BY JE’DON HOLLOWAY-TALLEY
Special to the Birmingham Times
“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Erica Wright firstname.lastname@example.org Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.
NIKKI AND JEREMY JEFFERSON
Married: March 24, 2012
Met: Nikki and Jeremy knew one another for most of their lives. They attended Mount Canaan Full Gospel Church in Birmingham, lived in the same apartment complex in Fairfield, and were students at Glen Oaks Elementary. The two would even carpool to school and Jeremy’s mother, BB, was Nikki’s after school babysitter. They did not meet as much as they reconnected at Mount Canaan when Jeremy returned from the Navy and attended church with his parents on Father’s Day in 2007.
Nikki spotted Jeremy from the balcony sitting next to his mother and after church went and greeted them.
“I didn’t even remember Nikki… when she approached me I thought she was really cute, but she [was forward] and it made me nervous. When she said, ‘you don’t remember me?’ I thought she was going to say something about a night I couldn’t remember after the club,” Jeremy laughed. “But then she [reminded him] of who she was and we talked… I gave her the house phone number because I was freshly back from the Navy and didn’t have a new cell phone yet.”
“I was sitting next to my friend, Victoria, when I spotted him, and I told her not to even look at him, he’s mine,” Nikki laughed. “I had never called a guy before in my life, but I called him that same night.”
First date: The following weekend at Hooters on Lakeshore Drive. After dinner they went to the Blue Monkey lounge on the Southside of Birmingham.
“[Physically] Nikki was a different kind girl for me, she was really petite and I was used to dating thicker girls, but she carried it well, and it intrigued me.”
Nikki said she was also intrigued. “…Jeremy was really different from other guys… he was mindful and didn’t want to take things too far on our first date.
The turn: June 2008, at the couples one-year mark, Nikki became pregnant.
“Three months in I saw there was something different about her, and I knew she was the one for me,” Jeremy said. “But the only reason I didn’t propose to her [while she was pregnant] was because she wouldn’t have accepted it then, that’s how different she was. She wouldn’t have wanted a proposal just because she was carrying my child.”
Nikki said, “Jeremy was a praise team leader and very active at church [Mount Canaan], and when we first found out that I was pregnant he wanted to sit and talk with our pastor to make sure he knew first.” Nikki said. “Seeing his love for God and our church, and how strong his love was for me was a turning point…he actually had told me he loved me three months into our relationship.”
The proposal: February 2011 at Nikki’s job St. Peter’s Child Development Center in Hoover. Nikki was a preschool teacher.
“I did it in front of her boss and her coworkers… and Nikki’s mom actually went up there with me to record the proposal,” Jeremy said. “I kept calling Nikki at work trying to make sure she was in place. I got up there and her boss let me in, and [everyone] followed me to Nikki’s classroom, and when she turned around and saw me, and a bunch of people behind me, she said what you doing here, and I got down on one knee and asked her would she marry me,” Jeremy said. “She started crying and said ‘yes.’”
Nikki asked why he waited until she was “in bleach [stained] sweatpants to propose,” he laughed.
“It was an in-service day, no kids were [present] and we were there to clean up, so I wasn’t [dressed nicely],” Nikki said. “When I turned around and saw him, I spotted my mom and thought that it was strange that she would come with him to bring me some flowers and a card,” she laughed, “It didn’t dawn on me that he was about to propose… after five years it was the best proposal ever, I loved it.”
The wedding: Mount Canaan Full Gospel Church, officiated by Pastor Willie B. O’Neal, and Jeremy’s father, Pastor Frankie Jefferson. Their colors were black and white with pink accents.
Most memorable for the bride was “being able to get married at a church that we both grew up in and being married by a pastor that Jeremy looks at like a father, and his father too,” said Nikki. “That was a memorable moment for me, it was like it was destined for us to be together.”
Most memorable for the groom was “realizing my life was changing that day. I’ve only had a few moments like that in my life and I was [experiencing] a lot of emotions,” Jeremy said. “I was happy and scared, it was a big, new step.”
The newly-weds honeymooned at Ross Bridge resort for the weekend.
Overcoming early trials and tribulations: The Jefferson’s honeymoon phase was cut short by Jeremy’s sudden cancer diagnosis just two months after their wedding. Jeremy, 28 at the time, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma [cancer of the lymph nodes], and Nikki, 29 at the time, was working full-time and his primary caregiver.
Although Jeremy fell sick soon after their nuptials, “it took a long time to get a proper diagnosis,” he said. “By the time I did, after seeing several doctors, I was in stage 4 cancer, it had spread to my spleen and liver. I went from 200 pounds to 98 pounds.
“It was a very emotional time,’ Nikki said. “I was mad. It was like, ‘ok God, we’ve been together for five years and you wait until after we get married to have him go through this. But I’m one of those that believe if God brings you to something, He’ll bring you through it. He let it happen because He knew we could handle it. It was rough around that time, but we had a lot of support.”
Their oldest son, Jeremy Jr., was three-years old at the time and family would step in and keep him on days the couple went to chemotherapy.
“We were down to one income, but family and church members were always giving us money and buying groceries… Just about every Sunday somebody was doing something for us,” Nikki said.
“Jeremy needed strength around him, I never cried around him. He didn’t want anybody calling him sobbing, singing ‘woe it’s me’. He chose to focus on the promise God made him and not the process,” Nikki added. “God had revealed Jeremy’s calling to him at the time, and he was just walking towards that. Still singing and doing praise and worship.”
Jeremy said they had had the support of strong married couples, surrounded by couples who had to fight through cancer battles and health scares, “so we kind of had that cheat code for making a marriage work [while going] through that,” Jeremy said.
Words of wisdom: “Love your partner the way they need to be loved,” Jeremy said. “I’m not an affectionate person, I didn’t grow up that way. We knew we were loved, but we didn’t have to be affectionate to show it,” he said. “So, getting with someone that wants or needs affection [as a] show of love was challenging.
“What’s kept us this long is being equally yoked,” Nikki said., “Church is the center for us. We have the same goals, we serve the same God. It’s what’s kept us this long and what’s going to take us much farther,’ she said. “It helps you to grow and stay in love with each other, even if your habits are changing.”
Happily ever after: The Jefferson’s have two children; Jeremy Jr., 11, Jalen, 6.
Nikki, 37, is a Fairfield and Center Point native, and attended Huffman High School. She earned a bachelor of science degree in early childhood development from Athens State University in Athens, AL, and works as the Assistant Director at Near and Dear Child Care Center at Children’s of Alabama.
Jeremy, 36, is a Fairfield and Bessemer native, and Midfield High School alum. He attended Lawson State Community College where he studied Mass Media Production, and works as the Praise and Worship Leader at Mount Canaan. He is also a Navy vet, and actor at Red Mountain Theater.
Jeremy remains cancer free, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, both he and Nikki have continued to work on site at their respective jobs.