The ecstasy, dangers, agony and rewards of falling in love with

Jen, will you marry me?... and again ... and again?

Did I mention that Jen and I "had to get married"? ... at 50!

Oh yes ... I still have to (wink) get to that part.
Anyhow, it happens -  but what a cute little guy!

How many girls have dreamed of what they will wear on their wedding day, what they will look like as they walk down the isle on their dad's arm with the string quartet playing a wedding march while their mom sits in the front row, dabbing her eyes with a tissue, sobbing (not so quietly) and up ahead of her stands the priest, her groom, the bride's maids, the best-man? What happens if, to get all that, you have to marry someone you like (even a lot), someone your mom likes even more, someone who can give you most everything, but he's not your true-love, not the man you dreamed would be standing there waiting for you?


Every girl's dream - but not my wedding ... and not Jen's choice!

Jen's wedding day - but not yet mine.

a gorgeous Bridal gown - but it was just not meant to be ... for Jen.

Stunning ... and, for the record, this dress would have been perfect!

Cape Town South Africa, 1979 the actual wedding #1 ... for us, saw Jen wearing her old
 yellow dance dress. Having dreamed, longed for & fought for this day for almost 9yrs,
Jennifer could have worn a tee-shirt, shorts and sandals, and I wouldn't have cared.
Since Jen's family "declined" her invitation, I asked my family not to attend, so that
Jen wouldn't feel sad on her day. It was a joyous wedding ... we were finally married!

But some 27 years later, the validity of our African marriage paperwork was questioned,
and CANADA wouldn't marry us, saying that with the same last name we could well be
brother and sister, BUT they'd consider it if we could get her mother to vouch for her,
Right ... like that was ever going to happen! So we asked Montana, and they said:
 "Absolutely! Come on down to us here in Helena - We'll marry the two of you!" 

Helena, Montana and wedding #2. But this time we had to get married!
But, it turns out that "twice was not enough!" Due to bureaucratic bungling
in our new "Far, far away" in South America, we had to get married, yet again!

OK ... for the 3rd wedding, let's dream! After all, we do have the help of a world-famous artist
(who has done so many paintings for me of Jen) to design Jen's ultimate "dream wedding dress!"

And since we do live in an "Avatar-like land of Pandora" ...

It was very tempting ... but why buck a trend that has worked so well for Jen?
Once again Jen chose to concentrate more on what is happening - rather than
what she is going to be wearing ... keeping it simple and sweet, just like her.

So, finally, almost 4 decades late, here is Jen's signature Hawaiian wedding dress - this time, in white!
In our new land of "Far, far away" ... weddings happen a little differently. First you get all the government paperwork done and pay their fees - at which point you are actually considered "officially married". That's done. Then there is the optional church wedding and wedding reception which can happen anytime later.

Background: A curse that's lasted 3 generations - on Jen's mother's side of the family:

As you may have read [3] Jennifer's mother tried her best to stop Jen and I from getting married (and also from staying married) and ultimately disowned Jen for marrying me - more accurately, for daring to chart her own course in life (her choice of a husband being just one of many independent choices in that regard) and certainly for daring to find any fault with the "queen's rule". [2] Well, Jennifer's maternal grandfather threatened to disown Jen's mother if she married Jen's dad (though that was later rescinded) ... but much more intriguingly, we established (from Jen's aunt and uncle) that Jennifer's  maternal great-grandfather did much the same thing to one of his sons! The brother to Jen's maternal grandfather. [1] Jen's mother's uncle, was forced to elope to marry his true love - who just so happens also to be Jen's dad's Aunt! So Jen is "doubly related" to these two star-crossed lovers, who were forbidden to marry. We speculated that perhaps Jen's dad and mom somehow met through (or because of) this particular uncle and aunt since they are an obvious link and they, in turn, had much the same problem when they wanted to get married, as Jen's grandfather objected. So, we can trace these efforts to control whom their children love and marry, first to Jen's great-grand-parents (who were contemporaries of queen Victoria) then to her grand-parents (who were children when queen Victoria ruled the empire) and finally to her own parents (who clearly still think they live in Victorian times, that Victorian England's principles apply). That's 3 generations!

