On Wednesday, December 6, Chris and I flew from Chicago to Philadelphia for what I believed would be a long weekend celebrating my 30th birthday and the Army/Navy football game. With both of us having graduated from West Point (Classes of ‘10 and ‘03), we had some of our best friends and classmates coming to town that we were anxious and excited to see. We'd also be getting together with my childhood best friends for dinner on my birthday so I was already jittery with excitement going into the trip. Little did I know, we’d be adding a lifetime milestone to the list of our causes for celebration that weekend.
After sleeping in and strolling a few blocks to score donuts and coffee at Federal Donuts, we casually contemplated the day and decided to go for a long walk to the little Christmas market at City Hall. We wandered a few more blocks enjoying the city's winter holiday vibes before dipping into Cheu Noodle Bar to warm up. After a nearly life changing order of black garlic wings, mojo pork dumplings and a steam facial from a big bowl of Szechuan noodles, Chris suggested we make our way to the Magic Gardens, my favorite Philadelphia treasure.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is a nonprofit art museum and gallery space on South Street featuring the incredible mosaic artwork of Isaiah Zagar. Isaiah uses everything from statues, bicycle wheels, glass bottles, hand-made tiles, and thousands of tiny mirrors to craft his remarkable designs. I've been drawn to his work ever since I unexpectedly encountered one of his murals down a random Philadelphia alley several years ago and have gushed repeatedly to Chris about the Magic Gardens since we met.
When we got to the Gardens, I was so excited to show Chris around and to watch his reaction seeing the imaginative works for the first time. Little did I know, behind his remarkably calm demeanor, he was trembling with anxiousness and excitement of what was to come.
The night before we left for Philadelphia, Chris asked his parents for his paternal grandmother's engagement ring and told them of his intention to ask me to be his wife. After some rummaging, they located the ring, a vintage diamond from the late 1800s set in a band his grandfather gave his soon-to-be wife Pearl in 1936. The ring was heavily tarnished from decades of wear. Chris knew it was absolutely perfect.
After 20 minutes or so of exploring the Magic Gardens, Chris told me to put down my coffee so he could take a photo of me taking a photo. Familiar with his photographer requests, I thought nothing of it and set up to take my picture of the mosaics.
Unbeknownst to me, Chris then got down on one knee, fumbling to pull out his grandmother's ring and accidentally snapping this blurry shot.
He asked simply, "Annie?" I turned abruptly, he never uses my name.
I saw him down there, I yelped UUUUAAAAHHHHH!!!
"Will you marry me?" Instantaneous waterworks.
Time froze, knees weak, the tears wouldn't stop, complete and utter shock. We'll never know how much time passed as he held me, his arms trembling as my body heaved with the most surprised and overjoyed tears.
Minutes passed and we were the only two people on Earth.
"You didn't answer me!" "Ask me again!" "Will you be my wife?" "YESSSS!"
Laughter and sobs.
After the initial shock subsided, we did the obvious responsible thing - go find the nearest bar to celebrate with a cheers. During the blur of celebratory drinks, Chris told me he was taking me to dinner at Vernick Food & Drink but wanted to take me shopping for a new dress to wear to our celebratory meal (Chris wants to go shopping?!?). We floated to the historic Macy's in Center City and found each of us new digs for our first outing as fiancées.
The rest of the weekend was a blurry whirlwind of celebration. We had a birthday feast with my best friends at Marrakesh. We braved the snow to tailgate before watching Army Football trounce Navy for the second year in a row with our USMA classmates. We danced relentlessly upstairs at Tavern On Camac. We watched in jaw dropping awe as an old school Philadelphia jeweler transformed our once dark with tarnish engagement ring into a glittering freshly polished gem. We sat at Dinic's counter in Reading Terminal Market reveling in how the aged provolone is the exclamation point to their famous roast pork sandwiches. We capped it all off with a train ride to New Jersey to see my mom, sister and family to celebrate our big news and my niece's birthday. It was the most perfect of weekends, and one I will relive in my memories for many, many years to come.
And that's how he asked!