Sister Frances Marie, a Passionist Sister of St. Joseph Monastery in Whitesville, Kentucky, expected contemplative…
After 20 years, a love that has withstood life’s ups and downs
What I remember most is the box. Small and square, it was covered in black velvet. Out of excitement and nervousness, I had opened and closed it so many times that, within weeks, its material was worn thin and its hinge was unsteady.
Twenty years ago this week, I asked my wife to marry me. I am beyond blessed that she still has the contents of that box wrapped around her ring finger.
Like many couples, we met at work. Unlike many couples, that work included zipping the coats and tying the shoes of 3-year-olds. We worked at a day care center — her, while finishing college, and me, while I took classes and worked nights part-time at our local newspaper.
She was almost as gorgeous then as she is now, with her big, soft green eyes and wide smile. What set her apart then — and still sets her apart now — is her impeccable character and incredible morality. She was the first faithful Catholic I had ever been around, and she truly couldn’t have been a better model of the Faith.
After falling in love and dating for a year, I got a phone call out of the blue from a former colleague. He had become the sports editor at a paper in Vero Beach, Florida, and offered me my first full-time sportswriting job. Take a couple of days and think it over, he said.
At the time, I was taking the scenic route toward my degree, working nights at the paper and seeing Erin as much as possible. With her, I was the happiest I’d ever been. But I was also adrift. As my writing was getting better, my focus on school was getting worse. I was 22. It was Florida. Full-time writer. Take a couple of days and think it over.
I only vaguely remember the tearful conversations I had with Erin about moving 1,200 miles away, but I have no doubt she was tremendously supportive. Two weeks after getting the phone call, I left school, my family and Erin. But I was a full-time writer — in Florida!
I was miserable from Day 1. Erin and I talked on the phone nearly every night (this was before unlimited long-distance, let alone video, chats). We would exchange long letters (actual letters — with stamps, not emails). I still have the ones she sent me. I need to read them more often.
About six weeks after I had left, she came down for Christmas and New Year’s. We rang in the millennia together, and I knew then that being with her was more important than anything else in my life.
It didn’t take long after that to find the perfect ring. I flew home and surprised her on her 21st birthday. The gift I gave her at dinner was a small, four-panel picture frame. In each panel was a picture of me holding a piece of paper with the words “Will you marry me?” It sounds cheesy now, but it seemed romantic then. I was so nervous that I forgot to get down on one knee. We still have the pictures in that frame. I need to look at it more often.
Engaged, I flew back to Florida alone. By summertime, I was desperate to leave the job — and the place — that I thought would make me happy. I felt confident enough after a job interview as a sports copy editor in my hometown that I quit and moved back before actually getting a job offer. Regardless, because I was with Erin, I was home.
The job offer came, and the following summer we were married. And through losing loved ones and having kids, job losses and job changes, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, Erin has remained my home, and I love her now more than ever.
But I need to remember to show her that love. And it’s not easy. We get caught up in focusing only on our daily tasks instead of stepping back from time to time and admiring and appreciating the amazing (but crazy) life we’ve built with our six children.
Twenty years ago, almost to the day, I opened that well-worn velvet box and asked her to marry me. Twenty years ago, I would tell her often how beautiful she was. She is more beautiful now, and I rarely tell her. Twenty years ago, I wrote her long letters to express my love. I need to do that more often.
Consider this the first.
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.