I take no pride in my deception. I'm actually ashamed of myself--that I could be SO sneaky. On the other hand, I'm a genius when it comes to considering every possible angle of how this proposal was supposed to work out so I could TRULY SURPRISE my fiancee.
Though I had known for awhile that I wanted to propose to Meredith, I had to wait until a prime time as to not raise any suspicion. You see, Meredith and I used to watch YouTube proposal videos and I would laugh at her as she cried EVERY TIME a girl would have shocked expression as he pulled out the ring. I knew this was the ONLY way I wanted to propose to her.
Thankfully, Meredith has a birthday coming up. My cover was set in place. For this project I enlisted the help of famous arkansas wedding planner Jenessa Bailey for a multitude of secret tasks. Task One: invite our family and a few friends to a "surprise birthday party" for Mere. You see, they didn't know it was an engagement party, and therefore, my secret is still safe. Task Two: invite Meredith and me to a "double date birthday dinner" at a fancy-pants restaurant. You see, now Mere would get all fancied up... the only possible way she'd want it to happen.
A couple weeks ago, I went to Romance Diamond Co. (more on how I doubled my budget in a future blog post) and picked out a ring I fell in love with at first sight. I know, I know... this is Mere's ring. But hey, I have to take credit for it, as well as look at it for the rest of my life. Therefore, it needs to be something I love. And, let's be honest... I know more about weddings than most girls do-- a fact I'm only half-proud of. Okay, I knew I couldn't keep the ring on me for a week with out snoopy-snooperson finding it, so I arranged to pick it up the following week. Which I did. (A big thank you to Nic, one of my BEST BUDS and owner of NILO Productions for shooting some footage with my video camera for me!). Meredith and I will love watching that again and again! Here are a couple shots of the ring:
Next up, it was time to talk to the dad. Honestly I was more nervous about this than any other part of the process--not because I didn't think he'd give me permission, it's just that John McClary has been the most important man in Meredith's life for her entire life. On a tangent, I see why. He is a wonderful man, for whom I have the UTMOST respect. If I can be 1/2 the man, father, and husband he has been for the past 30+ years, I'll be the second best man I know. When Meredith and I first started dating, she gave me the best compliment to date: "you remind me a lot of my dad." Those words are still very dear to me. Okay, back on track... my hands were shaking due to nerves, and emotions were running high. John, of course, gave me permission to give the ring to his daughter, and I saw tears swelling in his eyes. That, more than anything, showed me his love and approval for Meredith and me. The hardest part was over.
The next 36 hours were the most sickening of my life. That is, my stomach did some really bizarre things. Waves of nerves over came it every couple minutes for the next day and a half. But that was nothing compared to what happened when I went to sleep...
Have you had a two nightmares in a row? Three? Well, I seriously had 10 consecutive nightmares about Meredith finding out and, thus, losing the surprise element I had fought so hard to protect--from seeing a family member in the restaurant lobby to reading a text on my phone spilling the beans to seeing the ring BULGE in my pocket. Thankfully, it brought about a deeper determination to the details so that I would be able to give her the surprised she was so deserving of. I just didn't know if my lack of sleep would prevent my attention from maintaining the focus on details this situation needed.
But the paranoia proved stronger than the sleep-deprivation. I called Jenessa 10 times in the next 10 hours with new ideas on how to sync everything perfectly, keep away suspicion, and how to make this the most memorable night in the life of Meredith McClary.
Wait a second... I thought you said there was lots of lying and sneakery going on?
Yes, yes there was.
How did I have time to go buy a ring?
On Wednesdays I teach two college photography classes in Missouri. There is a 4 hour break between classes, and I normally go play golf. However, I hopped back into my car and drove back to Fayetteville to check out rings, as well as Bordino's party room and balcony. Unfortunately I ran short on time and had to cancel the night class and, therefore, hang out at Jenessa and Mark's house with them for a couple hours.
How did I have time to talk to her dad?
I told Mere that I needed to go to my college class I teach early to get caught up on some work. That allowed me to drive to Joplin and have the appropriate meeting with the Pops.
How did I hide the ring?
