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‘She Saw the Ring Box [And] Looked at Me Smiling; I Smiled Back, ‘Will You Marry Me?’



BY JE’DON HOLLOWAY-TALLEY | Special to the Birmingham Times

Live: McCalla

Married: Sept. 7, 2003

Met: Spring 2000, at Faulkner University. K.J. and Geraldine were in the same history class and wound up in the same study group. K.J. said that Faulkner’s college campus in Birmingham was 70-80 percent women, but he wasn’t looking to find a new mate, as he was a divorced single father, and focused on earning his bachelor’s degree so he could qualify for promotion at his job at UPS.

“When I first saw Geri in class, I noticed her because of her walk it was the motion of her arms with her little shuffle that caught my eye,” K.J. said.

Geraldine said K.J.’s dapperness caught her attention. “…he was very nicely dressed. [K.J.] always came to class in a crisp button-down shirt, slacks, and nice Johnston Murphy dress shoes, and he was very articulate. I wasn’t looking for anyone either, my goal was to go to school at a later age [she was in her 30s] and get my degree. But we ended up in the same study group and things went from there.”

First date: Early fall 2000, at K.J.’s church, New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Titusville.  Geraldine was asked to accompany him to his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brother’s wedding, which was a move K.J. said none of his friends dared to make.

“Out of my group of friends, none of them would ever take women to a wedding on a date, and I always took women to weddings with me,” K.J. said.

The wedding was largely attended by K.J.’s fellow church members, and he was pleased by Geraldine’s ability to handle his interactions with his friends.

“I can’t deal with anyone with insecurities. I don’t really know a stranger, I like to mingle and talk and move around… And I recognized that she was ok with me not being right next to her every minute while we were at the wedding, that was a plus,” K.J. said.

The invite did not add pressure to their early courtship. Geraldine said, “I was kinda surprised when he asked me to go, but I didn’t read anything into it. I was just excited to go and go out to eat afterward,” she said. “I realized the wedding was at his church and was happy to get to see him in his element at his church.”

After that wedding, they went to Baumhowers on Lakeshore Drive, and “we really got a chance to know each other better,” Geraldine said. “We sat at the bar, and we talked about our kids, I had been divorced and he had been divorced, we were both single parents, we both had sons… and it’s really uncommon for a single father to have custody of [his kids]. That impressed me, that showed me his character…,” she said.

“I was a single parent with two of my three sons [ages 13, and 15] living with me, and she was a single parent with her only son [age 11] living with her,” K.J. said.

The turn: October 2001. A year into their courtship. “A lot of things were put on the table on the first date about our [individual] plans. Her plan was to go to school, get a degree, move up in her company, and buy a house. And my plan was to get a degree and get promoted [at UPS] because I was a driver and you couldn’t get promoted to management without a degree.,” K.J. said.

“I already owned a house, but I was actually in the process of trying to move my mother into my house and build another one for myself. [It seemed] our goals were aligning. I’m a real big proponent for taking it kinda slow [in regards to marriage] because you never want to make the same mistakes twice. But our goals were aligned and there was so much similarity, and that drew us closer,” K.J. said.

“When I met his mom and he met my mom, that’s when we knew we were going someplace,” Geraldine said. “It was at that cookout in October when I met his sons, his mother, his sisters, and aunts, that let me know we were moving to the next level in our relationship.”

The proposal: May 2002, in Hawaii. The pair went on a trip to Honolulu and K.J. proposed at a restaurant on the beach. “I had bought the ring and the plan was to do it [on vacation]. I had a high school buddy that was in the Army and that’s where he was stationed so I involved him and his wife in setting it up,” K.J. said. “His wife was going to video it, and I told the [restaurant] manager what I was doing and gave him the ring, and he was supposed to bring it out with one of those big silver tins on top, but what he did was brought everyone else’s meal out on plates, and brought Geri’s out in a to-go box, and she was clueless and asking why was her meal in a to-go box… the manager played along and said, ‘I thought yours was to go, but open the box first, you may want to eat it.’ And when she did she saw the ring box and she looked at me smiling and I smiled back and said, ‘Will you marry me?’ and she said ‘yes’.

