In celebration of Valentine's Day weekend, we're sharing an excerpt from Make Something Good Today, Erin and Ben's memoir. In this chapter, "A Love Story," Ben writes about the weeks before his big proposal and the funny and profound conversations that led to the moment before he knelt down on one knee.
"Growing up, my mom was very crafty and encouraged it in us, asking us not to buy things but to make her things on special occasions. At Valentine's, she would make our cards that we gave out in school. These might have been frugal decisions, but they were always cooler and more clever than the store-bought ones, and I guess some of it rubbed off on me.
In asking Erin to marry me, the proposal would have to be something special. It would have to be a big enough production to be worthy of our love story, like something out of a movie or a book. I decided to take that idea for inspiration and run with it.
Erin and I spent many date nights perusing the bookshelves at Square Books and having a coffee on the balcony. For weeks I had been laying the groundwork for how I was going to propose.
Erin had taken a bookmaking course, and while I didn't know the finer points, I had learned how to make a simple little book just from watching her. For weeks, I had been making a book for her, writing a story about a boy and a girl who no one thought matched but who fell in love fast in college.
The week before, I made the monthly trek with her down to Laurel because it was time to have the conversation with her dad. Filled with the confidence of knowing what his answer would be, I breezed into his office at the hospital.
For some reason, though, when I was across from him, my self-assurance vanished. I knew her father well by then, and he knew me; we both knew the answer to the question, but for some reason, I felt panic rising up in me.
"Sit down, Ben!" Dr. Phil said jovially. "What're you doing in town?"
My voice was a little shaky as I cut right to it. "Well, I'd like your permission to ask Erin to marry me next Friday, the twenty-first."
The smile on his face faded into a kind of grimace, and he took a beat. "That seems soon, don't you think, Ben?"
I was caught off guard. I began to sweat and just let my mouth run, not so eloquently. "Well, we've been dating for a few years now, and...and... and I love her very much, and.. and... well, when do you think I should propose?"
My hands began to shake, and Phil leaned forward in his chair.
"Let me get this straight, Ben. You're wanting to marry Erin next Friday? What's going on?"
It was as though someone had given me oxygen. He had misunderstood the question, which was a relief. I explained that, with his permission, I would be proposing on the twenty-first. I guess I had dangled a modifier.
"Oh!" he said, laughing, relieved as well. "Oh yeah, I think that'd be just fine."
Before I headed back to Oxford, I wanted to have a conversation with Erin's mammaw, with whom she was extremely close. Mammaw never had any daughters, and Erin is her only granddaughter. Very early in our relationship, we were having lunch at Mammaw's when she pointed at Erin and said, "That's my girl." I knew she meant it, and it was important that I speak with her before proposing.
In the weeks prior I had asked my and Erin's moms and my grandparents about how their proposals had gone down. All were pretty straightforward. While we were talking that day, I asked Mammaw how her husband had proposed. Turns out that James Rasberry had asked with a bit more style. She told me, "He slid a little box across the table and said, 'I got something for you, Ouida."
Early that Friday morning, I went over to Square Books, set up pictures I'd had printed, and flowers in big canning jars all over the balcony. They were on the tables, on the walls, on the rail, and on the columns.
Later I told Erin that I needed to go pick up a book for school, and our friends all found reasons to tag along. The hook was set; I gave Erin's roommate the book, her boyfriend was ready with a video camera, and I headed upstairs to the balcony.
The Square was full of people that day, in town for the Ole Miss versus Florida game. I waited anxiously. It was hot, without much of a breeze. Beads of sweat began to form on my brow when she came through the door. I tried to hold back tears as I spoke to her.
My emotions got the best of me, and I had to whisper to keep from crying. "You know I'll always love you," I told her, "and that I'll always take care of you. In the words of James Rasberry, I got something for you."
She was crying and kept asking quietly, "What? What!"
I knelt on one knee. "Will you marry me?"
She cried. "YES!" she gasped. "Yes, I will marry you!"
People below us in the Square were looking up, taking pictures, telling people on the phone what was happening, cheering for us. It was an auspicious beginning, I thought."
Read the rest of Make Something Good Today and get your copy here!