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‘When she turned her head, I put the ring in her champagne glass’

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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.

VALERIE AND JEFFREY SIMMONS

Live: Pleasant Grove

Married: Sept. 23, 1995

Met: August 1992. “I was working as a crisis specialist for the Crisis Center [Birmingham] and that night when I got off my shift, I decided I wanted to get my hair done, so I put on a baseball cap and went to a [Birmingham-area] salon. I was tired so I slept in the chair while I was waiting for my turn, and Mr. Simmons walked in. He was very loud and that woke me, so I looked up, and he was standing there looking at me and he asked me for my number. I said ‘no, I don’t think so’, he wouldn’t give up. After standing there for a few minutes and not accepting no for an answer I gave in…,” Valerie said.

“She was attractive and I saw her natural beauty, and she was [sleeping] so I decided to wake her up and go ahead and ask her for her information,” Jeffrey said. “She seemed like a nice person, had a nice calmness about herself…”

“We didn’t talk for a couple of weeks, but he eventually called and asked to take me to dinner and we became very good friends,” Valerie said. “We were both in relationships at the time, so we started out as strong friends and found ourselves going on these conversational dates. We became a support system for each other… After two years [we wanted to start dating exclusively].

First date: Summer 1994, Valerie and Jeffrey were both now single and went on their first date after discussing becoming exclusive. They saw ‘A Low Down Dirty Shame’ at the Wildwood movie theater on Lakeshore Dr., and had dinner at a nearby O’Charley’s afterward.

“I remember getting butterflies, I remember feeling good about where we were headed. For me, he provided a safe easy place to just talk about anything I wanted to and feel free. There were a lot of giggles and a lot of laughs. It felt like we were high schoolers again, and that first date really opened up some avenues for us,” Valerie said.

“That first date had a lot of shenanigans going on, we were talking and being jokesters and enjoying life; there was a lot of laughter, we weren’t taking anything seriously,” Jeffrey said. “That first date created a great open line of

communication. I liked her personal goals and where she wanted to go in this world.”

The turn: Summer 1994 after their first date. “It wasn’t said but we both got there at the same time, it was after our first kiss [at my front door],” Valerie said. “We went to the movies and when he walked me in [the house] after the date and we were saying our goodnights, he kissed me and I felt a sense of relief. I was relieved that the feelings were out, it was open, and it was fresh and it felt really good. Having someone that you cared about on a friendship level first made it easier to take it to the next level because friends accept each other unconditionally and I think that was the key to our relationship.”

Jeffrey said, “I was looking for a strong woman to compliment me mentally, physically, and spiritually and settle down with, and she checked all the boxes.”

The proposal: October 1994, at Jeffrey’s apartment in Homewood. “I bought her a one-carat diamond ring. That evening I invited her over for dinner, I had fresh flowers, had set the table with white linen, and I cooked her a gourmet seafood dinner; I made a whole lobster and crab… and at one point [during dinner] when she turned her head I put the ring in her champagne glass and when she turned back and noticed it I got on one knee and asked her if she would marry me. She was shaking, and overcome with emotions, then she said ‘yes,’” Jeffrey recalled.

“It was more than one carat, it was a carat and a half solitaire diamond ring,” Valerie remembered going to the apartment thinking it was going to be a typical movie night, “and when I walked in it was dark, and when he turned on the light he had the table set up so nice, it was beautiful,” she said, “and he was dressed for the occasion, he had on a suit… He had champagne, and that’s when I spotted the ring… I was so shocked and overcome with emotions that I didn’t answer right away, and he said ‘so is that a yes?’, and I shook my head yes.”

The wedding: At Tabernacle Baptist Church on Center Street in Birmingham, officiated by Rev. Elijah Jarrett, and Dr. Edsel Davis of Sardis Baptist Church in Birmingham. Their colors were black, white, and gold.

Most memorable for the bride was the release of doves in honor of their fathers. “Both of our fathers are deceased, and I remember how the doves circled around and came back and just stared at us, it was deep, we felt the spirits of our fathers, Rev. Samuel Love [Valerie’s dad], and Mozell Simmons [Jeffrey’s dad],” Valerie said. “And at the time I was a counselor at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, and three of my students created a special dance piece to ‘Through the Eyes of Love’ by Melissa Manchester… At the end of the ceremony, they came down the aisle and danced us out sanctuary.”

Most memorable for the groom was seeing his bride walk down the aisle. “I shed a tear,” Jeffrey said. “That was most emotional for me, how beautiful she was in my eyes. And the funniest thing was [how prompt] she was. At 4 o’clock those doors were locked and nobody could come in regardless of who you were. People had to go to the balcony and watch instead of coming into the main sanctuary, we had 300 plus guests at our wedding.”

The couple honeymooned in Ocho Rios, Jamaica on a five-day cruise. “It was beautiful, the weather and everything, and immersing myself in my new role as Mrs. Simmons,” Valerie said.

Words of wisdom: “What helps is not keeping scores on one another’s shortcomings, acceptance, and communication. Those are the formulas that have kept us strong,” Valerie said.

“Keeping God first. Marriage is like the weather, some days are beautiful, some days are cloudy. Some days you have to get through the storms, and the good days you get through them as well,” Jeffrey said. “Every day is not going to be a sunny day, but if you work towards it you will get through them…and I don’t hold nothing against nobody. Whatever it is, I let that go and work on the present and always towards the future.”

Happily ever after: The Simmons’ have one son, Brandon, 23.

Valerie is a West End native and West End High School grad. She earned a bachelor of science degree in social work, and a master’s degree in counseling from Alabama State University, and works as a therapist with J.R. Moore and Associates Psychological and Counseling Services. In May 2021, Valerie retired from school counseling at West Hills Elementary in Bessemer after 20 years.

Jeffery is a Plainfield, New Jersey native, and Madison High School [New Jersey] grad. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Virginia Union University [Richmond, Virginia], and is co-owner of Birmingham-based Vision Beauty Distributors, and co-founder of the Natural Hair and Health Expo.