11: Mississippi Muddle

11: Mississippi Muddle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

Mississippi Muddle

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.

~Henry Van Dyke

Lonny and I grew up in a small town near the Illinois banks of the Mississippi River. We were high school sweethearts. I’m a romantic. A dreamer. Lonny was honest. Strong. Even at the tender age of sixteen, I was drawn to his dependable character and steadfast ways. Wild times? None needed. I was pleased to walk along the river and hold Lonny’s gentle, warm hand.

“We’re going to be married one day,” Lonny said. We were flying kites along the dike. As our rainbow-striped nylon diamond dipped and curved in and out of a June-blue sky, I closed my eyes and hoped he was right. But we were young. Very young. Too young to be talking marriage. But we did, even though Lonny was about to head off for college and I still had two years of high school.

Two years blew by like a gentle wind. Then two more. Lonny and I continued to date, though we were now separated by miles. Lonny enrolled in an engineering work/study program. He earned some money, but it took longer to earn his degree. I worked in the admitting office of our local hospital. Lonny and I still talked of getting married, and I grew certain in my heart that one day we would.

“I’ve made some money,” Lonny said when he was home for a visit. “Enough to buy a ring.”

My heart began to flutter in my chest. “Is that so?” I asked.

“We could get married before I graduate,” he said. “You’ve wanted to go to school. We could be students together.”

It sounded like a plan. And my mind began to wander. When would he propose? How would he propose? All of my romantic hopes, dreams, and desires began to bloom like flowers in June. I just knew the proposal would be special. Lonny knew and loved my romantic dreamer’s heart.

Lonny’s job was with a printing company not far from where I lived. He came to visit most weekends. He’d pop into his parents’ house, peck his mom on the cheek, and then drive over to see me. We loved to picnic. We’d pack my grandma’s picnic hamper to the top and hit the road. Every time I loaded that basket with cold chicken or homemade pie and crisp, ripe apples, I’d wonder if this would be the time. Would he propose? What wonderful thing had he planned? Had he hidden the ring? Would he send me on a scavenger hunt? Was it buried deep in the petals of a dewy red rose?

But after each picnic, I was left to wonder. Oh, there had been opportunity. My own mind ran wild with possibilities. But nothing happened. Ever.

One evening, the two of us decided to go out for dinner. No place fancy. Then we stopped for ice cream. Lonny bought my favorite. Two scoops of butter pecan.

“Want to walk along the river?” he asked.

“Not so much. It’s buggy. It’s muggy-hot.”

“Awww. Come on,” he said. “The river’s smooth as glass.”

So we trudged along the river, the butter pecan making rivers of its own down my arms. We walked along quiet places where even the river seemed to make no sound. We walked along dark places where only the stars provided a far-off, hazy light.

Then we walked under the cranky old bridge that ran from Illinois to Iowa. The lights were bright. Shadflies batted harsh, annoying wings. Trucks roared overhead. I looked down at the path and picked up the pace.

That’s when I noticed that Lonny wasn’t beside me. He was a few paces back. Under the bridge. Under the roar. Thick in the mix of river bugs.

And he was on one knee.

I tossed my ice cream and then pinched my forearm with sticky fingers. Was I dreaming? After all this time? All the missed opportunities? He was proposing under a river bridge?

But the look in his eyes had never been sweeter, and I’d never been more drawn to his solid, honest soul. Nothing pretentious. Nothing with frills. Just a solid “I love you, and I always will.”

Of course, I couldn’t hear a word. The trucks roared and the bridge banged, and I had to follow the movement of his mouth. I swooshed away the bugs and took his hands in mine. He stood and twirled me round and round, our laughter lost in the clatter overhead.

Romantic? Not so much. Not what I had hoped for. Not what I had planned. But I’m delighted to say that, twenty-two years later, my husband is the most romantic man I can imagine. We’ve grown into one another. I’m more practical. He’s more romantic.

And I’ll never, ever regret saying “I do” or accepting the promises made on that sultry summer night. He promised forever, and he meant it, too.

Even if the words were lost in Mississippi muddle.

~Shawnelle Eliasen

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