This was brilliant (and spawned from one of my nightmares). I had Jenessa wrap a shoe box (easy to open) and bring it with the ring already inside (I dropped it off earlier that day). Ironically, the ring was right out in the open, two feet from Meredith, and she had no idea. Sneaky sneaky.
How did I make it clear to everyone to keep their mouths SHUT?
First off, I didn't tell many people (I later apologized to them for keeping them in the dark). I didn't even tell my mother. Everybody showed up at Bordino's thinking they were going to a surprise birthday party. The people I DID tell were only told at the very latest moment possible. For example, Nic didn't even know why he was coming to Fayetteville until we were about 3 blocks away from picking up the ring.
How did Mere have NO idea?
This is one of the hardest lies of the bunch. I had known for awhile that I wanted to propose, and Mere had even been pushing it a little bit. Okay, exaggeration... she REALLY WANTED A RING. However, I had to make her think it wasn't going to happen. This hurt me to do, but we had to have a fight about how we aren't ready to be engaged. I wanted so badly to tell her and to make everything happy and lovey, but I knew she'd appreciate the shock and surprise of an honest-to-goodness surprise proposal.
There were lots of other tiny little lies I had to tell (some to make her buy a new outfit, add a fresh coat of paint to her nails, etc, but they're insignificant to the story.
So now we come to it at last: the actual proposal. Mark and Jenessa picked us up for our double date at 7:00 (which was the time everybody else was to be in the party room at Bordino's, cars already valeted). The wrapped shoebox containing the ring was in plain sight between the two front seats. Meredith and Jenessa were chatting about wedding stuff, as usual, and I spent most of the car ride practicing my line: "Meredith, will you marry me? Meredith, will you marry me? Meredith, will you marry me?" (I knew she didn't want a big long speech with her proposal after seeing it in the aforementioned youtube videos). As we approach Bordino's I know that I had arranged for Lauren to photograph and Nic to videograph the proposal that was to take place on the balcony. Furthermore, I knew that the balcony was going to have a thousand-million candles lit. Panic set in as I saw it from afar and thought Meredith would surely notice. She did not. Once inside Bordino's, Jenessa stuck to the script and said, "They said our table wasn't ready yet, let's go look at the upstairs room" (where she had told us earlier she wanted to have her New Year's Party). Jenessa handed me the shoebox as we climbed the stairs and I made some silly comment about how fancy it looked up there. I took initiative opening the door to the balcony, knowing this was about to make Meredith LITERALLY the happiest girl on planet Earth. She followed me out above Dickson, and with the corner of candles lighting the way I turned on her and dropped. The ring made an appearance as she covered her face, completely surprised. I delivered my line as rehearsed and she said yes. She. Said. Yes.
Jenessa was nearly as happy and tearful as Mere...
If you know us, you know we HAVE to get a feet shot!
Oh wait! That's not all! I told her to follow me to have dinner so we could call her parents. The downstairs party room, however, was already filled with her parents, along with other family and friends. We walked in, they yelled "SURPRISE" and I told Meredith to say surprise back. Instead, she just started crying and held her hands up to her face. Her sister was the first to spot the ring and shouted out, "You're wearing a ring!" Meredith answered, "Dale just proposed up on the balcony" and amidst jaws dropping and cheers, we were celebrated by our friends and family.
Our friend Amy (of Sincerely Yours) had a hunch and printed out two versions of a gift: one to Meredith McClary, and one to Meredith Benfield. She's good! :)
One last thing... I wanted Ellie to realize and appreciate what was happening, as well as know that she is still the most special, wonderful little girl in the world. For that reason she got to open a present from me as well - a fancy crystal heart necklace which she loved...
We talked about what it meant for Meredith to have a ring - I asked her "Do you know what's going on?" as I pulled her aside to give her the present. She said, "you gave her a wedding ring." I said, "Kinda, it's an engagement ring, which means we are going to get married!" And then, I didn't know what to expect. You see, Ellie has always SERIOUSLY wanted to marry me. She tells me all the time. She said something that totally surprised me:
"That makes me happy."
Me too, sweet baby girl.
Talk to you soon,
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