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The brave first steps that forged a life of love

By David King

A short while after my grandmother passed away in the Spring of 2002 I sat with my grandfather on the couch of his Cape Cod home. “She chose me,” he said sobbing into a handkerchief, his hands clasping my grandmother’s wedding ring. It was the first time I had ever seen my grandfather cry. But I had to wonder what he meant that my grandmother “chose him?” It brought me to tears, but also made me wonder why my grandfather, the commanding architect who had a penchant for photography, Mercedes cars and woodworking—a veritable renaissance man in my eyes—would ever have felt lucky to have been chosen. Not only was he the premier father figure in my life but also the epitome, in my eyes, of what a truly gallant man was supposed to be.

In the middle of winter, 1942, my grandfather, Howard Progner did something very brave—he walked into the office of my grandmother’s father and asked for permission to marry her. He had already asked Jean Allison, my grandmother, and she had accepted. They had a long courtship. From high school in Yonkers my grandfather pursued my grandmother. He went off to Brown on a football scholarship, the star quarterback. She was valedictorian of her class at Barnard, president of the undergrad association and a member of a delegation that greeted Queen Mary upon her visit to the states. My grandfather sustained his courtship despite being states away.

What is more impressive than the years he spent pursuing her was the divide he crossed to do so. My grandfather lived across the tracks in Yonkers, the son of Eastern European immigrants, German-speaking Slovaks. My grandmother, on the other hand, was the offspring of her mother, Evelyn B. Corwin, who belonged to an honest-to-goodness Mayflower family, and her father, Robert Paton Allison, who hard worked his way up in the railroad, eventually managing Teddy Roosevelt’s second campaign train and later leaving to become vice president of Irving Trust, where he oversaw the building of the bank’s new headquarters at—Number One Wall Street.

Unsurprisingly, my grandmother had her share of suitors. In the end my grandfather won her hand in marriage over the son of a well-off diplomat. Howie from the wrong side of the tracks bested the hoity-toity diplomat’s son and, after his soon-to-be father-in-law consulted with his daughter—making sure this was what she really wanted—he won her hand. They were married in May of 1942 in the home of my grandmother’s father.

But class difference wasn’t the only reason my grandfather felt so lucky to have been chosen by my grandmother. The newlyweds found themselves working opposite shifts in different cities to make ends meet. It drove them crazy. So when a relative offered to let them stay at a farmhouse in Ithaca they jumped at the chance to look for new work and raise a family in the country. My grandfather worked at a chain company and my grandmother became pregnant. Six months into the pregnancy the house caught fire. Everything was lost except for my grandmother’s giant hope chest, which my grandfather carried out of the house on his back. The property was uninsured. But neighbors gave the couple all that they could and put them up in a small apartment, where their first child was born.

Meanwhile the country had entered World War II and, like most other men, my grandfather volunteered. He, however, was rejected—an old football injury made the army suspicious that he was suffering from bone disease. Not long after, he received an even worse diagnosis: tuberculosis. They sent him off to the sanitarium in hopes that the air would cure him. Meanwhile, my grandmother had become pregnant for a second time. After three long winters of having to cut firewood and take care of her babies, my grandmother had had enough of rural living. Her family invited her back to Yonkers and she decided it was time to go. My grandfather thought he would join her. The terminal patient checked himself out of the hospital against doctor’s orders and returned to Yonkers with the family.

Life was still a struggle. My grandfather’s insurance had paid out death benefits because he was not expected to live and no one felt like employing the walking dead. Eventually, a friend gave my grandfather a job at a gas station. With the help of other friends, he became a carpenter’s helper on a construction project. He worked his way up, position by position, and eventually became manager of the housing complex. Meanwhile, the doctor who headed the city’s public health department warned my grandmother she should not have any more children, because her husband wouldn’t be around much longer. So my grandparents decided to have another child. At 45, my grandmother went back to school for a master’s degree and became a teacher.

No one ever remembers seeing my grandparents fight. My grandfather, the cool, practical thinker, my grandmother, the passionate intellectual. Eventually they retired to Cape Cod, buying a home near the ocean. That is how I knew them—as relaxed, retired, ethical, intelligent, warm, caring people. It wasn’t till the twilight of their lives that I found out how much it meant that they had made it that far—60 years together. In spite of all their struggles they carried each other through and overcame seemingly insurmountable odds.

I tell this story because I believe I have met the love of my own life. I’ve already asked her family for their permission to marry her, even though her mother made it clear to me it is her daughter’s decision. (And no, my love won’t be “given away” on her putative wedding day.)

I tell this story because I want to ask Jamie Bond if she will do me the honor of being my wife—of triumphing over time and circumstance together for the rest of our lives. Sharing each other’s will, intelligence, love, warmth and intense caring for each other so that we both become better for it.

Our story isn’t an epic one. Our first date may have been less than magical, thanks to my planning. We met at the now-closed Borders on Wolf Road in the Spring of 2008. I invited her to Troy Night Out to meet some friends and get dinner at Jose Malone’s. She accepted. My friends had mostly already departed, and dinner was average. But she agreed, perhaps against her better judgment, to go see a movie with me, and off we went to see Indiana Jones and the Legend of the Crystal Skull. At the end of the night I gathered up the courage to ask her if she wanted to go on another date. I had a previous engagement the next day, I told her—tickets to fights in New Jersey, and one of my friends who was scheduled to go had canceled. There was a ticket with her name on it. I could slap myself now. She politely declined. But when I returned home, I happily found her online and we began to chat. Before we knew it it was morning, and, sleep-deprived, we agreed to meet at the 76 Diner in Latham for breakfast. It feels like we haven’t left each other’s sides since. Yes, she came to the fights. I may even have told her I loved her on the . . . well, technically, third date. And yet she was still there, holding my hand, as we listened to the new Death Cab for Cutie album on the ride home while my friends snickered in the back seat.

We have been through our own trials. No arguments; we don’t do those. We talk and listen. But I’ve had my dramas—financial, physical, family related—and she has still been there, holding my hand, keeping me focused, happy, and perhaps despite both our expectations now focused on building a life together, and I hope one day a family.

So Jamie, being of sound mind (today at least) and honest of heart, I ask you, will you marry me? Will you make me the happiest man in the world? Will you take this journey with me? Will you let me call you those random pet names that make no sense? Will you continue to indulge my musical tastes, nerdy habits and penchant for fresh-squeezed lemonade? Will you continue to look at me with those wide, gorgeous brown eyes and smile when I make a bad joke? Will you let me take care of you? Will you let me sleep by your side at night even though I always come to bed too late? Not to put too much pressure on you, but I think my mom, our cats, and your mother and grandmother really have their fingers crossed for this. I promise I will be there for you throughout all of life’s trials, just as you have been there for me. I promise to do everything I can to make sure you are smiling. Jamie, will you do me the greatest honor and choose me?

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