Over the holiday weekend I took the plunge.
I had been planning the engagement since late August when I purchased a beautiful ring on my first Saturday of ring shopping. I had no intention when I walked into Shane & Co. of buying an engagement ring that day. But I occasionally give myself up to the fates around me and let them carry me along. That day they carried me to Broomfield and the perfect engagement ring.
After three hours of shopping and two or three fits of joyful tears, I was on my way home, phoning my parents, clueing them in on what I envisioned as my proposal…
December 22nd would be Shannon’s 30th birthday. Although I knew she wanted to celebrate the big 3-0 somewhere beautiful and tropical, we were going to have to make due with Lake Zurich, Illinois, which is neither a beauty nor the tropics. And although I thought I would never be the guy to ask at a restaurant, I knew the perfect location.
Three weeks ago I made the call to Shannon’s mother Linda, “I’ve got a question I need to ask you,” I told her. “Well, it better be an easy one.” I laughed and said that I hoped that it was.
Linda and I had it all planned out. At 6 pm Shannon and I would be arriving for dinner at Bacchus Nibbles, a quaint Italian restaurant that was her father’s favorite. She had spent every birthday she could remember at Bacchus. It’s where she and her father went to eat mussels, sip wine and share stories. On the night of her father’s funeral, she and I went there to get away from the chaos that had been the week prior. It meant that much to her.
Bacchus was the only place where I could propose. Everything inside of me told me that. I wanted to continue to create new memories for her there. It’s where our new family would celebrate while her father looked on.
For three months I had remained calm, cool and collected in regards to the upcoming proposal. In November while at the Cherry Creek Mall, we walked by Hyde Park Jewelers (worst customer service ever, by the way) and I entertained the notion of ring shopping, playing dumb the entire time an absent bald guy walked us through designer rings. When Zales commercials appeared on TV, I remember asking if a 2-karat ring was big. At the Bears/Broncos game in early December I pondered what would happen if I asked her to marry me at a sporting event. She laughed and advised me not to, but at least I kept her guessing.
During the day leading up to our reservation, I felt pretty damned good. I was reasonably relaxed, albeit a tad anxious, but I managed to keep my composure as we drove around Lake Zurich finishing last minute Christmas shopping. At Target, I sneakily bought her the new Adele DVD. At Binny’s Beverage I carefully planned a punch recipe that we would drink on Christmas Eve. Then the clock struck 5 and I started to fall apart…
For those men reading who are engaged…you know the feeling I’m about to try and describe. Imagine being a lion who is trapped in a cage for several days, in the dark, with only water and stale bread sticks to eat and drink. Your fur has become too long from neglect and has matted from oily residue covering the bars of your cage. You’ve been loaded onto a train that is making its way across the country on rickety old railroad tracks. Restless, anxious, pits sweaty and brain askew. Claustrophobia, agoraphobia and restless leg syndrome all rolled into one. I peed three times before we left.
It’s the kind of nervous anticipation that led me to pace about her mother’s house, taking my sport coat on and off again, moving the ring from pocket to pocket for the least-noticeable location. Dry mouthed, I paced myself into the kitchen, into the garage, into her mother’s bedroom and back again. While Shannon was doing her hair I was having an interior beezymeltdown.
In the car, every song sounded romantic, even when she switched the station and Nicki Minaj started rapping with Rhianna. I made nervous conversation. I stammered like Woody Allen.
When we pulled into the Bacchus parking lot, I noticed the restaurant was packed. Proposing is one thing…in front of a large audience is a whole different experience. When we got out of the car, I slammed the door, not realizing that my adrenaline fueled muscles weren’t firing properly.
I found myself speed-walking to the front door and had to slow my roll. But was I walking too slow? Quick, grab her hand. Wait, why did I do that? Slow down, B! Wait, now you’re walking too slow. Open the door for her, you idiot. You’re about to ask her to marry you, the least you could do is open the fucking door. Breathe…
Shannon’s mother, brother, sister and brother-in-law would be arriving at 6:30. It was 6:05 when we sat and 6:10 by the time the waiter got to our table. I’m sure I looked at my phone to check the time about two-dozen times. I ordered a glass of some blended red, but Shannon needed some real alcohol. Our server had to check to see if he had Chopin behind the bar. Two more minutes…
If you want my advice, stay away from a timetable in regards to your engagement. Thirty minutes on paper seems like a long time, but when your palms are sweaty and your waiter doesn’t know the vodkas behind his bar…well it’ll over in the blink of an eye. “I’m sorry, but we’re out of Chopin,” he said when he came back. “But we have Titos.” I could have screamed.
“Well then, I’ll just wait for everyone else,” Shannon said.
I felt myself blurt out, “No! You can’t wait!”
“Well then, let’s look at the bottles then. We might as well get something for everyone,” she said reasonably.
Then I said in an absurdly panicked tone: “No! That’ll take too long!”
With that, Shannon gave me a strange look. I had lost control of everything.
I stood up. “I need to go to the bathroom,” I told her.