Couples reconfirm their vows. Neither Jen or I gave this option much thought, we were just so happy and relieved to actually (finally) be able to walk down the isle once! However, governments had other ideas, and we were forced to go through 3 weddings to convince them we were married to each other. It feels like the curse of the old "queen", her desire that we never get married or stay married. We had to keep proving that we are indeed married. So now we have 3 actual marriage certificates. One from the South African government from 1979, one from the state of Montana in 2006 and one from a South American government in 2010. That's 3 bona-fide marriages, as if the others had never even happened. Considering the opposition to Jen and I getting married at all, it's actually quite fitting that we did marry, then got married again and yet again. So the queen's efforts are defeated, not just once, but 3 times on 3 continents

Childhood sweethearts  ... finally married, at 50.

(Sweet-16, 1st Date) When Jen and I first briefly saw each other, it was because her mother insisting that Jen's dad stop their white Mercedes on their way back from the beach. She proceeded to offer me a ride back to the park and, to escape the hot African sun, I gratefully accepted. Climbing into the car I found myself sitting next to Jen (for all of a few minutes) - but we were not introduced then, neither did we exchange any words - only the briefest of glances ... until later that same day. However, two sweethearts, chosen by God to play that role, had just been nudged onto the stage for the first time, and had just got their first glimpse of each other. But more to the point, a bride had, for the very first time, just seen her groom, and equally importantly, a groom had, for the first time, just seen his bride. From that point on, this intriguing, complex, loving script unfolded quite rapidly and most unusually. Even if I were able to write creatively at that point in my life, I could never have written as creative and intriguing a script for any love story, let alone our own! All I'm doing is relating the story as it unfolded, but I'm not the author! This photo of the young Jennifer and I, about to go on our first date, was taken (quite "coincidently") with the car in which we first encountered each other (the White Mercedes - Her Dad's company car) in the background. Now, some 36 years later (in 2006) this story has a rather unusual sequel. You see, we were married in Africa in 1979 (as you read earlier in the story) under the old illegitimate apartheid-era government. Well, this year I was required to produce an authenticated original copy of our marriage certificate for the purposes of immigration... but, to no avail. No government (Canadian or South African) would co-operate in providing us with some form of legal document saying that we were married. So governments, it would seem, recognized ours as having been a 36 year long "love affair"... and little else! So, at 50, we had to get married, and doing so was not going to be easy! I called around locally - only to find that it was not going to be easy (maybe even impossible) to get married again in Canada (since Jen's surname is long since the same as mine - we entered Canada that way) and for all they know (since we could not exactly contact Jen's parents to prove otherwise) with no identity documents to help prove otherwise, we may well be brother and sister ... strange considering they routinely marry two men or two women, and all I wanted to do is marry my wife, and she me. So it was that we went to the one place in America we hold most dear - where politics and bureaucracy are still considered dirty words, the state whose people have played such a vital role in our lives ... the lovely prairie and rocky mountain state of Montana ... and thus it was that our fair "Snow-white" was first married in Cape-town, South Africa in 1979, then again in Helena, Montana (their State Capital) in the spring of  2006 ... or if one were to believe governments - for the first time! Now that's quite unusual, but there is more. You see, last year (2005) after buying and becoming quite attached to our old black Mercedes (Featured in the chapter called "Fairy-tales can come true") we bought our sons each one of these beautiful classic cars too. ("Sweety and Ian's carriage", a classic black Mercedes 300D limo)

