There is a bit of history behind the occasion of my marriage to Meg. I was just at the tail end of a lengthy and nasty divorce and custody fight, and Meg and I were quite anxious to formalize the union that we had made a commitment to 3 years prior. But the wedding needn’t be grandiose or extravagant; we wanted something simple and intimate. And let’s be honest, we needed something inexpensive.
Many years ago, Meg’s grandmother had visited the shores of the Fox River to a place called Pottawatomie Park, a common location for a Sunday afternoon among Chicago’s more well-off residents. This park was the location of my first date with Meg, when I followed her around like a puppy and she essentially ignored me for the bulk of the rainy afternoon. We were both about 14 years old at the time.
So when it came to choosing a location for our nuptials, the brand new — and gorgeous — pavilion at Pottawatomie Park made perfect sense. So on the really damn cold afternoon of April 6th, 2002, we stood before about 40 family and guests, and said our vows under the watch of officiant Rev. Pat Kitner, a dear family friend since Meg and I knew each other as teenagers.
To our knowledge, we were the first persons ever married in that structure, as it had just been opened to the public merely a few weeks before, and the Park District was not even taking reservations for events at the facility when we commandeered it that afternoon. A small piece of historical trivia that, due to its subterfuge, few will know about.
But on the day of our anniversary, every year for the previous 10, we have walked down to the pavilion together, stood in the place where we took our vows, and danced the first dance as husband and wife to this song, just as we did that day.
Unfortunately, with me 1800 miles away and money for plane tickets in short supply, that tradition had to come to an end this year.
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Meg and I have birthdays less than a month apart, and often times instead of exchanging gifts, we choose to give a single present to ourselves. More often than not that takes the form of a weekend out of town, a rare and precious respite from the continuous and often exhausting tasks of work and parenting.
Our first was a dash to St. Louis, to visit one of my best friends and hop around the city for a bit. We had what is still to this day one of the most heavenly desserts known to mankind, came very close to seeing a Blues hockey game, and we spanned the miles to this outing by means of the very first plane flight Meg had ever taken.
Later into our marriage it was an overnight trip to this bed & breakfast in Whitewater, WI. We happened upon the town on a weekend when the students were on Spring Break, and the city was nearly empty. So we enjoyed a lovely dinner, watching a little basketball as our favorite NCAA team the Michigan State Spartans fought their way into the Final Four, and spent the night… (*ahem*) uhhh, sleeping… in a wonderfully luxurious king sized bed.
That was also the weekend when we had the most amazing breakfast we have ever had, and ever expect to have. One member of the husband and wife team who run the B&B is a gourmet chef (I forget which one), and the food was simply out of this world. We savored every bite, enjoying it in the privacy of a small table for 2 in the breakfast nook in our room, sun streaming through the white lace curtains in the early-spring morning.
Most recently was a trip to Milwaukee, when we were in town to see a marvelous play written and produced by one of Meg’s co-workers at the time. After another delightful stay at one of the downtown hotels — one featuring, we were pleased to discover, a stylish and quite well-constructed desk — we spent the following morning at the lakefront, enjoying the scenery and the striking architecture of the Milwaukee Art Museum.
It was in this spirit of our out-of-town trips that Meg decided to craft her anniversary present to me.
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Meg was the first of us to visit Portland, as she and Sophia made a trip out to Oregon for the OI Conference back in July of 2010. They spent 3 days with friends not often seen in person, attending conference events, but also enjoying some of the landmark shops and restaurants in the downtown area. So on our anniversary this year, Meg sent me on a scavenger hunt to visit each one of these places that she enjoyed during her visit.
I began the morning early and anxious, opening the mysterious first envelope on a video chat with my sweetie at about 6:20am last Saturday. The reason for the early start was to make it to both Voodoo Doughnuts and Stumptown Coffee before the crowds hit. At each location I was to take some pictures, perform some task, and retrieve the envelope left for me at the counter — sent by my sweetie earlier that week. I was to forward the pictures to her as I went, letting her share in my travels and visits as the day progressed. Sort of a virtual version of the weekends we had spent together exploring cities and finding new and special things to tuck into our memories.
From there it was up to Powell’s Books to fetch the missing volume of a set Meg has collected from her favorite author; then to the cafe at Moonstruck Chocolate for some truffles; and over to the Hilton Executive Tower where the OI Conference was held in 2010. At a break in the action I was able to grab lunch at the Grilled Cheese Grill, where a BLTGC and chips was the perfect addition to our list of must-visit stops in Portland.
The pursuit continued through the afternoon, including a visit to the Savory Spice Shop across the river in Sellwood, where I ended up telling pretty much our entire life story — including the present I got for Meg this past Christmas — to two doe-eyed ladies who basked in the romance of the entire tale that brought me to their door that day.
The anniversary adventure culminated at a clothing shop Meg and I had happened across together during her visit in October. I opened the doors to hear the giggles from the staff behind the counter, as they had been anticipating my arrival all afternoon. This was the big reveal, and they were in on it from the start: Meg had arranged a commissioned portrait of herself to be painted for me by a local artist of whom I had remarked upon seeing her work at that shop. At the time, I had mused aloud (repeatedly, as I recall) that I would love to have that artist do one of her portraits of Meg. I think you’d agree, it came out just spectacularly well.
The evening ended with us both getting Chinese food in our respective cities, her from Szechwan and me from a vegetarian joint featuring nothing but imitation meat made from cruelty-free bean curd protein. Okay, that was just what we joked about it being. We ate together, talked on the phone, and I sang to her a verse of the song that we would dance to on our anniversary at the pavilion in Pottawatomie Park. Tears were shed, smiles finally returned, and we went to bed hoping fervently that this would be our last anniversary apart.
With our relocation to Portland, returning to the pavilion for our anniversary dance will happen far less frequently going forward. Maybe this was a suitable way to break our ten-year streak and get ready to celebrate our anniversary together in a new city from now on. Perhaps next year we can enjoy exploring Portland together, retracing my footsteps from this year’s scavenger hunt. But then it will be time to look forward instead of backwards, maybe start new traditions, and treasure the next decade of our marriage. And the next. And the next.
Though I imagine we’ll still be dancing, time after time, no matter where we are.