How I Met Your Great-Aunt on Your Mother’s Side

A little romantic family history, Part 1

Your Great-Aunt Deb in 1999. This is the first photo she gave me of herself, and it was in my wallet for a long time, so it’s a little beat up.

Hi Mikaela! Since you just turned 1, I don’t expect you to read this by yourself for a little while. But at some point you may find this sort of thing interesting, and I feel like writing it now, so here goes. I don’t know what age you’ll be when you read this, so if you don’t understand something, just ask your parents.

First off, your Great-Aunt Debbie (just Aunt Deb, or Deb, from here on) is your mom’s mother’s (Mom-Mom’s) sister, so that’s how you’re related.

I met Aunt Deb in May 1999 on the Internet. I like to say it that way because it makes her roll her eyes and say, “What your Uncle Jack means is…”

What I mean is, I was about to start with a new German-owned company in York, PA, as their head of IT. Deb was head of admin support, plus the president’s assistant, and the de facto HR person, so she emailed me my offer/acceptance letter with the usual boilerplate, sign here, yada yada. I had a couple questions, which I emailed back with my usual sense of humor; she replied in the same vein. I suppose it was sort of flirtatious, but I didn’t mean it that way. I knew that IT had to get along with the president’s office, so I wanted to get off on a good foot, and anyway, someone in her position would be old, right? Like 40s? (Wait, how old was I at this point? Ah, also “old.” Probably about as old as your mom is when you read this. Yep, really old!)

So we traded emails, and then met in person, and got along well, and there was this photo on her desk of her with six kids (and I thought, wow, she was in really good shape for that many kids!), so even if she was divorced nothing was going to happen. (It’s not that I don’t like kids, it’s just that I prefer nieces and nephews; I can spoil ‘em, have fun with them, load ‘em up with sugar and give them back to their parents.) Over the next couple weeks she showed me the ropes around the office, and I found reasons to stop by her desk to chat. It was nice. Casual. I could just be me. We got to be friends, and I was really comfortable talking to her.

Then I found out the kids in the photo were all nieces (including your mom) and nephews. Deb was single. Unattached. Available.


Well. Now what?

I should ask her out. Yes. Definitely should do that. Good. Where?

On a real date? I wasn’t too confident about those.

Lunch? Lunch would be good. Coworkers go to lunch all the time, right?

So the next time I just happened to be at her desk: “Hi. Got a minute?”

“Sure!” She smiled at me. She had a great smile. Still does. I love that smile.

“So I was thinking, since I live up in Carlisle, I don’t really know any of the restaurants here in York.” This was true. I lived about 45 minutes away from where I worked, and I didn’t know the local town at all. “At some point we’re going to have visitors, like from Germany, right? So, I was thinking, we could go to the local restaurants for lunch so I could check them out. You pick the place, I’ll buy lunch. How’s that sound?”

She thought about it for a few seconds. “Okay. When do you want to start?”

“Is today good?”

“Today is great. I know a very nice place, about 10 minutes away, perfect for taking business visitors. Come get me about noon?”

We had a nice lunch, at a little place that’s gone out of business twice since then. She was easy to talk to. We were gone a little longer than we’d planned, about two hours. Deb told me not to worry about it. “I work through lunch most days, I stay at work until an hour or two after I’m entitled to leave—if I want to take a two-hour lunch once in awhile, I think I’ve earned it!”

We ended up taking a lot of two-hour lunches over the next few months.

At the time I belonged to a group of singles who would get together once a month and cook dinner for each other. It was a chance to try new recipes, especially ones that served a lot of people, because when you normally just cook for yourself you could end up eating leftovers for a week. But once a year we’d have a catered lunch where other people would do the cooking, and we’d just enjoy ourselves. Members could bring guests. I’d never done that before, because I never had anyone to bring. I could bring Deb!

If she was interested. Maybe she wouldn’t be interested. Maybe this was a dumb idea.

I needed to talk to someone else for advice. My problem was, the person I would turn to for good advice was… my buddy Deb. So that wouldn’t work.

Or would it?

I wandered over to Deb’s desk. “Got a couple minutes? I need some personal advice.”

