Though we have been married for only a
short time, my husband and I already realize how important it is for couples to reinforce
their love for each other by establishing and maintaining their own personal traditions.
We continually foster our love with "Niederwald."
In 1996, shortly after we had begun dating each other exclusively, Matt
accompanied me on a day trip to San Antonio. I had to attend a business conference and he
was concerned about me making the "long" drive from Fort Worth alone. (I could
easily have tolerated what to me was a mere jaunt, but I was happy for the company!) While
I spent all day attending workshops, he touristed around San Antonio. He picked me up
around 5:00pm, and we enjoyed dinner on the River Walk, before we starting home.
While driving back north on I-35, he suddenly looked over at me seated
in the passenger's seat and said "Shelley, I am SO in love with you." Touched by
his spontaneity, I snuggled over to him in the car and closed my eyes -- dreaming of the
future we might have together. As his family has a strong German heritage, I was not
surprised when seconds later, in a hushed voice, he softly uttered
Again, moved by his candid sincerity and his willingness to express
himself so freely, I moved even closer to him and laid my head on his shoulder. Eyes
glistening, I fluttered my lashes and gazed up at his face. Smiling shyly, I sweetly
whispered, "Niederwald. Hmm
what does that mean?"
"Huh? What?" He stuttered blankly. "Uh
Oh. Oh! I was just reading that road sign," he explained, pointing at the large green
highway marker disappearing as we passed. Quickly realizing what I had misunderstood, he
couldnt restrain his laughter. Chagrined, I, too, could do nothing but laugh aloud
that I had been a little too carried away in the romantic moment.
Later, we learned that the literal translation of the German
"Niederwald" is "low forest." Yet, the word has taken on a much more
significant definition to us. It has become our unique expression of love. It was engraved
inside Matts wedding band months later when we were married, November 8, 1996. He
had it engraved on gold bands that he gave me for Christmas in 1998. A mysterious
"Mr. Niederwald" has left cryptic messages for me at work and has sent me
flowers on such occasions as the anniversary of the date Matt proposed and the anniversary
of our first date.
For two years, we searched unsuccessfully for information about
Niederwald, TX. Never realizing how important the spot would become to us, we
couldnt even remember its exact location. In fact, the city of Niederwald is so
small (pop. 233) we couldnt locate it on any Texas map! We performed many an
Internet search for "Niederwald," only to find several references to a city in
Germany! So (because this small town was Matts first choice for our vacation last
December) we decided to just get in the car and drive. We planned to drive all the way
from Fort Worth to San Antonio and back if we had to - determined to find it. Fortunately,
that wasnt necessary. We triumphantly discovered this humble farm community just
southeast of Austin. There was no quaint cultural district -- no entertainment facilities
-- no need! We used up almost an entire roll of film just snapping pictures of every sign
we could find that said "Niederwald!" We had a blast!
It was only after our visit there that I
found the City of Niederwald website with an email address to contact their mayor, Rickie
Adkins. Having captured the telephone number for City Hall on one of the photographs from
our recent road trip, I was able to follow up with a call to the Niederwald City Council
to make a special request. I shared our story with them and was thrilled when they agreed
to surprise my husband, Matt, with the key to the city. The key to the City of Niederwald
(designed by local artist and councilwoman, Glenda Buehring) was officially presented to
him on Valentines Day, 1999 - long after hed won the key to my heart!
The occasion took on dramatic proportions when I submitted the story to
an online contest at Hallmark.com and won the grand prize! Along with the traditional
gifts of candy and flowers, Hallmark also awarded my husband and I with a box filled with
exquisite gifts from their online store. In addition, Hallmarks artists and writers
custom designed a Valentines Day card for Matthew and I, commemorating our
relationship with the small town of Niederwald. This incredible work of art is complete
with ribbons, bows, and needlework and will become one of our most cherished keepsakes. It
includes an original poem created by one of Hallmarks most renowned writers, Barbara
Loots, adapted from our love story about "Niederwald." We will treasure it
always and know it will be an heirloom for our future children and their children. The
media attention that the contest garnered gave us pictures and articles to record the
event of a lifetime.
Upon hearing of this presentation and our wish to renew our vows there
someday, the community of Niederwald and their local church congregation responded by
banding together to organize a beautiful wedding renewal ceremony. We were chauffeured
from City Hall to the church in a bright red 1968 Cadillac convertible. Pastor Bill Burns
performed the ceremony including some of our favorite biblical scripture. He surprised us
once again by calling on his friend Ruben Archield of the San Antonio Symphony to come up
and sing for us. The service was followed by a charming Valentines Day reception
resplendent with red hearts, flowers, and even a wedding cake! We were touched by the
genuine hospitality of the community, and were honored at the number of townspeople who
approached us to express their heart-felt gratitude! The memory of this day will be
forever etched on our hearts.