Posted on 2011-05-31
In honor of the couple whose story this is, on their 40th wedding anniversary.1
"Aunt Mary, do you think there's such a thing as love at first sight?"
Mary Bennet looked at her college-aged niece, Paula, with a confused expression. The question was, to say the least, a non sequitor -- she had been talking only moments before about setting out the silverware. But the contemplative expression revealed the likelihood Paula hadn't been listening to her at all. "Where did this come from?" she asked as she set the potato salad in the middle of the picnic table.
Paula looked up at her. "Oh, just someone I met. I just think ... well, he might be 'The One.'"
Her aunt smiled slightly, seating herself opposite. "Well, then, to answer your question, I'm not sure I really believe in love at first sight, but anything's possible, I suppose. I do believe in knowing your heart. Your parents were certainly a good example of that. They dated for four months before getting engaged and then married only five months after that. That's nine months between first date night and wedding night."
Paula pulled a face, but she was interrupted from saying anything by the arrival of Lydia Wickham, fresh from a game of horseshoes. "What, are you talking about Lizzy and Will? Is she telling you the story of how Lizzy laughed at his first proposal?"
"I wasn't," Mary said. "And I don't think it's applicable."
Lydia turned to her niece with a grin, completely ignoring her sister. "You know how your father gets all tongue-tied when he's nervous?" Paula shook her head, but Lydia continued without pause: "Well, one day he and Lizzy have stopped in front of this jewelry store, and he turns to her and says, 'How would you like a ring for Christmas?' And she, thinking he's joking, starts laughing and says something about how she'd like five golden ones, actually, and he gets all red and flustered and starts stammering about how he loves her and wanted to marry her, and she has to silence him by kissing him, right there in the middle of the street!"
"Lizzy and Will, you mean?" asked Kitty Palmer, who had come over to the table carrying a plate of rolls. "Such a romantic story. It was obvious they were meant for each other. I think it was fate. I still can't believe how amazing it was he actually got to the wedding in time."
"Oh, yeah!" Lydia said, interrupting Kitty. Mary sighed, shook her head, and went back into the kitchen to get more food. "I forgot that one. So, you knew your dad was in the forest service before he started his own company, right? Well, they were going to get married in May, and about a month before the day, there's this huge fire over in Michigan, and he has to go try to put it out. Well, the fire keeps spreading because of the wind, and jumping the breakers2, and it's now about a week before the wedding, but his boss won't let him go because he needs every man. He'll let him go on Friday, of course -- the day before the wedding -- but that's not nearly early enough, because they still have to go to the courthouse and get the license and everything. So he and your mom are getting really nervous, and praying, and everything, because this fire doesn't look like it's going to be stopped. And then, three days before the wedding, there's a huge, freak, late-May snowstorm that completely puts the fire out, and he's able to go back and make it in time for them to get to the courthouse and get married the next day. So weird."
"So romantic," corrected Kitty, before wandering off again to the kitchen.
"Yeah, but he was sick on the honeymoon because of all the smoke he inhaled," Lydia said with a snort. "Not even close to being romantic."
"Why are we talking about my honeymoon?" asked William Darcy, sitting down at the table opposite his daughter. His wife sat down next to him, casting an appreciative glance over the assembled food.
Lydia shrugged. "Oh, we're telling Paula stories about how the two of you met."
"I'm fairly sure we met before our honeymoon," Elizabeth said wryly. "And all of our children know the story of how the two of us fell in love."
"On your trip to Niagara Falls," Paula supplied. "During Aunt Jane and Uncle Charles' honeymoon. At the beginning of the trip, Dad was helping his date over all the rocks and hills, and by the end of the trip he was helping Mom, instead."
"Is that all they told you?" Charles Bingley said with a laugh. Grill tongs in hand, he dropped off the first batch of hamburgers, the smell of which drew the rest of the family to the table. "Did they even bother to say why they were on our honeymoon?"
"Charlie..." Darcy warned.
"Did Caroline ever pay up, Lizzy?" Jane Bingley asked as she reached in to set the plate of bratwurst and hot dogs on the table.
Elizabeth's negative reply was drowned out by the voices from all around the table, asking which Caroline and why she would have to pay Elizabeth anything. Even William cast a sideways glance at his wife. At last, Jane succumbed to the pressure to tell the rest of the story and she sat down at the table, sending her husband back to keep an eye on the grill.
"Ok, so Caroline made this bet--" Jane began.
