Cultural expectations these days are tougher to meet than ever. Imagine the pressure on young guys to create a proposal event for their ladies that is at once memorable, thoughtful, and grandiose. Now imagine what it would take to make it a surprise to her. Now… try doing it from 7,800 miles away in the metropolitan Middle East. Herein was my task.
Heather and her girlfriends Larissa and Kristy are what we like to call “bougie on a budget.” They love to experience fine things but don’t necessarily love throwing money away. All three are sincere nerds and enjoy history and culture. A few summers ago, they went to Europe and saw such attractions as the Eiffel Tower, Westminster Abbey, and Highclere Castle, the set for Downton Abbey.
That being understood, you can see why a winter trip to the Georgian Terrace Hotel was not anything out of the ordinary for them. The historic venue was opened in 1911 and housed the cast of Gone with the Wind before its premiere in 1939. When I started a Facebook messenger chat with Larissa and Kristy to begin the conspiratorial process, they had already talked about going there and eating at its feature restaurant, Livingston.
Thus we began our scheming. I would figure out a way to show up in America unannounced in February on the day they were in Atlanta, and I would pop the question. As I had considered different location options, nothing particularly had captivated me. What better place to propose, I realized, than the very hotel at which they would be eating? Before I even knew the name of the hotel, Larissa had sent me some snapshots from other photographers. As soon as I saw the historic marble staircase, I knew that had to be the spot! Heather and I had secretly been ring shopping months earlier, and I had already bought the diamond ring online. It was a size 6 white gold engagement ring of pavé design, with milgrain edging. I knew she was going to love it.
Being a planner, Heather wanted to know some dates that I would potentially be in America, so I acquiesced… somewhat. I simply told her to “keep Valentines weekend open,” not mentioning that it was actually the second weekend of my intended 10-day trip.
Unbeknownst to her, I arrived in Atlanta on Friday, February 8. I met with Trevor, the adept and experienced concierge of the hotel, and paid the standard fee for his proposal package. It was worth every penny. At the same time, Heather and friends were having a sleepover, I suppose you could call it.
The next day, I woke up early because of jetlag and prepared feverishly. Heather and her friends got ready to begin their drive to Atlanta as I was leaving my parents’ house to go prepare the venue. There was a bit of a miscommunication that morning, as I didn’t know what color Heather was wearing, so I just wore a special light blue blazer, a white dress shirt, and khaki pants, with reddish brown dress shoes.
Suddenly a big wrench was thrown into the workings of the plan. It turned out Heather wore a black dress. Heather‘s girlfriends, upon realizing that I had already left my parents’ house and that Heather and I were not matching, went shopping with Heather on the way to Atlanta. That was the only point during the day where Heather grew suspicious that something was up. The shopping venture yielded a light blue cocktail dress. It matched me perfectly.
While they were looking for parking for about 45 minutes, I was several levels up on the staircases of the hotel growing anxious. At last, they arrived and went to lunch, a late one, no less. Once they finished, they went on a so-called “free tour” offered by the Hotel, which was really part of Trevor‘s plan. They toured the banquet hall which hosted the Gone With The Wind cast during its 1939 premiere as well as the balcony that was built for Vivian Leigh to greet guests. He then took Heather to the top level, level nine, while he got Larissa and Kristy to go attend to their “parking meter.” In reality, the two of them went to floor three, met me, and then got into position to take photographs of the proposal, one in each corridor opposing the staircase. Trevor explained to Heather several levels up as she descended the staircases how Vivian Leigh stood at this very spot and greeted thousands of onlookers anticipating the premiere of Gone With The Wind. Heather was not impressed by his store of knowledge and threw in a few tidbits of her own, of which he did not seem very interested. As they he sauntered down the fifth and fourth levels of the staircase, she saw red and pink rose petals lightly scattered across the stairs. Her first thought was that there had been a wedding or party there and that they had not fully cleaned up yet. As she continued down to the staircase on the third level, the pedals grew more and more numerous, and she saw a heart made out of them on the landing. As Trevor was directing her to watch or step on the slippery marble stairs and to stand in the middle of the heart, I emerged from the corridor to her left, one pink rose in hand.
And she was utterly in shock. “Grant… what are you doing here?” She asked, even though she knew exactly why I was there. We embraced, all the more tightly for our months of absence.
She had had to descend from the staircase on the left side, so I slowly took up the staircase on the right side, of which each step had pictures and printouts of messages we had sent one another during the relationship, as well as a few entries from my journal when I had written about her. I took my time to read each one to her.
Up at the next level of steps, I got down on one knee and said, “Heather Leigh Greene, will you marry me?” She enthusiastically replied yes, and we kissed.
Heather’s girlfriends took a few more pictures of the beaming lovers until one of them asked, “Well, aren’t you going to put the ring on her finger?” I had shown her the ring, but I had completely forgotten to slip it on her finger!
We both took a few minutes to catch our breath, and then we went to the foyer of the hotel. Trevor had arranged for there to be a grand piano waiting. He had adorned it with the dozen pink roses I had bought Heather as well as a couple glasses of sparkling cider. It just so happened that I had written a song for her. Here’s an excerpt of some of the lyrics.
The kiss goodbye, stepping on a plane
Counting the days till I see you again
That day just can’t come fast enough
To hear your whisper in my ear
Anything to bring you here
Even though it’s all I can take
Sometimes in Christ I’ve got to wait
You’re still just so far away
But there’s one thing I have today
That when I close my eyes, I see you
When I close my eyes, I see you
We sipped cider and kissed once again. Like a child getting a brain freeze eating a jumbo ice cream cone, Heather struggled to absorb all the details of the moment because of her sheer shock at my surprise appearance in America.
After that, we went out to the Garner family land in Haralson County. We greeted my parents and had my cousin, a professional photographer, come and take some pictures of us. We then celebrated with family and close friends at my parents’ place, where my mother had prepared a delightful medley of pictures, candles, and engagement decorations.
I’m so grateful to God for the many friends and family that helped make this unforgettable day possible.