84: Un Bel Di (One Fine Day)

84: Un Bel Di (One Fine Day)

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

Un Bel Di (One Fine Day)

For I’m not so old, and not so plain,
And I’m quite prepared to marry again.

~W.S. Gilbert, Iolanthe

“For heaven’s sake, Annalee, you’re just going on a date. You don’t have to marry the guy!”

My sister’s words rang in my ears as I hung up the phone. As we talked, my voice had displayed the anxiety of a schoolgirl. She assured me that my first date with Joel would go well and that I shouldn’t worry. Easy for her to say. I had been abandoned after twenty years of marriage and had lived alone for the past twelve years. The idea of dating at fifty-three years old made me uneasy. Would I know how to act? How would I respond if he tried to kiss me? I’d called my younger sister for some reassurance.

Actually, Joel and I had been getting to know each other for quite some time. We first met when I came to his church as a guest speaker. After the service, we chatted over a cup of coffee. Six months later, I’d taken a job with the church as an assistant pastor and moved into a townhouse, which as it turned out was only a half-mile from Joel’s home.

Joel was a gifted musician, and when I needed a guitarist to help on the worship team, he agreed to play. Every Wednesday evening, the musicians gathered in the basement of my townhouse to practice for the Sunday service. Often, after the others left, Joel and I lingered. We’d pray together. He had gone through a divorce seven years before, and we had a lot in common. I liked his honesty and sincerity, and his sense of humor. He spoke with clarity and had a wonderful vocabulary that added to his appeal. I learned later that he had a degree in English.

I looked for opportunities for us to be together.

One summer evening, I planned to attend a singles’ dinner sponsored by our church. I carefully chose the outfit I would wear, hoping Joel would notice. Everyone was asked to bring a contribution to the meal. Joel brought cheesecake with blueberry sauce that he’d made himself. A man who cooks. I was impressed!

After our meal, we played croquet, and everyone else finished the game but me. Embarrassed, I kept hitting the ball in an attempt to finish, but Joel didn’t seem concerned. He stood by yelling, “It’s Annalee’s turn!” With each stroke, he’d repeat, “It’s Annalee’s turn!” I roared with laughter. I knew then that I was falling in love. I also knew I was fighting my feelings. Trusting someone enough to be in a serious relationship again seemed too much of a risk.

It had been eighteen months since I first met Joel, and I was becoming more and more attracted to him. Besides all his talents and character traits, I thought he was really cute! I didn’t learn until later that he was attracted to me and was having similar feelings. He was fighting his feelings just as hard! After his divorce, he had resigned himself to bachelorhood.

Then, one autumn day, I expressed to Joel my disappointment over a cancelled trip to New York City. Some friends had invited me to go to Manhattan with them, but their plans had changed. I love the Big Apple, and it was fall — my favorite season. I yearned to go.

“I’m thinking of going into the City anyway,” I mused. “Maybe I’ll go see Madame Butterfly.”

“By yourself?” Joel asked.

“Yeah. Why? Do you want to go?”

I paused for a moment. Did those words just come out of MY mouth?

“Sure, I’ll go with you,” Joel quickly responded.

“Do you like Puccini?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen an opera.”

“Well, that settles it! You must see an opera. I’ll go online for tickets and see what’s available for Saturday.”

With a crispness in the air and the leaves in their splendid array of colors, Joel picked me up for our trip to the City. When I answered the door, he blurted, “Look at you! You look terrific!”

Yes! I thought, trying not to act excited that he’d noticed. I was wearing a dressy black and white pantsuit that seemed to fit the occasion.

In the car, we shared our excitement over seeing the opera, and I inadvertently made a remark about being on a date. “Is this a date?” Joel inquired, almost gasping. He hadn’t been on a date for thirty-three years and, at fifty-four years old, he was just as nervous as I was to be having an official romantic encounter.

When we arrived in New York, we enjoyed a delicious meal al fresco at a restaurant across the street from Lincoln Center where we would be viewing Madame Butterfly. With an hour to spare before curtain time, we walked up Broadway to a record store. There we searched for a specific version of Handel’s Messiah that Joel had been looking for. In the display case was the CD he wanted. He looked at me in amazement and said, “I’ve been looking for this for years!” Our eyes met, and we knew we both found something we had searched for — but only dreamed of experiencing.

The New York City Opera offered a magnificent production of my favorite opera, and we savored every note. As Butterfly’s aria “Un Bel Di” floated up to our fourth-tier seats, we glanced at each other in wonder at the beauty of the music — and the moment. When it was time to leave, we took advantage of the balmy, autumn evening and walked up Broadway once again. This time, Joel offered me his arm. We joyfully walked arm in arm, lingering in the magical feel of the night.

When we arrived in our hometown, it was well past midnight. We’d talked all the way home and then, suddenly, there was a lull in our conversation. I took the opportunity to tell Joel how much I enjoyed getting to know him and that I valued our friendship. His response was simply, “Really?”

“Yes,” I continued. “It has stirred some feelings that I didn’t think could be stirred again.”

“Really? What kind of feelings?”

“Deep feelings. I’ve been waking in the middle of the night for about three weeks thinking of you.”

“REALLY?” was all Joel could get out in his shock at my confession. Then he added, “I’ve been doing the same thing, Annalee. I’ve been waking up thinking about you.”

By now, we were in front of my townhouse. Joel stopped the car and turned toward me.

“I’m in love with you, Annalee.”

“I’m in love with you, too, Joel.”

He leaned toward me.

“May I kiss you?”


After we shared a tender kiss, Joel asked, “Will you marry me?”

That night, we pledged our love to each other.

By Monday afternoon, I had picked out my wedding gown of ivory satin and lace, sprinkled with pearls and sequins. The next six months were filled with planning, shopping, and making sure all the details were arranged for our wedding. We celebrated with a large wedding attended by friends and family. My younger sister was my matron of honor. Joel wrote a love song and sang it to me during the ceremony. We rejoiced in the love we’d found in each other.

At our reception, we danced the afternoon away. Yes, we had an afternoon wedding because we had reservations to see an opera at 8:00 on our wedding night. After seeing Butterfly, we purchased season tickets to the opera, and the last scheduled performance of the season was on the night of our marriage ceremony.

Following our reception, we drove into the City — where it all began. We checked into a hotel across the street from Lincoln Center and made our way to our seats to see La Bohème. I was wearing that same black and white pantsuit that I’d worn on our first date. Only this time, I had baby’s breath and silk flowers from our wedding in my hair.

We held hands as we listened to another love story by Puccini. We had begun our new life together as husband and wife, remembering “one fine day” — when good friends began their journey as lovers for a lifetime.

~Annalee Davis

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