"Oh, no!" Elizabeth interrupted with a laugh. "If you're going to tell the story, you have to tell it from the beginning. It's much more interesting that way."
Jane sighed. "All right, then. So, the first thing is to explain that we all knew each other long before this," she said. "We all came from Meryton, of course, and our families knew each other well, but Will was seven years ahead of me in school and nine years older than Lizzy. Charles and Will had been friends for a long time -- they were on the wrestling team together in high school and good friends ever since. But Elizabeth and I didn't really meet Will until he dated our roommate in college. Louisa used to bring him home to show him off at the worst possible times -- when we were dressed for bed, with curlers in our hair and goop on our faces and everything."
"We got back at her, though," Elizabeth said with a laugh. "Will came early for a date once and we let him in to hang out with us, playing board games in the kitchen. She came in at one point, only half ready, and when she saw him there she got angry and started screaming at us."
Darcy smiled. "I think that was our last date."
"And our last year with Louisa as our roommate."
"Will's greatest advantage as a friend, though, was his car," Jane continued over the interruptions. She laughed at Elizabeth and William's objections to this statement and said: "Well, it was! Back in those days, if you had something that could reliably drive more than 60 miles at a time, you were a god. And he was always willing to drive us back to Meryton if we wanted, or trips up to the capital or somewhere. So, of course, after Charles and I got married and were thinking of where we could go on our honeymoon, we asked him if he wouldn't mind driving us to Niagara Falls. He agreed, because he's the kind of person who will do anything for his friends--"
"Thank you," William said.
"--but clearly, though, he wasn't about to be the third wheel on a honeymoon, so he asked if he could bring along the girl he was dating," Jane said.
"But then Jane declared that she wouldn't go, then, unless she could bring me," Elizabeth added.
Jane nodded. "Exactly. So there were five of us going, all packed into Will's car. Now, it's a long trip, and we stopped a lot along the way for scenic walks and things. At the beginning, Will was completely involved with Caroline. But as the trip went on, he began talking more and more with Lizzy, until finally he was spending almost all his time with her. They'd go off and watch the sunrise or he'd take her on walks to point out the trees, or they would talk about their time growing up in Meryton. They were completely wrapped up in each other. So much, so, in fact, that Caroline got really angry and made a bet with Lizzy -- $50 dollars3, that Lizzy would never marry William Darcy, she said. And, in fact, that she'd never marry a Darcy, period! Needless to say," Jane said with a glowing smile at her sister and brother-in-law, "she was wrong."
"And she never paid up?" asked Lydia.
Elizabeth shook her head. "Completely welched4 on the bet."
"So whatever happened to Caroline?" asked Paula's sister Kelley.
Jane laughed. "Actually, you know her. Or, at least, you know her husband. He was your history teacher in high school."
"Mr. Crawford!" the three siblings said, almost at once. Paula added, "But he's, like, six hundred pounds!"
"Not quite that bad," Darcy said. "And he used to be quite fit. In fact, he used to do one-handed push-ups as a kind of party trick. I think we have a photo of him doing that somewhere."
"But, unlike your parents," Jane said, "who have lived around the states and traveled everywhere, they've never really gone anywhere. Which isn't a bad thing," she added hastily. She paused and thought about it for a moment, then turned to Elizabeth with a mischievous grin on her face, entirely out of keeping with her character. "But you know what, Lizzy? I think you won."
Elizabeth laughed and, putting her hand over her husband's, gave it a squeeze. "I don't think that was ever in doubt."The End
1) Based on a true story. Places and names have been changed and a touch of artistic license used to protect the innocent and the guilty.
2) When fighting a forest fire, one of the methods involves clearing a swath of trees and brush in advance of the fire in order to contain it. The lack of combustible material will keep the fire from going further. Too narrow, and there's a greater likelihood the firebreak will be ineffective; too wide, and you do unnecessary damage to the ecosystem. In this instance, the wind aided the fire in helping it "jump" the breakers, causing it to spread further out of control. Luckily this was in an area of almost no human population, and from the stories no fire jumpers or fighters were hurt.
3) Obviously, not all that much money nowadays, but according to the rise in the Consumer Price Index, that would be the equivalent of close to $300 of purchase-power today -- in other words, a lot of money. No wonder she didn't pay.
4) No offense meant. "To welch" is a fairly common phrase used in America for reneging or cheating someone of rightful dues on loss of a bet, but most likely stems from a derogatory term referring to the Welsh.