“I was in shock. I had a little bit of an attitude because I couldn’t understand why everyone else’s food was presented to them on plates and mine was in a Styrofoam box… so I was very caught off guard. How he had everything planned out was perfect, the scenery (from where we were sitting you could literally walk right onto the beach), the atmosphere and we had people there that we really cared about and wanted to share [the moment with]… having my sister-in-law, Diedra there, Mike and Jackie, they’re like brothers, so it was just perfect for me,” Geraldine said.

K.J.’s sister, Deidra was invited along on the vacation because both she and K.J. were grieving the recent passing of their mother at the time, and Hawaii made for a great change of scenery.

The wedding: In the chapel at New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Titusville, officiated by the [former] associate pastor, Robert Bearden. K.J. wore a black suit and grey tie, and Geraldine wore a black two-piece dress suit. “It was just a small intimate wedding with our immediate family and close friends,” Geraldine said.

In February of the following year [2004], the newlyweds had their wedding reception at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and moved into the new home they had just finished building.

Most memorable for the bride was going out to celebrate with their family after their nuptials. “All the family that was at the wedding went out to dinner with us at Copper Grille in Brookwood Village, and for me, it was the family celebrating our union that was memorable for me,” Geraldine said.

Most memorable for the groom was the reception a few months later.

“The pastor and I were very good friends, and that was a big deal for him to be marrying Gerry and me. He was 10 years older and believed that Gerry and I had a very strong foundation. We were sincere in what we wanted and what we were bringing to the table so [the wedding ceremony] was just the final formality. I was already looking down the road and making plans and I saw how we were both enhancing each other’s lives. But the reception was a lot more memorable, we had a lot of family there to celebrate our being married. Gerry’s mother flew in from Chicago…,” K.J. recalled.

“We had [the works] at the reception, we had the wedding cake, the photographer, my mother was able to attend, it was wonderful,” Geraldine said.

They returned to Hawaii for their honeymoon. “It was the perfect way of bringing us full circle. We went there in our dating stage and went back when we were married, and I felt the difference in being there with my wife versus my girlfriend. I had to get used to [hearing people] referring to us as Mr. and Mrs. Johnson,” K.J. said.

Words of wisdom: “You’ve got to communicate,” said Geraldine. “Always put God first. I make her priorities my priorities and she makes my priorities her priorities. We took several Bible classes together, and that really goes to the basis of our foundation… I think that put a foundation on both of us because I understood that she was going to follow the principles in the Bible when it came to marriage, she knew I was, and she started attending my church [New Pilgrim Baptist Church, in Titusville] during the dating stage and that had a lot to do with me looking at her as a potential wife that surpassed her having some goals that lined up with mine,” K.J. said.

Happily ever after: The Johnsons attend New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Titusville, where K.J. serves as the senior class Sunday school teacher. They are a blended family with four adult sons, K.J. Jr., Jason, Jamarious, and Aaron, ages 39- 27, and have one granddaughter, Jayla.

Geraldine, 54, is a Chicago, Illinois native, from Goshen, Ala., and a Goshen High School grad. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Faulkner University [Birmingham campus], an associate degree in medical office administration from Virginia College [Birmingham campus], and an associate’s degree in nursing from Lawson State Community College [Birmingham campus]. Geraldine is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and has worked as a business analyst for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, for the past 20 years.

K.J., 57, is a Memphis Tennessee native, from Birmingham, and an A.H. Parker High School grad. He attended Faulkner University [Birmingham campus], where he earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources, a master’s degree in the science of management from Troy University [Troy, AL], and a doctorate in organizational leadership from the University of Phoenix. He is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. and served in the US Marine Corps for eight years in the Second Marine Division, 2nd Tank Battalion.  He recently retired from UPS as an industrial engineer after 33 years.

“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.