As the schmaltziest holiday approaches, these couples give love a good name
Each February we media consumers get whomped over the heads with sappy romance stuff — longing love songs, movies starring Kate Hudson and/or Matthew McConaughey and those tear-jerking diamond commercials, to name a few.
Though these things entertain and sometimes stir up pleasant sensations in our guts, they are contrived, fantastical and primarily aimed at selling us something.
This month, we give you the Advocate antidote for the cynicism that no doubt digs deeper into our psyche with each passing year: a collection of true love stories from our real-life neighbors, complete with all the awkwardness and authenticity unseen in cheesy movies.
Aubrie and Adam
“Life is a musical,” says Aubrie Nelson, laughing. “For me at least. He calls me an iPod,” she says, shrugging in the direction of her fiancé, Adam Ashenfelter.
“Give her a song and she’ll start singing,” Ashenfelter agrees.
“My friends say this was the perfect proposal for me,” Nelson says. “He really catered it to me and my personality.”
The couple finishes each other’s sentences as they excitedly describe Ashenfelter’s larger-than-life marriage proposal.
“I just thought, you’re only going to do this once,” Ashenfelter explains.
Ashenfelter knew right away that he wanted to marry Nelson — although he doesn’t readily admit it because “that would sound crazy.” They met on Feb. 24, 2012, went on their first date the next day, and spent almost every day after that together. Roughly three months later, in May, Ashenfelter decided to go with his gut, which told him to pop the question.
“Then it was just, how am I going to do it and when?” he says.
He sought counsel from his sisters. Since Nelson is an event supervisor at the Dallas Arboretum, Ashenfelter knew he wanted to do something that incorporated her work. His sister had an idea: Stage a flash mob.
At first Ashenfelter shrugged it off. How would he pull off a flash mob? But the idea stuck. So, he turned to Google for help and found Flash Mob America, a production company that organizes seemingly spontaneous public performances across the nation. After filling out the application form, Ashenfelter soon received a call from FMA: They were in, and it would be their first production in Dallas!
On July 23, Nelson had a big day ahead of her at work. She was told Dallas Arboretum president Mary Brinegar was speaking at a garden party that evening, and the night had to be flawless. Nelson showed up at 4 p.m. and received her work orders, just like a typical day — except something seemed off. Someone had already escorted the guests inside, which is typically Nelson’s job.
“I think Angela [Rollins, Nelson’s boss] was trying to get me to do as little as possible, so that I wasn’t running around,” Nelson says.
On top of that, as people kept showing up, Nelson wasn’t sure who they were or what to do with them. Rollins gave Nelson a mic and told her to go to the front because the Arboretum president was on her way.
Suddenly, a man in the crowd started singing loudly — and he didn’t stop. As he made his way to the front of the crowd, belting out “Everything” by Michael Bublé, Nelson gave him a no-nonsense headshake. Then the song started playing over the loud speakers and the crowd in front of her quickly formed rows and began dancing a choreographed routine. One of the FMA actresses standing beside Nelson on the stage kept asking what was going on, but Nelson told her she didn’t know.
Halfway through the dance, it dawned on Nelson what was happening. When the actress asked again, Nelson told her, “I think my boyfriend is here,” as she searched the crowd for his face. At the end of the song, the “audience” formed a tunnel with their hands and bodies, leading from the back of the crowd to the front. Ashenfelter dashed through the tunnel to where Nelson was waiting, and dropped to his knee.
Somewhere between crying happy tears and frantically waving her hands, Nelson said “yes” and put on Ashenfelter’s ring.
“I guess he made my dreams a reality that day,” Nelson concludes, reflecting on the real-life musical her fiancé staged just for her.
Ashenfelter says he’s just glad the secret-keeping is over. Well, and the planning.
Simone and Jaime
Match.com is often a place where strangers meet. But as Simone and Jaime Garner began chatting through the dating website in 2005, the world seemed to shrink.
