How We Met
We first met in Athens, Georgia at the University of Georgia. I was a freshman in college and he was a senior. I knew him only as my sister’s boyfriend’s roommate who played in a band. Naturally we ran into each other throughout my first few months of college due to mutual friends. That October I was in need of a date for my sorority (Kappa Delta) semi-formal.
My sister, Kristen, and her boyfriend, Jon, suggested I take Carson. They told me he was a great guy and would be a good date. They was right! We ended up having a lot of fun. We texted off and on after, and we would see each other every so often when we were out with friends or when his band, Cracker Jack Prize, was playing downtown. That December he asked me out on a date. We went to Transmetropolitan for calzones and a movie. We really hit it off and over the next few months we made it official. The rest of our years at UGA were spent going to football games, Kappa Delta and Alpha Gamma Rho date nights, Destin spring breaks, Sunday night dinners at Carson and Jon’s, and late nights downtown after Cracker Jack Prize shows. After graduating and leaving Athens, Carson moved back to his hometown of Columbus, GA and I began medical school at Mercer University in Macon, GA. I was able to move to Columbus for my last two years of medical school for rotations. Carson currently works for Aflac and owns his own production company, and I will graduate from medical school in May 2018, two weeks before the big day.
How He Asked
On February 18, 2017, Carson found himself in a library in Macon, GA contemplating how he would ultimately pop the question to me. For many months he had assumed he would take me away to an exotic destination for the special event, but he was struggling to make a decision, and it just didn’t feel right. As Carson sat and debated the subject in his mind, a song came on Spotify he had never heard before…”In Case You Didn’t Know” by Brett Young. The tune caught his attention, and as he listened to the words of the song an idea began forming.
Carson realized that he had overlooked the most logical and meaningful destination of all…Lake Harding. Although it was a place close to home and certainly not exotic, it had been a focal point in our relationship and a source of many wonderful memories shared together. Carson knew this was the perfect place, but only if he could make it a unique occasion.
Tom Huston Island is an overgrown, deserted island on Lake Harding that sits just off the main channel right outside the slough where Carson’s family’s lake house is located. The island can be seen from the dock, and we passed the island every time we went out for a boat ride. A lone chimney stands on the island, the only remnants left from a house that burned down decades ago. Neither of us had ever been on the island, though it had always been a source of allure.
Carson decided quickly that Tom Huston Island must be a focal point of the proposal in some way, though it would need to be landscaped, which would be a challenge. Next, how would we get to the island, much less to Lake Harding, on the day of the proposal? Getting to the island by a sunset boat ride was an easy decision, but to get to Lake Harding there was one idea that trumped all others…land on the lake in a float plane.
On the morning of April 28, 2017, Carson called me and explained there would be a slight change in plans later that day. He explained that a friend of his, Buddy, had called and offered to take us up for a long-promised ride in his airplane that afternoon. Although we had a double-date planned that evening, Buddy assured Carson we would be back in plenty of time for dinner. Despite my slight apprehension initially, Carson convinced me that it would be incredible, and I agreed to go. Later that afternoon Carson picked me up and we met Buddy at the airport and boarded the plane. Little did I know the real plan that had been set into motion.
As we took off from the Columbus airport, we flew over the city and then south to the Uptown Columbus riverfront area, taking in the beauty of Columbus’s bustling business district before turning around and heading north. We flew up the Georgia-Alabama state line along the Chattahoochee River, first over Lake Oliver, then Lake Goat Rock, Lake Harding, and eventually up to Lake West Point…taking in the beauty of the landscape from above the whole ride. As we approached Lake West Point, Buddy offered Carson the opportunity to fly the plane for awhile. He gave some instruction on the controls and how to control the aircraft and turned it over to Carson. Despite my initial caution, I was enjoying the ride and taking it all in as a once in a lifetime experience, completely unsuspecting of the real plan unfolding. After taking off and landing several times on Lake West Point it was time to head home, and Carson pointed the plane south toward Columbus.
As we made our way back over Lake Harding, Buddy suddenly seemed uneasy and became alarmed. A gauge in the plane was giving a bad reading, and Buddy was forced to land the plane on the lake to “check the problem”. After trying several things to check the issue, Buddy explained that although he felt he could guide the plane back to the airport, he didn’t feel safe having passengers with him. Despite my obvious concern, I was glad we were safe, but now we needed a way to get off the plane. Buddy asked if Carson had any friends that might be at the lake and could come pick them up by boat, and Carson decided to call friend and neighbor, Shawn Thomas. They were in luck…Shawn “happened to be” on the lake helping with a photo shoot for a local restaurant.
When Shawn arrived, Carson & I exited the plane and thanked Buddy as he apologized for the inconvenience of the whole situation. As we boarded the boat Shawn explained that they were finishing the photo shoot soon but still had a few shots left. Carson & I got comfortable at the back of the boat, and the photographers offered us the beautiful charcuterie board of meats and cheeses and champagne they had been photographing. As we sat on the boat enjoying the charcuterie, champagne, and the beginning of a beautiful sunset we laughed in disbelief at how the chain of events had played out…it was a story we just couldn’t make up. The plan continued to unfold…
As the sun drew closer to setting, Carson & I continued to enjoy the beauty we loved so much about Lake Harding and finished the charcuterie board and champagne. When the boat passed by Tom Huston Island it caught the photographers’ eyes and they said they wanted to shoot some pictures on the island. They invited us to explore it with them, and we decided it would be fun to finally set foot on the island we had passed by boat, admired from the dock, and talked about so many times over the years.