On the way to the bathroom I saw our server. “Bring her a glass of champagne, I don’t care what it is.” He asked me if I wanted me to bring her a split. “I DON’T CARE WHAT IT IS!” I yelled like I had tourettes.
Then I walked back to the table without going to the bathroom.
“Did you just order a glass of champagne for me?” Shannon asked, now suspicious.
“Yeah…umm…you need a drink…to uh…celebrate…um…your birthday…and umm…” I trailed off.
The champagne arrived. 6:17. I was back in control.
Shannon was becoming flustered. “I knew my sister and mom were going to be late, but my brother too? What the hell?”
“Well babe, while we wait, I guess I can give you your birthday present. But first you have to close your eyes.” Now this was the calm and cool Brian I knew.
She closed her eyes and I moved my chair out of my way and I got down on one knee. I pulled out the ring I had been holding onto since September.
As a hopeless romantic I’ve dreamed about the moment I would get down on one knee and give a ring to the woman I love. At 32, I was beginning to wonder if that was ever going to happen. Yet here I was, nervous ticks and all, hearing myself bumble through a canvas of words that now looks as blurry as if I had face-planted into a late-era Monet. But I’m sure it was a pretty good speech.
Her family arrived, as promised, at 6:30. From there we ate, drank and were merry. We ordered bottles of wine and ate mussels. Random onlookers stopped by our table to congratulate the two of us. We ordered coffee and desserts and before they arrived the owner came over with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and 8 champagne flutes.
“This is for the happy couple,” the husky Italian said.
Veuve Clicquot…with the beginning of the New Year, I ask: Is there a better way to celebrate?
Men and Women all over the world have been using this distinct, yellow bottle to celebrate special events since 1772, when the house in Remis, France was established by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron.
I don’t need to go into my usual level of excruciating detail to tell the history of this legendary production house. More than a few books have been written about the subject, and if you find yourself really curious I suggest The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It for a much deeper analysis. It’s the story of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, the widow (veuve means “widow” in French) of Philippe’s son Francois and the woman who single-handedly changed the Champagne game. No big deal, right?
After her husband’s death, Barbe, at the ripe ol’ age of 27, took control of their fledgling family wine business, which, prior to her taking ownership, was more concerned with banking and wool trading (and we all know how well the wool trading business is these days). Smart move.
By her late 30s, Barbe-Nicole was one of the richest women in France and Veuve’s annual sales were more than $30 million per year. With the profits, Barb invested money in inventing the riddling rack — a rack that suspends and inverts bottles of champagnes so that yeast and sediment from the wine’s secondary fermentation collects in the bottles neck. The rack, as simple as it now seems, was revolutionary in the industry.
The Widow Clicquot’s non-vintage Brut is crisp and full of consistent flavors. One sip of Veuve, its delicate and effervescent blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, and you’ll likely never look at drink Champagne the same way again. Far superior to every other brand, for me, Veuve should be reserved for truly special occasions, ones that call for elegance, taste, clarity and above all else, a little reason to spend some extra cash.
I had a bottle of Veuve on my 30th birthday. I bought my good friend Kate a bottle for her 30th birthday. And now, on Shannon’s 30th Birthday and our engagement, there we were drinking Veuve. “This is the best champagne I have ever had!” Linda said after she emptied her glass. “Yep,” I said, “Welcome to Veuve.”
I will most definitely have a bottle or two on our Wedding Night, whenever and wherever that may be. It will undoubtedly be with me for the birth of my children and their subsequent birthdays. And, if I can lift my arm to my lips on my deathbed, their damn well better be a champagne flute filled with Veuve in my hand.
Because, life is about the choices we make, and, ultimately, who we chose to live our life with. It’s about celebrating with those we choose and choosing what we celebrate with. When we’re born, we don’t get choices. We don’t get to choose who our parents are, the shape of our nose or what color our hair turns out to be. We don’t get to choose to be nearsighted, farsighted or no-sighted. I didn’t get to choose this 6’3’’ frame, this terribly receding hairline or my inability to draw. That shit’s just not up to us.
So we do what we can with what we’re given. We try to be (mostly) good. We aim to follow the golden rule. We try to keep a good job…to make our parents proud. We love with our hearts and hurt when they’re broken. We choose to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and push onward.
And although I am unsure about the future, or what might lie ahead of me tomorrow, ultimately I choose to make the very best of everyday. Because nothing, at any moment, is certainty, not even life itself.
There is but one concrete absolute that is given to us once we come crawling out of our mother’s womb…it is the ability to choose. We get that right, and we should cherish it. It’s what we do with those choices that makes life real. That makes this whole damn thing worth doing.
And given every choice I have ever made in life…albeit good or bad…I’m thankful, because it led me to her. And I would choose Shannon over and over and over again. Each and every time. And for that, I’d choose to celebrate with Veuve.
Tags: Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, Brian Melton, Bubbles, champagne, Chardonnay, engagement, engagement ring, france, French wine, one day in a bottle, Pinot Meunier, pinot noir, proposal, The Widow Clicquot, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It, Veuve, wine