Pensacola, Florida—a sports bar. I’m eating a burger that tastes like five-day-old meatloaf. My fries are cold. On a gigantic television over the bar: Alabama dominates the football field.
This place is a nut house.
The bartender is chatty. He’s a husky man, thick hands, early forties. He asks what I’m doing for Thanksgiving. It’s only polite conversation. He can’t hear me over the noise.
Alabama scores. The bar goes wild.
He asks how I like my burger. I tell him it’s magnificent.
He winks and says, “You’re a liar. Our burgers are awful.”
I ask him what he’s doing Thanksgiving.
He says, “My kids and I are driving to Texas. My girlfriend has a huge family, it’s gonna be our first time meeting them.”
As it happens, the girl comes from a Mexican family. And in preparation for the big day, she’s been teaching him and his two boys Spanish. But, he explains, he can’t roll his R’s.
Perhaps it’s because he’s from Geneva County. R’s don’t roll in Geneva.
Another touchdown. Screaming.
He goes on, “My boys’re more excited than I am, we usually just eat Cracker Barrel on Thanksgiving.”
He was married once. But a few years ago, she died. It was sudden. She was young. His oldest boy was two. The other boy, a newborn. One morning, he found her body on the sofa.
“Heart defect,” he says. “Doctors didn’t even know she had it, I thought I’d never make it. Until I met my girlfriend.”
Field goal kick. It’s good.
He digs into his pocket and removes his phone. “You wanna see a picture?”
He shows me his boys. Then, an image of an engagement ring.
“Just bought this,” he says. My boys and I are gonna ask her to marry us all at once, on Thanksgiving morning.
“My boys wanna get down on their knees and surprise her, do the whole thing. We’ve been rehearsing each night.”
He even bought matching bow ties at Target. They’re all going to pop the question in Spanish.
He demonstrates his Español, using his non-rolling, Alabamian R’s.
“Oh man,” he says, crossing his fingers. “I’m nervous. I mean, you never know what someone will say when you put it all on the line. But I love her. She brought me back to life.
“Been telling all my friends to keep sending out good vibes and pray she says yes.”
Well, friend, we don’t know each other, and I know it doesn’t matter what a stranger like me thinks—or how much I believe in love.
I just told all my friends, too.