Naturally Jen and I (childhood sweethearts) - after 36 years, were so very tempted to "elope" to Montana in our eldest son's white Mercedes ... and there get married (again). That would have been very nostalgic! But sometimes the past is best left alone. You see, that would have meant we would travel to Montana on the 6th of June, 2006 (Local election day there) to get married, and considering we would be doing so in the classic white Mercedes (Shown below) - so very reminiscent of our first meeting at Christmas in 1971, I have to honestly admit that I felt most uncomfortable with this whole arrangement! So we re-planned the proceedings, choosing a much different date, went down in our mini-van instead, took our sons along with us and had them be the witnesses, ring-bearer and photographer. I know I sound rather too superstitious, but just imagine this possible scenario: "On 6/6/6 (a date which happens once each century) two childhood sweethearts traveled to Montana, alone, in a white Mercedes, like the one in which they first met 36 years ago, to get married - and along the way they were involved in a tragic accident in which ..." STOP! It just does not even bear thinking about or elaborating on any further, it's just too sad an ending to our story! Call me superstitious, if you want, but I just don't want "666" associated with anything important in our lives! So it was that  our two sons (and Happy) were able to be at our wedding ... and they now have a wonderful story to tell their children, and for us, we have a real-life fairy-tale to tell our grandchildren.

Each year we have 2 anniversaries (make that 3 now) to celebrate, 1 known by friends and family - the others are our secrets!

"Here comes the Bride" - in her Hawaiian dress, on the stairs of the Montana Capitol building in Helena.
When they read her story, Montanan's Adopted Africa's Snow-White and her family with open arms, saying:
"We couldn't care less what those folks in Washington DC say, we want you to think of this as home and us as your family! From now on, you're as AMERICAN as we are - that's they way we all settled Montana!"

We were married by Judge Marvin Pitch who shared some stories of the many interesting marriages he has performed - just before he went fishing. You know it's really difficult not to like Montana, the 3rd largest state, and it's people! With 1 million citizens, it's one of the most unspoiled beautiful places in the USA.

This time Jen had a beautiful Hawaiian dress and jewelry, and our two sons there as official witnesses. That's tough to beat! I am truly honored that this awesome lady would agree to officially marry me a second time! What a privilege to have all this happen to us as we turn 50, after almost 36 years.

While waiting for the Judge to marry us we met Frank (a Montana state trooper) who had recently come back from Africa and knew our old haunts very well - and like most Montanans, was a real friendly guy.
(I think he probably is routinely provided to ensure that nobody becomes a "Runaway" bride - or groom)

And a few hours later ... the wedding feast that evening in Great Falls, MT, with members of our Christian  family. Barbequed steak and salmon with all the trimmings. Montana is ranching country - superb beef!

Now, there are a few other minor ironies surrounding this wedding, one of which is rather striking when
remembering our first wedding in Africa ... but perhaps I'll just let you figure that one out for yourself.
Update from South America: Actually, besides the dresses, one trend held true for all our weddings.

 Years later, Discovering some of "Serendipity's many hidden secrets"

"SERENDIPITY" - The phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not purposely sought after, seemingly by chance.

Quite some time after I presented Jennifer with the poem I had written for her, "Summer Love",  which details our first meeting (from my perspective) I learned something that I wasn't prepared for! You see, after reading my love-poem again one day, Jen smiled mysteriously, gave me a hug, made some tea, told me to sit down and prepare myself for a "little surprise". As I sat sipping my tea, Jen related what really happened on that day. Now let's put these perspectives together, Jen's in purple, mine it black.

