 51, and onto old 51 -- the road that once upon a time went to the town of Keystone, now sunk beneath the waters of the lake that took its name. We joined the other eagle watchers in the parking area on the south side of the river. We could watch the eagles in flight from there, but to get a good look at eagles in their nests, we were put on a bus to the north side, where the Audubon Society had telescopes set up.

When the tour ended, it was a bit early for lunch, so we wandered around Keystone State Park, walked along the shore and talked. Lunch was at the Pizza Hut in Mannford.

She had gone to the library a couple of days earlier to photocopy Consumer Reports reviews of CD players. She wanted one to go with her new Bose Acoustic Wave machine. We talked about features and options and looked over the ratings while we waited for the food.

I suggested that we drive over to Cleveland, so I could show her the house where my great-grandparents, Henry Cleveland and Ocie Rose Crider, had lived on the southeast corner of Kiowa and Division.

(They both passed away in the mid-'70s, my last living relatives who had seen the 19th century. Their house was an interesting place to visit when I was a kid, with a refrigerator that ran on natural gas, collectible plates and figurines all over the place, wall plaques of their two cats, and a big old-fashioned console radio at the end of the hall. There were apple trees in the side yard. The covered front porch was broad and concrete, with some old metal lawn chairs, but everyone came in through the kitchen door.)

I think she suspected at this point that something was up. We'd gone on plenty of Saturday drives, visiting historic places, looking for ghost towns, but this seemed a bit more rambling than usual. Like I was killing time for some reason.

We had been dating for about three years, since the intersemester January (IAP, as we say at MIT) I spent in Tulsa my senior year. I came home after graduation, looked for work close to her in Arkansas, but found a job in Tulsa. We traveled to see each other three weekends out of four. Marriage seemed a likely prospect, but we both thought we needed some time living in the same town, around each other more than just a couple of days at a time, before we took the leap. Through a friend from church, she got a job with American Airlines, working on a support desk for the Sabre reservation system, diagnosing hardware problems over the phone for travel agents. She moved to Tulsa in the April of '88. Her little sister was spending a college year abroad, and there were suggestions that if we were to plan a certain big event, it would be nice to plan it soon enough and for a time when her sister would be in the country.

We stopped in a convenience store on the north side of Cleveland to get a couple of pops and a snack. This was the headline on the Daily Oklahoman:

Bush Calls for "New Engagement"

41st President Inaugurates "Age of the Offered Hand"

"Everyone's after me to propose!" I exclaimed in mock complaint.

We drove up to New Prue Road, a county road that would take us along the north side of the lake to Walnut Creek State Park. (I don't remember when or how I explained going into Walnut Creek State Park, except that it was someplace we hadn't been before. Maybe I said we could watch the sun set over the water before we went home.) We parked by a picnic table (the one I had scouted), went walking around by the shore, then came back to the table. It was about 5, the sun was getting low in the sky, and I said we were going to have an evening devotional.

I had become interested in Episcopal liturgy, and had my Bible, a copy of the 1978 Book of Common Prayer, and a 1982 Hymnal. I led us, inexpertly, through Evening Prayer Rite II, including singing a non-metrical version of O Gracious Light which was hard to sing, and she corrected me on a tricky interval. (She's a much better sight-singer than I am.)

The sun neared the horizon as we finished the readings and prayers. Things are a bit fuzzy at this point, but this much is clear: I got down on one knee, got a box with a ring out of my coat pocket, and asked her to marry me, and she said yes.

Somewhere in our house there's a self-timed, flash-fill photo of us sitting together with the sun setting over the lake in the background.

As we walked back to the car to head home, she noticed that the full moon was coming up. We drove to a spot on the east side of the peninsula where we could see the moon over the water. As we watched, a great blue heron flew from south to north across the disc of the moon.

Six months and a day later she said yes again, or specifically, "for better or worse, for richer or poorer."

Lately she's been putting with a lot more worse than better. The three-year-old has an ear infection; the eight-year-old just got over one. And me -- you know what's been going on with me.

Thank you, Mikki, and happy engagement anniversary, such as it is. I love you. Thanks for saying yes all those years ago.

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bm said:

What a wonderful story, Michael. You should really post the flash-fill photograph of you two. I bet you had sideburns and a pocket protector, didn't you? :)
Wait.. those were in the seventies, weren't they?

Who says geeks aren't romantic? We geeks are just lucky when we find a fellow romantic geek. You're blessed to have found yours!
It's really good to concentrate on the goodness we have in our lives. Kinda makes all the bad seem to disappear for awhile.

Congratulations to you and Mikki.

Erin said:

Oh, I love engagement stories! Yours is beautiful. And I truly think there is something about Oklahoma lakes...they soothe the soul. Sorry for what's going on with you.

LaRueLaDue said:

As I was reading this, I was wondering what was up with January 21st... This happens to be my birthday, and I was wondering what momentous event was coming up in the narrative that I was not aware of... Once I got to it, I smiled and thought about my own youthful days... Nice post!

RecycleMichael said:

Your story is way better than mine.

I smiled at a woman in an elevator then turned away. Next thing I know I am waking up with bump on my head and a ring on my finger.

Thanks for the laugh, RM!

Brent Taylor Author Profile Page said:

Well Michael Bates,

After you're through fighting the city hall slugs, I do think there is the budding 2nd career of romance novelist.

And I would like to brag that I asked my beautiful bride of 20+ years to marry me from a secret spot I had staked out, looking directly at Longs Peak of Rocky Mountain National Park fame. I picked out this spot hoping the mountain air and low oxygen would make her weak-minded, before she wised up and ran me off.

It may have been my one and only stab at real romance, but it worked.

Alan Bates said:

This is a great story, well told.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 21, 2009 10:40 PM.

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