The Proposal Story

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It was a dark and stormy night. The rain crashed with a rhythmic pounding on the wooden porch, while the sparks of lightning flashed ghostly outlines of the forest surrounding the small cabin. The power had gone out hours ago, and the few dimly flickering candles remaining were soon to be consumed.

Through the symphony of thunder and rain came the faintest trodding of footsteps, of boots sloshing down the dirt and gravel path. Slowly they approached, growing louder and louder with each step, more and more distinct. A pause, and then three echoes of water-sodden shoes on the three wooden steps approaching the door. The candles flared and flickered, as if trying to flee from a frigid draft drawing near.

A knock on the door, a second, a third, each harsher, more insistent than the last. But this midnight visitor made no announcement, no introduction or pleas for shelter. He had come with intent, seeking this one place, as isolated and forsaken as it was. Through the window, a flash of lightning revealed an ominous shadow, a slender figure, caped, hooded, holding a long rod, some tool indistinguishable from the brief illumination.

But who would venture so far from civilization, deep into these dark woods at this time in this storm? What could he want? The tension grew with each tick of the clock, with each breath of air, with each heartbeat. The candles threw off their final sparks as a hand slowly turned the doorknob, as the door creaked open, as the cabin fell into total darkness.

Good thing Charles proposed to Jenny in Boston in the middle of the day. He did it at the Museum of Fine Arts, in the impressionist gallery.

Proposal Brainstorming

Here’s the long version of what happened. Jenny and Charles met in September 2002 while working at Harvard’s IT department as User Assistants. By 2010, they decided it was time to get married. Now the question was how Charles would propose. Jenny had a few ideas. Idea #1’s inspiration came from Meet the Parents: a German Shepherd puppy wearing a big red bow with the ring tied in the middle would run towards Jenny and then Charles would propose. Idea #2’s inspiration came from a bird show: a parrot would land on Jenny’s shoulder, hold out the ring with its claw, and say “Will you marry me?” Unfortunately both of these ideas were vetoed by Charles; he thought the bird might eat the ring and the puppy would run off with it. Neither scenario is ideal.

At this point Charles countered with a few ideas of his own. Jenny likes split pea soup, so Charles though it might be fun to hide the ring in a bowl of it. Or alternatively he could hide it inside a Ueberraschungs Eier (a German chocolate egg that has a toy hidden in the middle of the egg). Jenny liked the chocolate egg idea, but wasn’t sure how Charles’s plan of having a salesperson at Cardullo’s (chocolate and cheese store in Harvard Square where the chocolate egg is sold) give that specific egg to Jenny would work. Luckily, Charles came up with a different plan altogether.

Proposal Hints

In the spring of 2010, Charles finalized how he was going to propose. Being naturally very inquisitive and curious, Jenny wondered what it could be. Charles offered her a few hints:

  1. The proposal had to occur on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.
  2. It had to occur after July 2010.
  3. There would not be any animals.
  4. If Charles were to propose before June 2010, it would have to either be in Japan or Canada.

Needless to say, Jenny had no idea what Charles was planning. July passed and August rolled around.

Morning of the Proposal Day

Charles flew into Boston on the morning of Friday, August 20, 2010. He had a few stops to make first before he could propose. Stop #1: take the train down to Providence to rent a car from Avis. Stop #2: drive to Connecticut to have lunch with Jenny’s parents and ask their permission.

Charles arrived at Jenny’s parents’ house exactly at noon. Three hours later, after Jenny had suffered a few MIs and episodes of afib, Charles called to tell her he was on his way to Boston (where he would be proposing). It was now time for Jenny to head to Boston as well. Unfortunately, rush hour into Boston starts at noon on Fridays. Dominique (one of Jenny’s med school friends) was headed up to Boston that way and offered Jenny a ride. A drive that would take 40 minutes without traffic ended up lasting two hours. Jenny arrived in Central Square at 5:30 pm.

Afternoon of the Proposal Day

In the meantime, Charles had arrived in Boston, given his car to Feng (a friend of Charles’s and Jenny’s from Harvard), and walked over to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). Feng’s instructions were to pick Jenny up from Central Square, blindfold her, and take her to the MFA.

Feng picked Jenny up and the two of them drove along Massachusetts Avenue into Boston. Along the way, Feng conveniently handed Jenny the overnight goodie bag Charles had received from Jetblue. Inside was an eyemask, which Jenny was to put on. As Jenny was fairly familiar with the streets of Boston, Feng decided to make extra turns along the way to the MFA to throw Jenny’s sense of direction off track; it worked. Jenny had no clue where they were headed. Along the way, Feng tried to distract Jenny by asking her if she would know where to go once they got to the location, as Charles had not told Feng the final location inside MFA. “She’ll know where to go,” Charles had assured Feng. The conversation Feng and Jenny had in the car went something like this:

Feng: Jenny do you know where to go when we get there? ’Cause Chuck didn’t tell me—he said you’d know.
Jenny: Uhh I guess depending on where the place is.
Feng: What if we went to the Museum of Science?
Jenny: To see the chickies!!
Feng: What about Harvard?
Jenny: Lowell G entryway or the UA lounge?
Feng: What about HMS (Harvard Medical School)?
Jenny: Uhh absolutely no clue.

Feng parks the car and Jenny takes the blindfold off. “Where in the world are we?” Jenny asked. “This is the back entrance of the MFA,” Feng replied; “do you know where to go?” Beaming, Jenny says, “Yes! I know exactly where to go!”

The Proposal Itself

Jenny and Feng entered the MFA (Feng had an annual MFA pass which allowed him to bring Jenny in as a guest) and as they stood in the rotunda, Feng asked, “Where are we going?” “The Impressionist Exhibit!!!” Jenny responded. Charles was sitting on the benches waiting for Jenny as she entered the exhibit. While she had romantically imagined him pacing nervously around the exhibit, he was instead sending an email on his phone. At any rate, Charles proposed, Jenny said yes, and the rest is history. They celebrated the proposal with dinner at Sel de la Terre and a stroll down Boylston Street.

Why the MFA

Jenny’s favorite painting is Renoir’s Dance at Bougival. The last time she was at the MFA in summer 2006, there was a small sign where the painting usually hung that read “On loan to Tokyo.” This made Jenny very sad. Charles, knowing how much Jenny loved that painting, got the idea to give her a print of it as a Christmas present in 2009. Then he thought to himself “why don’t I propose in front of the painting?” Fast forward to 2010. The painting was again on loan, this time to Japan and Canada. The painting would not be back in the MFA until July 2010. And as Jenny would not be able to get out of the hospitals until early evening, the proposal had to take place after 5 pm. The MFA is open late in the summers on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. And of course, animals are not allowed inside.

That is the proposal story. For those of you interested in the story of how Jenny and Charles met, that one will be posted in a few months. In the meantime, happy reading and Happy Holidays!