“Okay!” She gave me her full attention. She’s good about stuff like that.

“See, I met this woman. And I really like her, and I thought I would ask her out. The thing I’m thinking of is a catered lunch— remember that cooking group I told you about? They’re hosting it — and I think she would enjoy meeting them, and the food will be good, but I don’t know if she’s into that sort of thing.”

Deb’s face was very neutral. “Hmmm, you haven’t been out with her before on a date?”


“Well, I’ve always found the direct way is the best. My suggestion is to just ask her.”

“Just ask her?”

“Just ask her.” Did I see a little bit of a smile? Yeah, she’d figured it out.

“Okay. Would you like to be my guest for our cooking club’s lunch.”

Big smile. “I would love to!”

So I was very pleased with myself.

But when I went to email the details on the date and time to Deb, I realized the lunch was over three weeks away! That seemed like a long time. A really long time.

Maybe something sooner?

I did some research. There was a restaurant on the river, an old inn, that I had been to once with friends for brunch. It was rated very highly as a romantic dinner spot.

I called Deb. “The lunch on the 26th. Now that I’m looking at the calendar, that seems like a ways away. A long ways away. How would you like to have dinner on Thursday at the Accomac Inn?

“I was also thinking that the 26th seems like far away. I would love to have dinner with you at the Accomac! I’ve always wanted to go there.”

So I made reservations for two (I actually had to call the Accomac, on a wired phone, in person, and talk to someone to make the reservation — this was back in 1999, so things were still primitive) and we were set.

I wore a nice suit to work, since I lived too far away to go home and change, while Deb dashed home after work to get into something fancier than her work clothes. I picked her up at her place in York. She owned a townhouse, a little old, but it had guest rooms so your mom and her cousins could stay over any time. It had old furniture that belonged to your great-great grandparents and made the downstairs look very elegant.

Which was also how Deb looked. I didn’t have a phone with a camera back then (no no, I picked her up in a car — only the Amish used horses, it wasn’t that long ago) so I don’t have a picture, but trust me, she looked wonderful.

We found our way to the Accomac, using a map and road signs because it was way out in the country (I’m going to stop talking about the old technology — you can ask Siri to explain it all to you), and got there as the sun was casting long shadows over the Susquehanna River. We were seated where we could look out over the water, although it was too warm (summer in south central PA, remember) to sit out on the porch. Our waiter could have been someone picked by a theater casting agency: “Hi, we need someone for a romantic dinner scene, he should be in his 50s with a full gray beard, maybe sort of British-looking — oh, and he needs a sharp, dapper waiter’s uniform!”

The food was wonderful.

The view was wonderful.

The conversation was wonderful.

Deb was… Deb was awesome.

And there was bread pudding for dessert, which is the absolute most perfect dessert for a romantic meal. (Some people may tell you differently. Do not believe these people, Mikaela, because they will mislead you and misguide you and make you buy extended warranties that you don’t need. Trust your great-uncle Jack on this one.)

The sun had just set as we were leaving, so it was getting dark but we could still see the river. The honeysuckle was in bloom, and the frogs and cicadas and crickets and all the other critters that provide the nightly background music by the water were tuning up or in full voice. Romantic that I am, I recognized an opportunity when I saw one.

“So, would you like to walk down by the river?”

She smiled that smile. “I would love to.”

“Let me get a flashlight out of the car, just to be safe.” I grabbed the flashlight, then her hand, and we strolled down to the roadway that ran along the bank. It was perfect.

On the way back it was pretty dark, so I turned on the flashlight.

No I didn’t. My sister (whom I love dearly) had gotten me an emergency flashlight for the car. No batteries to go bad. Just a hand grip to squeeze to generate power.

It was Russian-made. Soviet era, I think. It was, um, noisy.

Oh, and the light only stayed on as long as I kept pumping it.

Honeysuckle. Frogs. Crickets. And ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-RUHRUHRUH-RRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrr…

Still. Best date. Ever.

We’ll finish up the date in Part 2. And the gourmet luncheon on the Millersburg Ferry. And the kinda-sorta date in between, which was dinner and a video, although I don’t think your great-aunt will let me go into too many details on that one.
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