1971,TURNING the clock back to just after I was given a ride, sitting next to her, in Jen's dad's Mercedes: Still a little flustered ... I had that instinctive feeling that something very momentous had just happened. I could not stop myself from thinking about this young woman I had shared the back seat of that Mercedes with for those brief few minutes. There was something unusually intriguing about her - besides the fact that she clearly was gorgeous! It felt very different - clearly this was something other than my teenage hormones - the effects of which I knew and understood all too well by now. So after lunch I decided to walk about the camp and look for that white Mercedes. "Perhaps" , I thought, "I would meet this young woman again and, well, I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to do or say once I located her - but I do remember that I felt compelled to try! So, around the park I walked, searching for that white Mercedes. It was Christmas time, summer holidays, and Siesta was a veritable maze of Campers and RV's - but no white Mercedes to be found. Red ones, Black ones, Silver ones - but no white ones. "Strange", I thought, "Perhaps they were just visiting someone else and were now gone again ... or maybe I just missed it"? Extra content: At exactly the same time that I was walking around trying to find her, this young "mystery woman" - whose name I did not yet know, was walking around that same park (not exactly sure why she felt compelled to do so) ... trying to locate me. (I only discovered this many years later) ... go figure! Well, having failed to find her - back I went to be with my family and, having failed to find me - back she went to her family. "Mom", she said, "I'm going to take a walk to the "Duka" (the owner's little general store in the park) Mr. Nixon has some used paperback books there that he loans out and I feel like relaxing in the shade with an interesting book". And at exactly the same time: "Son", my mother said beckoning to me, "Could you please go and buy me some milk at the Duka, we have none left". "Sure Mom", I replied taking the money from her and heading out on that fate-filled short trip - and of course, the rather pivotal poem, "Summer Love", which appears in Jonathan's 2nd. novel, accurately describes what happened next. I never did appreciate poetry enough. In 54yrs I have only written one poem of any note ... and it ended up changing our family's entire history! Now I have a healthy respect for poetry. And that's how we really met. Trivia: "Duka" is Swahili for "store" or "shop". It was the little general store in the campground (Siesta) where Jen's family and mine vacationed each summer (Christmas in Africa). It's proprietor, Mr. Nixon, fled Kenya with his family at the time of the Mau Mau rebellions - which had made it unsafe for any European settlers to still live there.

The beautiful white Arum-lily (pictured here) is found growing wild in the rivers and lakes of the Wilderness area in Southern Africa where Jen and I first met (indigenous to the area) have long-since become world-wide favorites. Elsewhere this lily is called the "Calla Lily", also the "Trumpet Lily". Each afternoon we would go canoeing and, as soon as we spotted some of these flowers, I would steer the canoe right up next to the lily-patch where I would then pick just one of these gorgeous wild white lilies for Jennifer, so naturally Jennifer and I consider it to be "our flower". She would sit (still dressed in her bikini and with only a thin little blouse on) facing me in the canoe and gently caress this exquisite white Arum-lily while smiling and chatting softly to me as I navigated the canoe up that silent murky river ... ever deeper and deeper  into the dense African jungle. All around us were huge ferns and wild flowers and every now and then the silence would be pierced with the echoing songs and mating calls of the many colorful birds in the jungle's canopy. Love was all around us. Was this a magical jungle? Oh yes ... very magical, and being there (alone) in the canoe with Jennifer, floating on that mirrored surface reflecting almost perfectly the steep jungle hills that rose up on either side of us ... made it even more so! There, in our luscious protective jungle cocoon, far away from civilization's noise and the voices of  parents and others, our friendship grew and our young love blossomed, just like those many beautiful white Arum lilies there in the water at the jungle's edge ... resilient,  pure and fertile - it would need to be! What I did not know at the time, is that the Calla Lily is a long time favorite flower for use in Bridal Bouquets. So I was giving Jennifer one lily each day we were together, not realizing that these would accumulate into a wedding bouquet ... a marriage proposal

OK, with the benefit of Hindsight, let's make that 3 proposals and 3 weddings.

