Earlier today, I made one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in a few years. For the better part of 1 ½ weeks, I’ve had an intense internal battle over my immediate future in regards to my career as a federal civil servant and my pursuit of love. I had to make a decision between two options in which I’d most assuredly gain something great at the expense of losing an opportunity for which I’m unsure I’ll get a 2nd go. Earlier this morning, I decided to take a drive around the Greater Birmingham Area to loosen myself up in regards to the decision and I somehow ended up in the Mountain Brook area by the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. I decided to take a walk around. I hadn’t been inside of the space in 12 ½ years. But once inside, I immediately remembered the feeling I felt the last time I was there…and it allowed me to make my decision. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the picnic with Valorie Drew.
How I first came across this moment? The idea of a picnic in general, much less a picnic in a botanical gardens, was the idea of my late first love. It was the Summer of 2002. I was 17 and nowhere near the type of romantic I am today so you know it wasn’t my plan. My “sweetheart swagger”, as an old Air Force acquaintance of mine christened my romantic style, hadn’t kicked in yet. Valorie figured it was a great idea to be out on the grounds of the garden, in the sweltering August heat, eating fruits and sandwiches from V. Richard’s Market. I was smitten by her charm so I agreed to the occasion. And there we were, two teenagers sitting on a comforter in the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, eating deli sandwiches and pineapples while looking at all of the flora around us in the Japanese garden.
What it meant to me then? In the moment, it was definitely something a bit different for me. There I was—a kid from the projects in Titusville, far from this serene spot in affluent Mountain Brook—having a picnic with the most beautiful woman in all of the land. I felt like I was at an “I made it” point.
What it means to me now? Looking back on it today, especially considering the circumstances, that picnic resonates. If I really slow down and analyze the history between me and Valorie, our love story really took off after that picnic. In fact, I wouldn’t be out of place by writing that it was a seminal moment in our relationship. The picnic experience in the Gardens that day—especially the moment we shared in the Japanese garden—influenced my appreciation of the Japanese garden at Showa Park during my Tokyo residency.