Today would have been my mom’s 67th birthday. She’s been gone for seven years.
And while it’s a day laced with some sadness, it’s also a memorable occasion because exactly 15 years ago today, my husband asked me to marry him.
I wrote about it in my memoir, A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging.
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After people read the book, I’ve often heard from readers, “I wish the book came with pictures!” Others have commented, “I loved reading about your courtship, engagement, and wedding day!”
This past July, I returned to the place where my husband proposed, at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, South Africa. I took a few photos of the exact spot where we sat, and since today is the 15th anniversary of that memorable occasion, I thought I’d share the photos with you.
Here’s an excerpt from the book about our marriage proposal story to give you some context for the photos below:
In late October 2003, just over a year after we started dating, my mom’s birthday rolled around. Kagiso knew I was missing her more than usual that day, so he suggested that we go to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens as a special treat. On the way there, Kagiso said, “I haven’t called your mom to say happy birthday yet. I should do it now before she leaves for work.”
I’d learned in the past year that calling people on their birthdays was an important part of Kagiso’s culture. People might not receive gifts or cards, but they were sure to get dozens of phone calls. Kagiso asked me to stop at a pay phone.
Since I had already talked to her that day, I stayed in the car while he jumped out and dialed the four hundred digits required to make an international call from a pay phone using a prepaid calling card.
At Kirstenbosch, the weather was perfect. As we strolled along, we took in the scenery and the realization that I was leaving in three weeks to go back to Michigan for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We dragged our feet a bit, hoping if we lingered, the time we had together before my departure would last a little longer.
When we reached a stone path with a narrow, shallow stream, we stopped and sat on some large rocks on the bank.
We took off our shoes and let our feet soak in the moment. Kagiso leaned over and gently ran his fingers through the cool water. He started talking about how much I meant to him, and how much our relationship had changed him for the better. I figured, He’s just sentimental because I’m leaving soon.
Then, to my complete surprise, he reached his hand into the sand under the water, and pulled out a solitaire diamond ring! He shook off the dripping water, held it out to me, and asked, “Will you marry me?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed without hesitating. My heart pounded with excitement and shock. “How did you do that?” I asked, still in awe of the way he pulled the ring out of the sand. “And how long have you been planning this?”
In typical fashion, he just laughed and gave no real explanation to satisfy my queries. He did, however, reveal that he had ulterior motives when calling my mom for her birthday. “I asked for her permission to marry you, and she said yes.” He then recounted a conversation he’d had with my dad ten months earlier, when Kagiso visited Michigan. Apparently my dad had pulled him aside one evening and said, “If you want to marry Kate, you don’t have to ask me first. You can just do it.”
On our way back to the car, Kagiso had to hold my hand to keep me from floating away. He teased me for the way I couldn’t stop gawking over the sparkles in my ring. Back at my apartment, I called everyone I knew to share the news.
After some discussion, we decided to have two wedding ceremonies—one in Michigan, one in South Africa. That way, both sides of the family could be part of our celebration. We set dates for the following June and July—a summer wedding in Michigan and a winter wedding in Cape Town, two weeks apart.
When I left Kagiso at the airport in November, the separation didn’t seem quite as unbearable—I had two weddings to plan, a mom in remission, and a fiancé waiting for me upon my return.
Read the rest of the story in my memoir,