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A side of cheese dip with your marriage proposal?

Editor’s note: This column originally published Feb 17, 2017.

There is nothing like a soft pretzel. It’s salty, provides instant warmth as it hits the tongue and can be dipped in cheese sauce. It can also be a catalyst for the most important decision you’ve ever made in your life.

There’s no better place than a pretzel line to decide, together with your partner, to spend the rest of your lives with each other. Shortly after Christmas, that’s exactly what Betsy and I did. While she was deciding between a full pretzel or a cup of pretzel bites, and while I determined whether I should get cheese or marinara dipping sauce, we looked at each other. After five years together, it was the pretzel line at the mall where we asked each other if we wanted to get married.

The soft pretzel has definitely moved to the top bracket in my Olympiad of comfort foods.

It was the happiest moment of my life — in or outside of a mall. It’s actually fitting we decided together and at Jordan Creek. We’re both self-described mall rats, sometimes running to Jordan Creek — empty pockets in toe — as a refuge after a long workday.

Deciding together was also simple. Those who know us best, would likely not define Bets and me as traditionalists. We’ve always done things our way on our time, and our wedding will also be truly “us.”

For some, Jan. 20 was either a day of national celebration or national mourning — depending on your political persuasion. But for us, it was not Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day — it was the day we announced to the Facebook world our wedding plans.

Our families had plenty of prior notice through phone calls and in-person visits, but for friends who don’t see us every day, we decided to make a fun, somewhat rambling, Facebook monologue about our engagement — pretzel story included. Bets and I decided to make things easier on everyone and get married on a boat.

Our first vacation as a pair was on a small barrier island off Florida’s gulf coast known as Cayo Costa State Park. We pack light and camp rough on the island, but it’s hard to beat a cheap beachfront vacation with only 20 other people on the entire barrier island.

On our last trip to the little-known vacation spot, the Tropic Star ship boat captain told the story of his occasional ventures into wedding officiating with passengers. Most are on the ocean en route to Cayo Costa. Betsy and I thought this was very Jim and Pam (“The Office” reference for any non-Michael Scott-ers audience), and we were on-board with the idea.

So in May, we will board the Tropic Star at Jug Creek Marina in Bokeelia, Fla. When we hop off at the Cayo Costa dock, we’ll be married. Our family will celebrate with us in August in the lead up to — what else — multiple trips to the Iowa State Fair.

But, a little bit of tradition can’t hurt. About three years ago when Betsy and I first discussed getting married, I was told specifically there was no need for a diamond. She didn’t need a giant rock or a proposal. But I bent that rule just a bit to keep an heirloom in the family.

After my Grandma Chelleen passed away last year, she left a World War I-era engagement ring to my mom. It was given to my great-grandma Gabbert between 1915 and 1917 by a man who died on his way to the war in Europe. She kept it and passed it down. My mother gave it to me. She told me she could wear it for 20 years and pass it on, but she knew it would make Betsy and me very happy.

So, while on the kitchen floor playing with our dog before bed, I told Betsy I had something to show her. I took the green-velvet covered box, which I’d been hiding for three weeks, out of my coat pocket. I told her the ring’s story and, for a moment, we could both smell soft pretzels.

Contact Mike Mendenhall
at mmendenhall@

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