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‘We Were Gazing Up at the Trees and That’s Where We Shared Our First Kiss’

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SONYA AND CHRIS THIGPEN

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

Live: Moody

Married: June 28, 1997

Met: September 1995 at AmSouth Bank, in Birmingham. They were both Consumer Loans Clerks. Chris started working there while Sonya was on vacation and when she returned he noticed a new face and asked around about her.

“…we kinda met in the [file cabinet area], we would cross paths in that area a lot,’ said Sonya.

“We’re both kind of quiet so in the beginning it was just us speaking to one another and then got to the point of having conversations and I eventually asked her to lunch. She declined, but I didn’t think anything of it,” Chris said. “I just knew I’d have to be more direct the next time.”

“The first time he asked me out I didn’t even realize he was asking me out,” Sonya laughed. “He asked me to go have lunch and I had brought my lunch that day so I declined, and my coworkers started beating me up about it and told me he was asking me out… [Our] coworkers were trying to play cupid, and after a while they set up a group lunch date and they backed out one by one so that it ended up being just he and I.”

“I did figure something was up when they started declining one by one,” Chris said. “[Sonya and I went ahead and] ate lunch in the cafeteria at work and I asked her if she’d like to go out that weekend.”

Sonya and Chris Thigpen met in 1995 while working at AmSouth Bank in Birmingham. The couple married in 1995. (Provided Photos)

First date: January 1996, At the now closed French Quarter nightclub in downtown Birmingham, followed by a day date to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Sonya said her shyness got the better of her during the first half of the date.

“What I remember the most is that Sonya has always been genuinely sweet and honest and with both of us being kinda quiet people, it was a challenge at first because you had two quiet people in a busy club and I had to figure out a way to break the ice and start the conversations,” Chris said. “Luckily they served food, so I ordered some food and we sat down and the conversation started to flow with the people watching and talking about what was going on around us,” Chris said.

“…I really had not frequented clubs much, so it was like wonderment for me. It was new sights and new sounds, and I was impressed that they had live music. We talked, we laughed, we didn’t dance, I don’t even think we had any alcohol to drink. We just had a coke [to drink] talked and enjoyed each other’s company,” Sonya said.

The date went so well, that when Chris took Sonya back home, she invited him inside so they could talk longer. “We talked until the sun came up,” Sonya said. “And then he suggested that we [should part ways] and get a little rest, and he said I have a place in mind that I think you would like, and if you’re interested [I’d like to take you there later today]. And I said that’s fine.”

A few hours later, Chris was back at Sonya’s Southside apartment for the next part of their date at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

“I’m an outdoor person and I would go there often and sit and look up through the trees. It was a renewing [ritual] for me to get out of the hustle of life and it was a peaceful state of mind that I enjoyed being in and I wanted to share that with her,” Chris said.

“There was a moment during the walk where we took a seat underneath a tree and he started pointing things out to me and we were gazing up at the trees and that’s where we shared our first kiss,” Sonya said.

The following weekend Chris invited Sonya to a family gathering. She met his family and said she felt very welcomed and embraced.

The turn: “… it was unspoken, but we knew we were together,” said Sonya “It was not so much a specific moment, but it was a sense or a feeling … I felt secure, and I had never had an uncomfortable moment with Chris. It was like we were soul mates and were playing something out that had already happened. By the third date, I told him ‘I love you’, and I said, ‘It’s OK if you don’t feel the same way, you don’t have to say it back’ and he put his hand up and said stop, ‘I love you too’.”

“From my side of it, I was at lunch with my mom and we were talking about life in general and she made a comment that it was OK if I decided to move out [of the house he mother owned] and start my life. When I knew that she was comfortable with Sonya, that was my sign to take things to the next level,” Chris said.

By March 1996, the pair were co-habitating, living together at Sonya’s Southside apartment.

The proposal: Christmas Day, 1996, in their apartment in 5 Points South.

