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‘The Most Important Thing About My Wife is She Made Me Become a Man’

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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 Barnett Wright bwright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

ERIC AND CAROLYN SANDERS

Live: Leeds

Married: March 29, 1996

Met: July 1992, at Martin’s Ice Cream Parlor in Euclid, Ohio. Carolyn was 27, and Eric was 25.

“I was sitting there by myself [with] my ice cream cone . . . and he came up to me and I looked up at him and he had this pretty smile with these pretty white teeth, and he had on these overall shorts, with one buckle hanging down, and I thought, ‘Lord, there is a God’,” Carolyn laughed. “And then he walked over and put his foot up on the bumper of his Suzuki Samurai and looked back at me and smiled again… his hair was in a high-top fade, I loved his style, I thought he was so cute.”

“I had a fashion sense and a cool ride… I had everything to catch a good woman,” Eric laughed.

“Eric didn’t ask me for my phone number, he asked me to go to [Lake Erie] and we walked around the lake talking,” Carolyn said. “This lake is the size of the ocean, you can’t see the other side,” Eric added.

First date: The following Friday at TGI Friday’s at a big entertainment district called the Flats in Cleveland, Ohio. “There were a lot of attractions to take in at the Flats, it was a great place to take a first date to in the ‘90s,” Eric said. “We connected because we were both southerners in the north, and that was one of the things that attracted me to her.”

“I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, I wanted to see how much money he had,” Carolyn laughed. “I wanted to see if he was gonna [flinch] at my menu choice or play it cool. He played it cool, he had no problem,” she said.

The turn: August 1992. “From the moment I laid eyes on her, I knew that she was going to be my wife. It was like a 30-day whirlwind romance,” Eric said

“And it’s been a romance ever since,” Carolyn added.

“When he would spend the night at my apartment, he would sleep in the living room on my floor… and [one morning] we got up and went to his parent’s church, Good Shepard Baptist Church [Ohio], and I met his parents and that sealed the deal for me,” Carolyn said. “I fell in love with [them] and they fell in love with me. His dad was my ace and my mother and father-in-law were the most welcoming, warm, loving people.”

“I just knew I was at a turning point in my life and I knew I had found somebody I could settle down with,” Eric said. “I could see a future and a partner with her. Somebody I could communicate with, somebody I could trust. I felt the southern connection, we had similar backgrounds, and we were raised with similar values. When you know it, you know it, when you feel it, you feel it. I tell our kids when you encounter it, you’ll know. The most important thing about my wife is she made me become a man. I put away childish things, I put away the toys… I am what I am today because of my wife,” Eric said.

The proposal: Eric proposed to Carolyn three times before she said, ‘yes.’ The third time was the charm and happened in December 1995, in the kitchen at their home in Cleveland, Ohio.

It was very simple. “It was later in the day and he asked again would I marry him, and I said, ‘yes’” Carolyn said.

“I wasn’t giving up…,” Eric said. “She loved my family and my family loved her as well, and I was gonna play the game as long as she wanted to play it. I was gonna chase her as long as she needed to be chased. She was the mother of my son and we were gonna be a family.”

The wedding: At the Justice of The Peace in Cleveland, Ohio. Carolyn wore a cream-colored dress, and Eric wore a black suit.

Most memorable for the bride was the walk to the courthouse. “We had to go pay for the license and then we had to walk over to the courthouse, and I was in heels, and my feet were hurting and sliding on the ice. It was cold out. That’s why we didn’t bring little Eric (who was 2 ½ at the time) because it was cold and we knew we’d have to walk,” Carolyn recalled.

Most memorable for the groom was a promise he made to his bride. “At the end of the day, I remember thinking about how much money we saved not having a wedding, and on our wedding night I promised her I would buy her a house in a year. A year later we took our savings and bought our first house,” Eric said.

The couple honeymooned at the Holiday Inn in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.  “It’s been 30 years of honeymooning if you ask me,” Eric said. “It was beautiful… and I’ll leave it at that,” Carolyn laughed.

Words of wisdom: “First and foremost, submit. If you’re not willing to do that then you’re not willing to be married. Respect your vows, take the good, the bad, and the ugly with what God had blessed you with. And if you’re gonna forgive, truly forgive,” Carolyn said. “There’s no longer, ‘me, myself and I’. It’s ‘we’, till death do us part.’ Be grateful, be thankful. That’s why they say marriage is hard, you can’t selfish.”

“Have a lot of understanding, a lot of compromise. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Especially for men, show your emotions,” Eric said. “Communicate. You’re a team, you’re a partnership. You definitely have to appreciate the time you spend together that’s very important. Your marriage is your priority in life. There’s nothing more important, sometimes your marriage has to take priority over your family. Even after 30 years, we’re still learning. And trust that God has put you two together for a reason.”

Happily ever after: The Sanders have two children, Eric Jr., 29 and Eryka, 23, and two grandchildren.

Carolyn, 57, is a Leeds Ala. native and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she attended Shaw High School in East Cleveland, and is retired from the medical field.

Eric, 55, is a southwest, Atlanta native, who moved to Euclid, Ohio at age 12, where he graduated from Euclid High School. He attended Purdue University [West Lafayette, Indiana], where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Eric is a member of Omega Psi  Phi Fraternity Inc., and works as a senior industrial construction project manager.

The Sanders attend Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Leeds where Eric serves as a deacon.

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