Kathy said, “Come join my family and me for Christmas.”
I was 23 years old, and I’d never spent Christmas away from my family. Now I was going to travel from Mobile, Alabama, to Denver, Colorado, to be with the Neslunds.
The Brown Corduroy Suit
One month earlier, just before Thanksgiving 1976, I met the love of my life. I was installing software and training Jared, the CPA’s son, on how to use our software. Jared and I hit it off, and he asked me if I would like to go on a blind date. He said, “My friend and I are going out tonight, and she has her girlfriend coming to town from Crested Butte. Would you like to join us?”
“I’m in!” I said.
Jared picked me up at the Holiday Inn on Colorado Boulevard. I wanted to look good for my date. I put on my favorite brown corduroy suit with the red plaid shirt and my dress shoes. I looked good, and I felt good.
I’d bought that suit at a men’s clothier in a shopping mall in Mobile, Alabama. I was sent there by my partner, Richard Brock, who told me I needed to dress more professionally if I was to work with CPAs around the country. I bought a couple of three-piece suits, some white shirts, a red and a blue tie, black oxford shoes, and a black belt. I now looked the part.
But the clothier was not done with me. He said, “You need something dressy but casual. I think you would look good in this brown corduroy suit.” When he pulled it from the rack, I just knew I had to have it. Then he showed me the red plaid shirt, which brought the whole outfit to life. It was me, the new me. Hello, dress for success.
That was my first credit card purchase ever. On my salary of $1,200 per month, it took me over six months to pay for that purchase. But I looked good!
I got out of the car when we arrived at his friend’s house and followed Jared to the front door. Before we arrived, this beautiful blonde opened the door and said, “Hello, Jared. Who is this?”
That was it. Kathy and I looked at each other and knew. Right there. We knew. It was forever.
The Cowboy Boots
It was a month later, Christmas 1976. Kathy picked me up at Denver’s Stapleton Airport. I was so excited to see her. Impossibly, she looked even more beautiful. She was so vibrant and fun. And western. We had talked every day and fell deeper and deeper in love via long-distance over our one-month separation.
She set me up in her dad’s den, and I slept on the pull-out bed. The next morning, Christmas, I heard everybody just outside the door in the family room. I also heard Bing Crosby softly singing “White Christmas” in the living room. I jumped up. Took a shower. Got dressed. I was in the family room in ten minutes. I wanted to make a good first impression with the family.
Everybody was nice to me. I felt at home. Truth is, I was just so happy to be with Kathy. But I did want them all to like me. Kathy’s dad, Ray, and her mom, Sue, and her younger sister, Christy, were there.
I watched and waited, knowing everyone has a Christmas morning ritual. They clearly had theirs, and it was fun and friendly. We drank coffee and made small talk as we sat in the family room around a beautifully decorated Christmas tree and looked out on a snowy Colorado landscape. For a guy from Jersey City, it was like the movies.
They started exchanging presents. I didn’t expect anything, but Kathy reached under the tree and picked up a big present and said, “This is from me to you.”
When I opened it, I was so surprised. It was my first pair of cowboy boots. I never saw anything so beautiful. They weren’t the dressy kind you see in Atlanta. These were cowboy boots you wear when you work on a ranch. They were brown with a rounded toe, made with heavy brown leather, a rubber sole, and a solid heel.
I put them on, and they fit perfectly. I don’t think I took them off once during the whole time I visited that Christmas.
The Green Velvet Dress
I was scheduled to return to Mobile shortly after Christmas. We were a startup, and I had to get back to work. Kathy and I were scheduled to go on a date. Just us, no family. We got dressed to go, and I put on my corduroy suit with the red flannel shirt. She wore a floor-length green velvet dress.
She was stunning. It was the first time I saw Kathy in something other than a sweater and jeans. That green velvet accentuated her blond hair, blue eyes, and fair complexion.
It was snowing really hard that night. Her dad offered his Jeep Grand Cherokee since it was a four-wheel drive. I remember how nervous I was driving this car in the snow. All I could think was, “Don’t wreck the car.” It was snowing so hard. As the light on Colorado Boulevard turned red, I pumped the brake softly but never stopped. We slid straight through the red light. “This ain’t good,” I thought.
We ate at one of those hotel rooftop restaurants. It was the first time Kathy ever tried escargot. She loved it. Every time I learned something new about Kathy, I fell more deeply in love.
We ended up at a lounge with a fire pit in the middle of it. We were having a drink after dinner. We were also having a bit of a spat. But I knew. Time was getting short. I looked at Kathy and said, “Let’s get married.”
The corduroy suit with the red plaid shirt. The working man’s cowboy boots. The green velvet dress. They are now all part of the tapestry of my life. I remember them, each and every one. They remind me of these stories I just shared with you. Memories so real, so vivid, I can taste, smell, and feel the places we were in. Times in my life which would prove to be so important to everything that was to follow.
When I think of that suit, I remember how I felt when I first saw Kathy. When I think of those boots, I remember how it felt to be accepted into Kathy’s family. When I think of that green velvet dress, I remember the look on Kathy’s face just before she said, “Yes.”