“By this point, we had been through an apartment fire and the ring was under the tree, and by the grace of God we didn’t lose everything (including the ring),” Chris said. “I remember trying to figure out how I was going to let it out [the proposal], and it just ended up coming out.”

Sonya was in full anticipation of the pending proposal. “I made sure I was cute, my hair was looking nice, I had my nails done. We had been talking about getting married, we had lots and lots of conversations about it so we knew it was going to happen, just not when. He had asked me what kind of ring I would like and I described a ring of my mother’s that I loved and without even seeing it he actually went out and bought the exact same ring,” said Sonya.

“And we were in our PJ’s opening up all the gifts and I grew a little disappointed when I didn’t come across a ring. But he said wait, we have one more and he went under the skirt of our 4-foot tree that was mounted on a table and he pulled out a gift box and it was nicely and professionally wrapped and he’s snapping pictures and I’m smiling from ear to ear. And I said ‘Wait, are you gonna ask me to marry you?’ And he smiled and kinda put his head to the side and said, ‘Sonya, will you marry me?’, and I said ‘yes’.”

The wedding: At Bryant Chapel African Methodist Episcopal [AME] Church in Grasselli Heights, officiated by Reverend Tommy Hagler. Their colors were navy blue, gold, and cream.

Most memorable for both the bride and groom was a comical moment they shared when it was time for the groom to salute the bride.

“At the moment when Chris was told to kiss his bride, he paused and took a slight step back, and I had a moment of panic. But then he pulled out a little breath spray bottle, sprayed his mouth, and then came in for the kiss. The entire church was in stitches,” Sonya said.

“I wanted to lighten the moment, and I knew she would appreciate the humor. I’m always laughing at something in my head…,” Chris said.

Humor is how the couple gets through tough, and serious moments. Like when Sonya had breast cancer in 2004. “…Chris was my personal barber during that time, and even with that we had humor,” Sonya said. “[we joked about my bald head] …we have always been able to laugh at ourselves and take out some of the seriousness in life.” (Sonya has since recovered).

They honeymooned on a weekend trip to Atlanta, and a visit to Six Flags over Georgia. A few months later they went to Fort Morgan, Ala. near Gulf Shores, Ala.  and spent a weekend on a private beach.

Words of wisdom: “Allow one another to be human. Give grace to yourself and your partner and realize marriage is a work in progress. It’s about growing together and realizing there’s no template. It depends on the individuals and their experiences and how they use those experiences to grow together,” Chris said. “When we got together one thing that stuck in my head was that we are two individuals with different experiences, and she complimented me and made me better and I hoped that I complimented her the same. Our daughter is the physical manifestation of that. She is the best of each of our experiences together, and I still feel like our best days are ahead of us.”

“A lot of things boil down to mutual respect for one another and deciding to maintain that respect and choosing how to approach the difficulties in your relationship with that respect in mind…” Sonya said. “You should respect how you both feel and react to situations and move forward from there and remember why you started the journey together in the beginning. Make sure the love is true and unshakable [because] you’re going to be faced with a lot of obstacles, and your vows are going to be put to the test. Be willing to get through those tests together.”

Happily ever after: The Thigpens attend Bryant Chapel African Methodist Episcopal [AME] Church in Grasselli Heights, and have one daughter, Christiana, 15.

Sonya, 52, is an Air Force brat born in Ashville, North Carolina, and settled in Prattville, Ala. in 1987 and graduated from Prattville High School. She attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham [UAB], where she earned a bachelor of arts degree with a concentration in English literature and has worked for Protective Life Insurance Company as a Senior Specialist in Customer Operations for 24 years.

Chris, 52, is a Birmingham [Riley Station] native, and Jones Valley High School grad. He went into the military after high school and served in the US Army Reserves as an administrative specialist and was honorably discharged in 2003. Chris has worked for Regions Bank [Formally AmSouth Bank] for 30 years as a Compliance Analyst AVP [assistant vice president].

“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.

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