In the 1600s in Constantinople (now called Istanbul ) flowers gained special meanings - thus enabling lovers to convey messages to each other without having to write or talk. This language of flowers was introduced to Europe in 1716. "The wonder of flowers", it was proposed, "was that words and messages of love, admiration and friendship could be passed in a refined and subtle manner". The passing of messages via the floral code was then taken up by the French, only to return later to England during the reign of Queen Victoria. To this day, flowers are still used to convey "love", console, congratulate in achievement and celebrate friendship. Understandably their messages have evolved tremendously through the ages, but some have remained true to their origins. So then, one may ask, in this language of love, what "words" do these flowers of the beautiful White Arum Lily represent? As can be seen from this photo, Calla lilies represent magnificent beauty ... but of course! Every radiant bride knows that! Exactly why these flowers are still so popular in the bridal bouquets of so many radiantly beautiful gorgeous brides all around the world. I remember how, each evening we arrived back from our daily canoe trip - Jennifer still carrying this beautiful white flower, that her mother would wince and tell her that it was considered "unlucky". I do admit to feeling  mildly "ticked" that my genuinely innocent and romantic gesture towards Jennifer was being dismissed as "unlucky" and "rather not to be entertained", but I smiled and ignored her "put-down" of me and rather made light of her attempts at "raining on Jennifer's parade". Well, in a somewhat ironic way, she was right. You see, it turned out to be rather unlucky for this African Snow-White's mother. So much for any flagrantly envious disrespect shown by her towards timeless "floral codes" that existed long before her words ever did  ... and which will endure long after her words are gone.

JABULA - Now, as if that wasn't all significant enough ... another secret lay hidden from us, for almost 34 years. You see, a regular camper (Philip "Flippy" Gerber) who's family camped on the banks of that river each summer (the man with his shirt on in the photo - LHS) got his son Michael, who was a couple years or so older than us (seen here rowing the boat out to deeper waters) to take Jennifer and I to our first dance in their power-boat, and then to bring us back again to Siesta at midnight. Now that was a really kind thing of them to do for us, and as you can imagine, it made our first date so very special! Jen and I would go to dances at Fairy-Knowe in Jabula often through the several Summer Vactions we enjoyed together. But sadly, "Flippy" died young (in his fifties) and we were never able to thank him again as happily married mature adults. Now, as you can see from the picture (above) that red and white powerboat was named "Jabula", which I somehow always assumed was an Elephant's name. Well, I was wrong. "Jabula" is the Zulu word for? It's ZULU for "Happy" - you know, as in "Happily ever after". Knowing now that we were ferried to the dances (and back again at midnight) in the boat ... "Happily ever after" boat, is, well, kind of a nice comforting feeling!  "Happy" is what we've been and how our love story has progressed. I cannot help but wonder what other significant little "secrets" lie undiscovered?   

1971 ... Our first date

But only in 1993, could we say: "We can see clearly now" Finally "our song" made sense to us.

On our very first date (back in 1971) we danced to the song "I can see clearly now" ... we loved it and immediately made it our song ... doing so without thinking much about the significance of it's words. However, by the end of 1993, our year of great pain and great joy, that song’s significance finally dawned on us! See if you can spot why it struck a chord with us - It's words are:  

I can see clearly now the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind,
It's gonna be a bright bright bright sunshiny day.
I think I can make it now the pain is gone,
All of the bad feelings have disappeared,
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for ...
It's gonna be a bright bright bright sunshiny day.
Look all around, there’s nothing but blue sky,
Look straight ahead - nothing but blue sky.
I can see clearly now the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind,
it's gonna be a bright bright bright sunshiny day.

and thanks to God and His Son, it really has ended up being a bright, bright sunshiny day for us!

And then it became abundantly clear that our stint in "Purgatory" ... had to be brought to an end

PHOTO: Watching Jen's mother's city neighborhood burned, night and day, for 2 months., from our (safe) side of the lake in British Columbia
Some time after this, after waiting patiently (for decades) for her mother to finally accept her family and her choices, one day Jen said to me:
"Please take us all as far away from here as we can possibly get ... I'm sorry for making you all wait so long . I'm done waiting - it's finally over."

