Where I met the love of my life.

Warning: This is a long one – you might want to take a bathroom break and maybe grab a snack before continuing…

little JenMy father and I moved around a lot when I was a kid. Something about his dad being in the army when he was growing up and his own years in the navy seemed to give him this insatiable need to move every few years. From the east coast to the west, back east, back west, down south, and back again. I spent many years of my childhood on airplanes to visit family, usually without him because he couldn’t afford the vacation time and the plane tickets.

My dad’s family spoiled me rotten, in no uncertain terms. Being raised by a single father was undoubtedly not easy on me and they seemed to be determined to make up for it in any way they could. What I lacked in the “traditional family” department, they made up for by being basically the coolest, most awesome grandparents, aunts and uncles a kid could ask for. My summer and winter vacations involved lots of fun activities with every family member who could squeeze in time with me.

my photographer uncleMy grandmother and I visited all of the major tourist towns in New England, went shopping and consumed lots and lots of happy meals. My grandfather taught me how to fish and even how to shoot a rifle! My great aunt taught me to play the piano and took me to visit all of her friends as if I were a celebrity. I had the world’s coolest aunt who taught me how to make homemade fudge and was always up to date on my latest crushes in both real life and Hollywood. My uncle, the photographer, set up numerous photo shoots and took me to all of his favorite vegetarian restaurants. You get the picture?

my grandmother and IAnyway, one of my favorite places to go with my grandmother was a local independent bookstore / restaurant. It’s a bit of a local legend and my grandmother and I loved to get lunch in their restaurant while pouring through a new treasured book – usually one of those terrible Babysitters Club books that I was obsessed with. Best of all, she always let me get dessert, too! I remember drooling over all of the cakes and pies and cheesecakes in their glass dessert display, narrowing down the choices and trying to pick just one sweet treat for us to share. I’ve always had a bit of a sweet tooth and would gladly have gotten one of each!

Halfway through high school, my father and I decided to move back to New England. He built a house on the land his father (my grandmother’s first husband) had given him years ago. I went away to college, but not too far away – only about an hours drive. I wanted my independence but I also wanted to be close enough to home to come visit whenever I wanted. At some point I got a job at that bookstore my grandmother and I used to go to during a Christmas vacation.

The building the bookstore was in actually used to be a factory and they maintained a lot of the building’s original charm. It got a bit drafty in the winter and the restaurant’s free coffee refills quickly became a necessity to fight off the constant chill, especially in the morning. I think those winter days at the bookstore are what officially started my love of coffee and to this day, I remember getting excited whenever there was a new flavor I’d never had before. The floor sometimes creaked as old buildings often do and it seemed to be constantly in a state of disrepair with leaks during rainstorms and those dreaded drafty walls – but it was filled to the brim with amazing books and fun gift ideas. A lot had changed since I was a child though. The children’s section that I’d once spent hours in, scanning the aisles for the perfect book, had moved to another corner of the store (and moved once more in the time I worked there). A jewelery / new age section had been added and I was now less interested in The Babysitters Club and more interested in the latest chic lit novel (I never said I was blessed with good taste).

About a week after I started working there, my manager asked me if I would train some new hires on the cash registers. At first I was flabbergasted that they considered me experienced enough for such a task, but working the cash registers is a fairly simple task and truth be told, I was more than ready for the job. I trained two people that day – and one of them was my future husband. I can still remember being relieved that he was so much smarter than the other boy I trained – and picked things up quickly and with ease. I also remember how very, very tall he seemed. At five foot two and a half inches, most people are taller than me – but I walk tall and don’t often notice the difference. At six foot two inches tall, I noticed the difference immediately with my husband, who also walks tall.

I don’t think I really noticed the crush I was developing on Dan until that summer when I returned to the bookstore for another vacation. We were running a tent sale together as the current management (I swear the place was being run by entirely different people every time I came back for a vacation) had quickly decided we were the smartest choice of people to put in charge of something. Long hours under a tent, selling the latest remnants of absolute crap that the bookstore had accumulated (think pink flamingos and creepy statues of god only knows what, in addition to the books nobody wanted to buy) gave us time to get to know each other a little bit. I imagined us in future years, married and owning our own bookstore just like the married couple who owned this bookstore. I honestly barely knew him, so that was kind of a strange little daydream to be having and I kept it to myself at the time – though I recall it fondly now when Dan and I are reminiscing about our past.

jen - the college yearsVacations came and went and in typical Jen fashion I probably seemed to have a different boyfriend every time I showed up again at the bookstore. I dated a lot in college, never liking to be alone for too long. I never bothered trying to start a relationship with Dan, as much as I liked him, because it seemed a little bit pointless to start a relationship with someone I’d barely see in a few months – the few relationships I’d tried with “guys from back home” all ended dismally and I tended to stick to guys from my college, for better or worse. But eventually I graduated and moved back home.

Not quite ready to step into the real world, but needing some kind of job in the meantime, I once again returned to my bookstore. This time I asked for a management position, being a hugely successful college graduate and full fledged grown up and all. I remember getting downright giddy over the salary I was offered, though truth be told it wasn’t very much for a college graduate. Dan of  course was still working there and I remember the management at the time asking him for a recommendation for me since he was really one of the few employees left that knew me – of course none of the management had been there long enough to know who I was! Dan says he was thrilled when he heard I was back and all but demanded that they hire me.

Dan and Jen - the dating years

Now that I’d graduated and had no intentions of taking off any time soon, I gave my little crush on him more attention and decided that I really, really liked him. At the time I still had no idea if he liked me. And after a few quasi-dates (like, “Hey my friends are doing this thing, you should come…” and long talks during the shifts we shared together and me nagging my friends for hours on end about whether they thought he might like me, I finally called him up and asked him one night, “Do you like me, because I like you and I thought you should know…” [insert world’s longest pause] long story short, I’m guessing you can all imagine the ending. He did like me.

Seemingly seconds later, our relationship was put to the world’s hugest test. I got pregnant. Seriously. [insert the world ending]

my grandmother, baby MM, my father and IExcept, the world didn’t end. We took a chance on each other and we had the baby and we continued our downward descent into love falling and we got married and we had more kids and we moved halfway across the country together when he lost Job A and was offered Job B in East Cupcake. And I swear every day I fall more in love with him and learn more things about him that I never knew, but ohmygod, LOVE. Like, did you know he’s growing a beard right now? And I never knew I liked beards until he grew one, couldn’t have even pictured Dan with a beard, but seriously? LOVE.

And I can’t help but think back to how this all started and before all this started and picture my grandmother and I eating cheesecake in this bookstore we both liked and me pouring over all of the children’s books wishing I could buy them all and I just cannot even believe that it all happened. That I met my husband in that very same bookstore. I put myself in my grandmother’s shoes and try to picture it. If someone had told her that her granddaughter would meet her future husband in this store that she probably shopped at long before me. Would she believe it? Would she love it even more?

And then I think about the places I go with my kids and wonder? Will this be the place? Could that little boy or girl over there at the train tables be my child’s future love? Will I see the love story happening or will it take me by surprise? Could I even imagine the lives that my children will lead and the places they will see and the people they will love and hate and love… Life is so haphazard and yet so magnificently linked sometimes. It really does make you think…

what does the future hold for them?