Carson helped me off the boat and onto the island, and we began walking up a winding and surprisingly freshly-groomed path lined with lit torches. It was at this time that I began to realize that the chain of events of the evening may have been much more than just happenstance. Could it be that the whole evening had been planned long before the phone call earlier that morning? We talked, laughed, and soaked in every moment as we continued up the island and it all became more real to me. I just couldn’t believe that it was all happening.
Upon reaching the the top of the island we found a flat, cleared area setup with a table for two canopied by lights with flowers and menus from Transmet in Athens, the location of our first date. We walked just beyond the table to find Carson’s guitar and two chairs. Carson invited me to take a seat, and as the sun set perfectly in the background on the horizon, he sang me the song that put the whole plan into motion on that day two months before…it was the first time we had listened to the song together, by Carson’s design.
As Carson finished playing the song the emotions were flowing and we were both struggling to hold back the tears of joy. We stood up and Carson took my hands. The culmination of all the planning and thought was about to take place, and the stage couldn’t have been set more perfectly. What was said in the moments following remains somewhat of a blur for both of us, but ultimately Carson told me that the past 6 and a half years had been the best years of his life, and that I was perfect to him in so many ways. He ended by saying, “You are my everything. I’m crazy about you. I love you so much. I couldn’t imagine this life without you.” Then, as he dropped to one knee and opened a “little green box”, he said, “Charlotte Michelle Smith, will you marry me?” Through the tears and emotions, I gave a resounding “Yes!” and Carson placed the ring on my finger. We embraced, kissed, cried, and said “I love you” to one another.
Carson then told me that the night had just begun, that he had an evening planned just for me. We walked back over to the table and were seated by maître d’s Derek Hay and Kyle Yarbrough, two of our best friends. As the sun went down and the moon and stars came out, Derek and Kyle served us a three-course meal of all of my favorite things. Though very simple, it was even more special than a 5-star restaurant could have prepared. The first course was margaritas, chips, salsa, and queso from Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant. As we enjoyed the food and drink and the music in the background, we talked and laughed as Carson explained how he planned it all, and I replayed everything from the past two months. I couldn’t believe everything had been planned without me knowing a single thing. Course two consisted of Spicy Chicken Sandwiches (no pickle for Charlotte) and Waffle Fries from Chick-fil-A paired with one of my favorite red wines, Apothic Crush (literally…you had to be there). Finally, as the sky was lit up with stars, the third course was served…White Chocolate Cheesecake from The Last Resort Grill, my favorite Athens restaurant, and Chocolate Chip Cookies and Vanilla Iced Coffees from Chick-fil-A. As we finished dessert Carson asked me if I’d like to dance.
Under the stars and the bistro lights we danced to “In Case You Didn’t Know” by Brett Young, savoring the moment of embrace and focusing on the lyrics to the song. As the song neared its end, we heard a noise in the distance, and then the fireworks began. The fireworks continued to go off in the night sky, and the next song, “Let Me Down Easy” by Billy Currington, began playing and brought back countless memories of our years together. Once the song and fireworks ended Derek and Kyle went out of character and we all met and embraced. We thanked them for everything they did–after all, it wouldn’t have been possible without them…they “crushed it”–and we walked down the path to the boat waiting to pick us up.
Shawn drove us from the island back into the slough toward the Hand’s lake house as the music played and we finished our iced coffees. We continued to talk about what a magical and perfect evening it had been, and it was finally starting to sink in what had really happened. As we came closer to the house, all of a sudden the dock ignited into a sea of sparklers and the cheering began. The closer we got to the dock the more we could tell who was causing the disturbance. Carson had invited both of our families to the house to be there upon our arrival. While both of us had always said we wanted the proposal to be something special just between the two of us, Carson knew it would be very special for our families to be involved in some way. We finally arrived at the dock and were greeted by everyone with hugs, laughs, tears, and congratulations. The remainder of the evening was spent eating, drinking, and celebrating with each other around the maiden voyage of the fire pit Carson constructed and finished especially for the occasion with the help of Phil and Kyle.
The following day Carson had planned a cookout at the lake with the friends and family in town for the event. We took a boat ride that morning to get away to call grandparents and other people we wanted to break the news to, and upon returning I was once again surprised to find nearly 20 of our closest friends waiting for us on the dock to spend the day celebrating. We enjoyed the day at the lake with everyone and finished the weekend out with none other than a celebratory dinner at Hunter’s Pub. The love we felt that all our friends came to celebrate and support us was incredible and something we will remember forever.
As the weekend came to a close, we talked about how special it was and how blessed we were to have each other and such wonderful people in our lives. Carson asked me if it was what I ever dreamed it would be…my answer, “It was perfect.”