Turns out, both of them grew up in the same area and went to Bryan Adams High School, where Simone hung out with two of Jaime’s younger sisters. She and Jaime never met.
Simone’s family also is intricately connected to Jaime’s. Her godmother served as a nanny for Jaime’s great-aunt and great-uncle while the military family was stationed in Germany. Jaime’s extended family later sponsored her to come to the United States where she became close friends with Simone’s grandmother in small-town San Angelo.
At a funeral, Simone and Jaime discovered their family plots right next to each other.
“There are so many coincidences, you’re not even surprised by them anymore,” Jaime says.
About eight months after meeting and four months after moving in together, Jaime and Simone went for a walk along a beach in Cancún, where Jaime proposed with a souvenir ring he bought in the town. The couple married in 2006 and is expecting a baby at the end of July.
“It makes you question faith,” Simone says. “It makes you really wonder if we’re destined or meant to be together. It makes you wonder if you’re truly in this life plan to meet a certain person and be with them forever.”
When Simone moved into Jaime’s house and began organizing the furniture, she says she started to cry bittersweet tears knowing that their relationship was the real deal.
“I was happy but at the same time saying goodbye to the single girl, because I knew this is it.”
Traditional roles don’t apply in the Garner household. Jaime, who has volunteered and worked at Alex Sanger Elementary School, is great with kids and loves to cook. Simone shares the chores and is a bit fiery, they say.
“We can butt heads from time to time, but we always come back to each other,” Jaime says. “I don’t dole out rings to just anybody.”
“You better not,” Simone says.
Chris and Lori
Twelve-year-old Chris Prestridge knew the minute he laid eyes on Lori that he was going to marry her. Unfortunately for him, it took Lori 12 more years to come to the same conclusion.
Chris’ first impression of Lori was that she was an “angel on earth.”
“Sounds crazy, but I really felt love at first sight,” he says.
Lori’s first impression of Chris wasn’t so glamorous. “I didn’t like him,” she recalls, laughing.
But they soon became friends anyway, and then best friends. Even though they didn’t attend the same schools, they always stayed close. Chris made his intentions known to Lori — and to everyone else, including her parents (who loved him by the way): He was going to marry her someday.
“I told Lori many times to ‘let me know’ when she was ready. She always laughed it off but I knew one day she would come around,” he says.
They both dated other people, and Lori even had a serious relationship in college.
To her, Chris was just Chris. “And I did love him,” she says. “I just wasn’t in love with him, you know?”
When Lori was 24, she and a friend drove to Garland from Denton to go to a concert with Chris. When her friend saw how Lori and Chris interacted, she told Lori, “You know, if I had someone who loved me like that, I would definitely take a second look.”
That was when the light bulb came on, Lori explains. “I didn’t want to think about him like that, but then I realized I did have feelings for him.”
After talking it over with her mom, who told her if she broke Chris’s heart, she’d never forgive her, Lori mulled it over, and then finally made the call.
“I’m ready,” she told him.
It took him a little while to believe her, of course, but soon they were dating and then married in September 1993.
“He’s just a great guy,” Lori gushes. “I respect him more than anyone else, and I think he respects me more than anyone else.”
Two decades and two kids later, they’re still living happily ever after.
“We are still the best of friends. Our love has never wavered through thick and thin. Our connection is soul deep,” Chris says.
“I still feel like that lovesick boy … when I see her across a crowded room or look into her eyes. I feel like the luckiest man in the world every day.”
Mildred and Glen
After almost 67 years of marriage, Mildred Haedge still knows her husband Glen’s military serial number by heart, even though she forgets her own social security number. She spent 33 months writing letters to him during World War II before they were officially engaged.
“I always say it took me six years and two weeks to get him to the altar,” Mildred says.
The two met in 1940 at a church convention. Mildred lived in Austin and Glen in Dallas, so their long courtship consisted mostly of letter writing, though Glen visited several times. In May 1941, they shared their first kiss and spent an afternoon dressed up in their Sunday best drinking Dr Pepper on a motorboat on Lake Austin.
