My girlfriend wanted to go take pictures at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens. We’d been there the weekend prior and everything was gloriously in bloom. So she wanted to go back, this time with a camera. It didn’t sound suspicious–we go to the Huntington all the time–but as we got dressed, the thought did cross my mind: “is she…”
You’d think knowing this might be “the day” would keep me from wearing the ugly hat I impulse bought at an outlet on the way to Joshua Tree. It did not.
I noticed her checking her phone on the sly as we walked into the gardens, but she said it was a fraud alert from her credit card company (smooth).
She wanted to start her photo safari at the mausoleum. It’s a gorgeous spot, flanked by an orange grove on one side and a path lined with towering trees on another (aka the entrance to the estate where Kristen Wiig is attending a bridal shower in Bridesmaids).
Mausoleums, by their nature, are always a little macabre, but the Huntington’s gleams like a Grecian beacon in the Pasadena sun.
As we got within view, my girlfriend behaved strangely. Like she walked in a circle. Then she made eye contact with a groundskeeper who was resting in a golf cart nearby. The groundskeeper motored over to us and handed my girlfriend a cut blossom, which is against many Huntington rules, but my girlfriend had worked in secret to make it happen.
One perfectly white flower, coupled with a bud closed tight, on a deep green stem with a pair of shapely leaves. It looked like a piece of art. “This is for you,” said the groundskeeper to my girlfriend before she slowly motored away.
For a moment I thought she was hitting on my girlfriend, but then my girlfriend lost the ability to speak and started to cry. Either she’d brought me here to tell me she was having an affair with the groundskeeper, or she was about to “pop the question.”
What a weird phrase that is… pop the question. Although having been on the other side of said question, it did just sort of pop out of my girlfriend’s mouth. She couldn’t find any words and then she handed me the flower and “I want to know if you’ll marry me” tumbled out.
As individuals, we’re both shy and often quiet. Together, you can’t shut us up. Maybe that’s why my girlfriend hadn’t prepared anything to say. She didn’t predict getting emotional and tongue-tied. She probably didn’t predict that in this important moment in both of our lives I would be wearing a dumb hat. But she did and I was and we hugged and kissed and then took a seat on a nearby bench.
My mom knew she’d marry my dad because when they were at a department store looking at Corningware (it was the 70s), my mom said, “if I was getting married, I’d get that pattern,” and my dad said, “then I think you should get it.”
My brother’s proposal was a day long affair. He had a driver take his girlfriend on a tour of locations they’d visited during their courtship, ending at a favorite restaurant where the chef (a well-known Top Chef contestant), greeted my now sister-in-law and walked her out to a small patio where my brother was waiting. He proposed and then a bunch of their friends showed up and they partied the night away.
There is a spectrum for proposals: casual to elaborate. My brother’s seemed like it was solidly elaborate when it happened, but I’ve seen so many viral videos of complex proposals since that his seems almost quaint.
It’s easy to believe that the level of complexity (and publicness) of a proposal indicates the level of love or commitment between the people getting engaged. There is, of course, no such correlation.
But still, “is this enough” is what I found myself thinking as we got comfy on the bench.
Now, I can answer that question with a clear “yes.” It was absolutely enough and it was very “us.”
Side-by-side on our bench, we took a moment to look at each other and tell each other why we wanted to get married.
An old couple walked nearby, treading a path it seemed they’d tread many times before. We watched them. The wife said, “oh look, there’s still some snow on the mountains.” Her husband stopped, put a hand on her shoulder and looked where she was pointing. “And so there is,” he said in a warm tone. They looked comfortable and content. The way they stopped to share the same small observation was charming.
They walked off and a slight breeze began to rustle the leaves of the tall surrounding trees, making that beautiful leaf rustling sound.
A pair of butterflies fluttered past like they were dancing.
The Huntington calls the mausoleum “a temple dedicated to eternal love.”
That’s where we got engaged.