So, in keeping with a theme of living life by faith (instead of by our own self-limiting plans) here's a rather prophetic poem written by our youngest son, Jonathan which, even though he had written it a couple of years earlier, we never knew about until just before we moved (In the spring of 2006). Then, at exactly the right time, He gave it to us, we got to read it and we instinctively knew it was a most prophetic message!


Tomorrow is where I will be
When you look on and say
That yesterday is not quite where
you want for me to stay
Move on, move on
let the past, be the past
Move on, move on
let the past, stay the past
For tomorrow is where you'll see
The waking roses bloom
Yesterday isn't what you thought.

(c) Jonathan Ian Eloff, April 22, 2004.

I'm sure few of you will hold it against us for retiring to the shade of the palm trees,
 here to relax and savor our hard-won love  ... "far, far away from the maddening crowd".  

It took an epic, dangerous 11,000km 28d overland voyage for us to get here, from the NW corner of Canada, but we made it!

And from even just these few photos of our new "Promised land" ... if you use your imagination, I'm sure you will agree.

Many years ago, Jen and I met and fell in love in a beautiful National park in South Africa. Many years later  we belatedly
 eloped and ended up living in a beautiful National park in a tropical paradise, in a land "Far, far away" ... still very much in love.

Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover!” and I'd hasten to add: "Dare to Renew yourself."

Jonathon did a magnificent painting of this scene (Lake of Fire - from the Photo above) showing Jen realizing it was all finally over, turning away, and leaving

So, our options are:
LAKE OF FIRE (living near Jen's mother)  vs  TRANQUILITY (in a new land Far, Far away) - there's no going back to the past!
And so it was, that in our new land of "far, far away" , 40 years after our Summer-Love,
we were finally married, and we all lived  Happily ever after! So what's left to say but:
"Fairy tales can come true ... it could happen to you - if you're young at heart"

Taking these many seemingly "coincidental" factors into account, and just listening to something resonating deep inside of our souls, it's clear to us that God planned the beginnings of our romance (complete with many special little "twists of fate" and "ironies") in such a way that most true romantics would find the story to be not only quite romantic, but also rather unusual - a classic example of "Serendipity", definitely fairy-tale like. That's the way it's turned out to be. Often "Truth is stranger than fiction!"

Romans 8:28
"And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are the called according to His purpose." This verse outlines God promises to us, that if we trust in Him and agree to follow His plan (script) for our lives, we  will not be guaranteed only easy, good, happy, stress-free, healthy and wealthy times - but He will turn even bad situation & circumstance into "good & happy outcomes", for those people who trust Him. We did, God did!

Deja vu ... with a "Slight twist" this time around

So there we are, some 35 years later, once again in a beautiful tropical land of "Far Far Away", on a hot summers day, in a very similar place to the Wilderness where we first met, both now 50, driving in a Mercedes again - but this time it's Jen and I in the front, me driving and Jen sitting next to me. Our son Jonathan is in the back seat and the hot afternoon sun is making it less than comfortable for anyone walking  ... when suddenly we see her walking alone on the side of the road. (No - I'm really not joking or making this up!!) You see, there, in front of us, walking next to the road in the lazy summer heat, was a beautiful young girl, all of 16 years old, with "long chestnut-golden hair cascading down around her slender shoulders bare". So naturally, you may ask, did Jen ask me to stop the Mercedes? Did she then roll down her window and offer the young girl a ride home? Did Jonathan then open the back-seat's door from the inside for her? Did she accept the offer and climb in to sit next to Jonathan? Did they exchange furtive glances? What about the little store that she was walking back home from when we encountered her? Did Jen ask Jonathan (later) to go and get her something from that little store? Did they ever meet again? What happened next? Well you've heard quite a bit about our own love-story (40+yrs in the making) and I'm done telling it for now, so I'm just going to let Jonathan and his "true-love" act in their very own loving (God-given) script. I'm sure he will find a way to share their beautiful love story.