By Anita Debro
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 who would, please send nominations to Erica Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.
BAYON AND DERRICK MCKENZIE
Married: July 1, 1989
Met: Derrick and Bayon were both freshmen at Alabama Agriculture & Mechanical University in 1986 when they enrolled in the same math class. When Derrick, a Birmingham native, saw Bayon he was instantly smitten but he said he played it cool. When Bayon, a Fairfield native, saw Derrick she said she knew one thing: “He was going to be my boyfriend.” They didn’t talk much that first day, but the next day Bayon and her friend waited for Derrick “On the Block” (an area on campus) at the university. When he saw her Derrick again tried to play it cool. “I was trying to play hard to get,” he said. But Bayon was being direct. “I told him I was waiting on him,” she said. “And that was that.” Derrick asked Bayon out on a date.
First date: Two days after that meeting on the block Derrick and Bayon went to the restaurant The Greasy Spoon, an eatery on campus. “It was September 17, 1986,” Bayon said. “I will never forget that night. I had my first kiss that night.” Derrick said the date was perfect. “She knocked me off of my feet,” he said. “The way she smiled, the way she held my hand.” After that first night together, Bayon and Derrick agreed that they were officially boyfriend and girlfriend.
Off to the military: Derrick’s plans for the future included Bayon and the military. In 1987, he left school for basic training for one year at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Bayon remained in school at A&M. For one year, the couple relied on letters, long distance phone calls and short visits until Derrick finished his training and returned.
The proposal: The day Derrick returned from basic training to the Huntsville Airport and saw Bayon, he dropped down on one knee, presented the ring and asked her to marry him. “I knew we would get married,” Derrick said. “I had already bought the ring and she had already asked me to get married.” Still Bayon said she was shocked. “I had no idea he was going to propose that way as soon as he got off the plane,” she said.
The wedding: The couple married at Bayon’s home church in Fairfield, Greater Lily Star Baptist Church. There was a large wedding with eight groomsmen and bridesmaid and the ceremony was standing-room-only. What stood out for both? “We both had chicken pox,” Derrick said. “You can still see the spots on us if you look closely at the photos. She looked beautiful though.” About a week before the wedding they woke up to itchy bodies with chicken pox, Bayon said. About a week before that, she had been involved in a serious car accident. She was not injured, but it rattled her. So on the day of the wedding, she said she was stressed but happy. “The Lord said it was alright,” she recalled.
The military life: Shortly after they married, the couple began their journey as a military family, moving every few years from New York to Georgia. During that time, Derrick was deployed oversees several times, serving in Somalia, Haiti and Panama while Bayon and their two children remained in the states. Bayon and the children eventually returned to Fairfield while Derrick served overseas. During his 22 years of military service, Derrick said he spent almost half of those years oversees or working long distance away from his family.
Words of Wisdom: During those times apart, communication was key, both said. But it still took them some time to figure that out. “It took us maybe 10 years to get that right,” Derrick said. Bayon agreed. “He was always gone, so it took us a while to learn. We basically grew up together,” she said. Now, the couple, who are both ordained ministers, said they counsel young couples on the importance of being open and honest with one another. “Couples should never be afraid to say they are sorry,” Bayon said.
Derrick said he advises men to “love, protect and provide for” their wives. “Do those things with love,” he said. But his message for wives is simple: Let their husbands know how cared for and invaluable he is. After 16 years of marriage and catering to his wife’s needs, Derrick asked her one day to “Name one thing that makes me tick.” He said he wanted to let his wife know that he needed to feel special too. “Let [husbands] know they are wanted. Stroke their egos sometimes.”
Happily ever after: Derrick is a retired Army veteran. Bayon teaches at Huffman Middle School. Both are ministers at Greater Lily Star Baptist Church, where they were married. The couple have two adult children — a 28-year-old daughter and 25-year-old son. Derrick and Bayon enjoy going to the movies, walking in the park and fishing. Derrick is also an avid bowler. The couple is set for a cruise this month to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.