A single question, asked on this couch changed everything. Thirty-one years ago today I lived in a tiny apartment in Chicago on Dearborn street, worked in an advertising agency and stopped for groceries at Treasure Island after getting off the El-train. Snowflakes mixed with yellow gingko leaves on the sidewalk as I slushed my boots into 1100 N. Dearborn. I pressed the 19th floor elevator button and checked out my hair in the mirrored glass. We’d decided earlier in the day to go pick out a Christmas tree that evening. After dropping my groceries onto the only counter in my “galley” kitchen, which is a romantic city term for inadequate kitchen, I changed into jeans and a Christmas sweater. This was the end of the 80’s — people wore gaudy sweaters for real, not as a joke at corporate Christmas parties.
Over on Rush street a bar with outdoor seating beckoned commuters, a busy watering hole called Melvins. During holiday season they filled the red-painted wrought iron furniture with Christmas trees beneath multi-colored lights, the old fashioned kind our grandparents hung on their trees with single colored, large light bulbs. The evergreen smell and warm, holiday glow created an oasis in the city rush.
He tucked his gloved hand into my mitten. We found a tree that might fit. I took the top and he carried the trunk. City lights and taxi horns mingled with the “Charlie Brown Christmas” theme song as we carried my first “big” Christmas tree back to my first “big” one bedroom apartment.
“I think I’ll take a shower,” I said. The tree sap pinned my fingers together and I felt sweaty. Radiator heat equals boiling hot, unadjustable indoor temperatures. We’d wrestled the tree into the stand and moved the furniture around to make space for it. “Oh, okay,” he said with a puzzled look.
I emerged in a yellow robe and hair up in a towel, (we’d been dating for six years so this was not a big deal.) Slumping down next to him on the couch I noticed he looked pale, almost gaunt. He gathered my hands in his sweaty palms, “We’ve been together for awhile. We both love family and I want that to continue, to grow. I want us to have our own family someday. I want what we have to go on.” Oh, how I could not believe I’m sitting in a robe with no make-up on at this moment. He slid off the couch onto his knees. “Will you marry me?”
“Of course I will!” I laughed, screamed, and surprisingly did not cry. Being sneaky, he’d tucked the ring box behind a pillow on the couch. After we finished hugging (and of course, kissing) we sat back and stared at each other, he handed it to me. Laughing louder, I opened the black, velvet box and to my shock there was a ring inside, his grandmother’s ring which I knew nothing about. I’d been expecting a cigar band with a cute message written inside, something like, “I.O.U. an incredible ring when I’m a successful lawyer someday.” We’d never looked at rings or even talked about them and he slid his grandmother’s beautiful ring on my finger. My “of course I will” went silent. To this day, it is the most special ring in the world.
The view this morning from this couch is a world of white. First rain, then ice, then snow coated all the trees in our neighborhood and it stuck. Just like his question 31 years ago today. It stuck. In an age of IKEA furniture that ends up out on the curb and disposable Joanna Gaines signs, I hope this Advent we seek after something that sticks, something that lasts. My parents bought this couch on their honeymoon for ten dollars off the porch of the Thorp Hotel in Fish Creek. WI. It still says “ten dollars” in pencil on the bottom. Then it moved to our back porch in Geneva, IL and held many dressed up girls at birthday parties, then on to my studio apartment and down the hall to apt. 1901, my one bedroom and now it’s back home where it began. We changed the color from white to forest green and each spring we take the wicker furniture outside and touch up the chipped paint. My mother and father take naps on the couch they bought on their honeymoon, our friends laugh and cry as we tell stories and drink craft beer around the fire. This couch…his question…the pure joy of something that lasts. And today, “Of course I will, my love.”
Part one of a four part Advent series on the tangible and intangible aspects of life that last.
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