Forty years ago today, I helped celebrate my girlfriend Amy’s 26th birthday over lunch at a circular restaurant at Famous Barr department store in Southern Illinois near St Louis, MO, with a proposal of marriage.
The circular dining table under a sun-filled dome was a special, private spot in the dining area on the top floor of the store.
Six months later — on Dec. 15, 1979 — we would complete the deal with a small ceremony in the living room of the Rev. Larry Jackman of First Presbyterian Church of Alton, Illinois. He and his wife Sandy would join us for dinner at Westport Plaza in St. Louis.
Amy turns 66 today as we head out for dinner tonight to celebrate her birthday and continuation of the 40 years together that we also celebrate.
That proposal, of course, was a presumptive gift and even one I did not, at that point, even know for sure she would accept. We had come together after each of our first failed marriages. I had spent several years of debauchery as a single man with a reputation as a womanizer and a cad. Even her mother warned adult Amy about even dating me.
We had met years earlier at a party at her college apartment at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE) when another student brought me to the party. Amy remembers not being impressed. My date that night had an even worse reputation than mine and Amy told me later that if that was the type of woman I preferred, she wanted nothing to do with me.
I later reviewed one of the plays she appeared in at SIUE during her time there as a drama student. While I didn’t single her out for criticism, I did not like the play. She disagreed with my review. I did like her performance in several other productions and often singled her out for praise.
Fate, as it often does, brought us back together in 1977 at a summer Alton Little Theater charity play where she, then known as the resident heroine in melodramas at The Goldenrod Showboat on the riverfront in downtown St. Louis, was brought in as the professional headliner for the show and I, as the acidic columnist for the Alton Telegraph, was cast as the villain.
I asked her out. She refused. I kept asking her out as rehearsals continued and she finally agreed to drinks. She later blamed the White Russians drinks she consumed for the beginning of our relationship.
We dated, not exclusively, for a while, and Amy says she was about to call it off when we had that fateful lunch at Famous-Barr on her birthday. As part of the proposal, I asked her to move in with me. She agreed…to both. I was 31. She was 26.
Today, as she turns 66, I’m 71 and hope I turn 72 two days after we celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary on Dec. 15.
We would celebrate two more sets of birthdays and anniversaries in Alton before heading to Washington, DC, for 23 years of fun, adventure, trauma and more in the nation’s capital in turbulent times.
Happy Birthday, my love. May we celebrate many more.