Mildred and Glen only saw each other a few times before he went overseas but built their relationship on paper and postage.
“We did so much writing to each other. We loved each other,” Mildred says.
When the United States entered the war in 1941, Glen — who was an army private — asked Mildred to wait for him. He spent a couple years training in the United States and eventually headed to Africa, Italy, France and finally Germany, where he was wounded. One month before the war ended, Glen stepped on a landmine that broke his femur and shattered his knee. He was carried on a door from aid station to aid station, about six of which gave him morphine shots.
“I felt like I’d made it through the war because you were in danger of getting killed every day and when I got wounded, I wouldn’t have to face that death every day,” Glen says.
In July 1945, he was sent to the only Texas military hospital that could treat his wounds, in El Paso. Mildred and her mother hopped on a Greyhound bus in August and went to see him for the first time in almost three years. Glen and Mildred married on June 30, 1946.
Mildred and Glen, who now live together in C.C. Young Retirement Community, were separated again recently. Glen moved to the community’s nursing building after heart trouble. For two years, Mildred walked across the community campus once or twice a day to visit him. They now share an assisted living residence at C.C. Young.
“We’re just glad to be back together,” Mildred says.
After significant time apart, the secret of their marriage is in their togetherness, they say.
“That’s the main thing: putting up with each other,” Glen says. “If we get to arguing with each other, we put up with that.”
“And then we settle it before we go to bed,” Mildred says.
Elaine and Fred
Only three dates. That’s all it took for Fred and Elaine Ekmark to decide to marry.
Well, three dates plus months of hounding on the part of Fred’s sister, Anna, to convince them to go on a date in the first place.
Leah Ekmark, Fred and Elaine’s daughter, says her aunt Anna worked with Elaine at the time, and used the broken record strategy to convince her friend and her brother to meet.
“My mom and dad both said the same thing to my aunt, the matchmaker: ‘Fine, I’ll do it but I’m not looking to get married any time soon.’ ” Leah says. “They went on their blind date, and apparently they really hit it off because by the second date they were talking about marriage and on the third date my dad proposed!”
Elaine recalls their first date a bit differently. She later told Anna, “There weren’t any bells and whistles, but he was nice.” Fred, however, left with a different feeling.
“On the first date, it was just like, ‘I want to see that girl some more.’ ”
Fred was 27, and Elaine — then McGarr — was 23. She’d dated plenty of young men, and had even turned down a couple marriage proposals. Of course that made Fred
nervous, but he was also confident Elaine was the one.
On their third date, Fred took Elaine to a seafood restaurant. Suddenly Fred couldn’t wait any longer. He reached across the table, took Elaine’s hand and asked her the life-changing question that was heavy on his mind, “Will you marry me?”
Naturally, Elaine was surprised. But by then, she knew enough to know her answer.
“I said, ‘Yes,’ ” Elaine recalls.
They announced the engagement to their friends and loved ones, and picked a date for the wedding before Fred had even met Elaine’s parents. Elaine’s mother, however, was trusting of her daughter’s discernment, and in a letter to Elaine, she wrote, “I know he must be a fine person for you to have fallen in love with him.” She assured her daughter that “there’s no way you can tell just how long you have to know someone before you can fall in love.”
Anna knew that her friend and brother would hit it off; she just didn’t realize it would be so quickly.
“My aunt went out of town for a little over a week when my parents had their first date,” Leah says. “By the time she came back, they were engaged!”
They have been married for 38 years and raised two children — Leah, 31, and her brother Ryan, 34
. Fred and Elaine agree that the key was being willing to wait until the right person
came along and being smart enough to know when it happened.
In one of Fred’s letters to Elaine during their engagement, he wrote that it took an extra special girl to turn his
head, “but it sure was worth the wait.”
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