On this day 30 years ago, I ate the most important meal of my life.
Five months earlier I had met a gentleman and his son at Lourdes in the south of France. I was giving a tour of the Pyrenees, which drew two busloads of pilgrims. One of the buses got lost, and when we finally rendezvoused in Pau, the capital of Navarre under King Henry IV, the leader of the pilgrimage told me to get on that other bus and give them a lecture because they all wanted their money back. A daunting assignment indeed!
I did as he directed, and the following morning the father spoke to me on the street. He said he had learned that I had taught Russian history, and that his daughter worked in Russian science and technology. He asked if he could ask her to call me to discuss our respective fields. I replied affirmatively, thinking I might hear from her.
A few months later, she did call, and I enjoyed our academic conversation. As I was going to Washington shortly thereafter, I invited her to have dinner at my club, and she accepted. The date was September 29, 1992. Driving to town, I somehow thought this dinner would be important. I met her in the lobby of the club, and by the time we had gotten to our table in the dining room, I knew that she was the one intended for me.
The evening went on for several hours, concluding with my driving her back to her apartment in downtown D.C., after which I spent the three-hour drive home thinking about how I should proceed. We spoke on the telephone for three months, during which she asked if I would be free to come to her father’s house on the Eastern Shore for Thanksgiving Dinner, which sadly I was not. That is the meal I most regret having missed in my lifetime.
That year I had been asked to deliver the annual Holly Ball oration. I called and asked if she would be my date for the event, and she accepted, but said she would have to be coming from Chapel Hill by bus. To be trite, my heart skipped a beat, and I told her I looked forward to meeting her at the Richmond bus terminal. When she stepped down from the bus, it skipped another.
She had not been to the Northern Neck previously, hence I brought her here by the scenic route, pointing out places of interest along the way. We went to the Ball, after which while taking her back to Washington, I told her that I had been invited to the Bal Polonaise in New York and asked if she would be my date. My confidence increased when she readily accepted.
In the meantime, I began “commuting” to Washington for dinner. One day she made hummus for me. It was my first taste of what has since become a staple of our family’s existence. The Bal Polonaise is held each year in the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel overlooking Central Park. While dancing there I asked her to marry me. She looked surprised and did not give me an answer. Undaunted, we continued dancing. Every time we spoke thereafter, I repeated my request for marriage.
On one occasion I phrased the question by saying, “We really are meant to be married.” She replied, “Yes. I know you are right.” I said, “Does that mean you accept my proposal?” She replied, “Yes.”
For three months we were engaged, and we committed matrimony on the Eastern Shore nine months to the day after we had met. Thirty years after that first meeting, we have been blessed with the two B.E.s, and now two Grand B.E.s. I need not remark, but I shall, that I never again shall have a meal of such consequence as that dinner 30 years ago this evening.