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Chance encounter as toddler was just the beginning

I first met her on a balmy summer night when I was 2 years old and she was 9. To be honest, I really don’t remember much about our chance meeting. I was told it happened in a tent in my parent’s backyard. My mother was hosting a camp-out for her Sunday School class and had invited a little girl who was new to the neighborhood. I was in my diaper and even then had to be in the middle of all the activity. There I slept with my mother and the girls. Little did I know that one of them was destined to become my wife.

After my chance meeting with Debra in a canvas tent, I spent most of my growing up years with her in some way or another.

As the years passed, our lives were entwined through church activities because we didn’t attend the same school. It wouldn’t have mattered if we had. Our seven-year age difference would have certainly kept us apart. It was fun having an older friend, however. She could drive long before the rest of us could.

Debra, her sister Donna, my sister Denise and I were always up to something creative. We organized social banquets for our youth program, provided entertainment for our church youth retreats and sang in the choir.

One time in particular stands out when I think of some of our shenanigans. We were in charge of the decorating committee for our annual Sweetheart Banquet.

We had decorated for it many times before, but that year we decided on a luau complete with turquoise seas and plastic flowered leis. We always planned an exciting destination for our parties. After all, back then, it was probably as close as we would ever get to the real thing.

We were never given much of a budget, so we had to put on our thinking caps in order to transform a church social hall into a Hawaiian beach. Since we were going to Hawaii for the evening, I felt we definitely needed some sand to make our paradise party authentic. I came up with this great idea. We would go get some free sand.

So with buckets and shovels in hand, Debra and I took her car to a sand pit at a construction site. Her car almost dragged the ground in the back as we headed to the church to create our beach. In my creative mind, it never occurred to me that we would have to remove all that sand from the church social hall after the event. But we did. As Debra became older, we spent less and less time together. She spent her time with her “cool” friends. Our families always stayed in touch, but I missed our creative adventures. Years passed.

Debra married a nice man named Henry and I couldn’t wait to attend their wedding. There I quietly sat on a pew with my mother and father as Debra said her “I do’s.” After her reception was over, I even helped her mother and sister clean up the same social hall that many years before had been the site of our Hawaiian beach.

Time marched on. I went to Atlanta to art school and Debra began a family. She and her first husband had a baby girl they named Courtney. One weekend when I came home from college, my mother, Debra and I spent an entire Saturday together. I had not seen Courtney. We had a ball just being silly and reminiscing about years gone by.

Christmas Day that year, tragedy struck Debra’s family. Her husband had a massive heart attack and died. We were all stunned with the news that traveled throughout our community like wildfire. My family immediately went to Debra’s house to be with her.

The days and weeks after Henry’s death were very sad ones for Debra and her 6-month-old baby.

I visited her when I came home on the occasional weekend. We rekindled our friendship as my family and I helped her and her family through those dark days. One thing led to another and our friendship blossomed into love. Almost everyone who knew us growing up, including our parents, was flabbergasted to say the least. We dated almost a year and I can still see my mother’s face when I told her I was going to marry Debra. With just an “I do!”

I became a husband and an instant father at the ripe old age of 21. Shortly before our first anniversary, our son Blake arrived.

One day recently, we were going down memory lane and began flipping through BOTH of Debra’s leather-bound wedding albums. When we saw that I was in photos at BOTH of Debra’s weddings, we couldn’t help but laugh.

Last Friday, Debra and I celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary. Looking back at all the years reminds me of an exciting roller coaster ride. Up really high hills and down into incredibly deep valleys, our love has been the one thing that remains constant. Who knew that 46 years earlier I would spend the night with my future wife? I certainly didn’t!

But I promise you this: I wouldn’t trade one moment that I have spent with Debra over the years, married to her or not. She definitely makes me whole.

More from mark

Ÿ Southern Style with Mark Ballard Magazine premieres: Check out this brand new magazine in The Telegraph on Saturday. It features articles on art, fashion, entertaining, gardening, cooking and interesting area people.

Ÿ Cooking with Mark: Join Mark this weekend at two cooking events:

Ÿ Vidalia Onion Cooking Show: 5 p.m. Saturday. Southeastern Technical College, Vidalia. Tickets are $10 at Phillips Pharmacy in Vidalia or by calling (912) 537-9973 or (912) 585-9271 or at the door.

Ÿ Macon Junior League’s Le Tour of Kitchens: 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Join Mark at The Wakefield home at 730 Dunblane Drive in Glen Mary. There will be a cooking demo and tasting at 2:30 p.m. For informarion, go to www.jlmacon.com or call (478) 743-0847.

Ÿ Check out Mark’s Web site: Visit www.markballard.com for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff for spring.

Mark’s on www.macon.com 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208 or fax them to (478) 474-4930 or call (478) 757-6877.

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