Michelle Dixon and Michael Palmer
Dec. 17, 2016 in Philadelphia
Michelle transferred to a public school. Mike was the boy on the waiting list who took her place at tiny Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Berlin. Michelle went to the school's Thanksgiving brunch to visit her former classmates, and the other fourth graders flocked around her as Mike watched in wonderment.
Both were just 9, but Mike, now 24, will never forget it. "It was love at first sight," he said. "People don't believe it, but I believe it."
Michelle, also now 24, noticed Mike, too. "He was the cute, new boy in class."
Someone in the huddle introduced them.
In December, "She showed up at my bus stop, and we sat across the aisle from each other on the bus," Mike said. "We were instantly friends," said Michelle.
Missing her school and friends, Michelle had transferred back to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In grades six and seven, the two held hands and passed notes. On weekends, his mom, Barb, or her parents, Sharon and Tom, dropped them off at the movies.
In eighth grade, "we started being serious," Mike said. "She was just so nice, right off the bat, and I thought she was very attractive," he said. "She was one of the smartest girls I'd ever met."
"He was really sociable and outgoing, while I was more reserved then," said Michelle. "I really liked hanging out with him."
So much so that they chose the same high school, Eastern, where both played basketball, he played football, and she played volleyball. Senior year, they were chosen homecoming king and queen, and they were named cutest couple in the yearbook.
Mike and Michelle both earned bachelor's degrees from Rutgers in Camden, his in criminal justice and sociology, and hers in biology and psychology. Michelle also played volleyball.
In 2013, they got a student apartment together.
Michelle's huge extended family holds a Christmas Eve party every year; in 2014 it was hosted by her Aunt Susan and Uncle Joe. "I texted her uncle a week or two before and asked him if midway through the night, before the Polyanna gift exchange, if he could make some sort of speech, and then pass it on to me," Mike said.
Joe tapped Mike on the shoulder as a 20-minute warning. Then he called everyone into the living room, thanked them for coming, and passed the floor to Mike. Before the audience of 30 or so, which included Mike's and Michelle's parents (who knew it was coming, as Mike sought their blessing), his little brother, Sean, and her older brother, Tom V, Mike spoke directly to Michelle.
"From the moment I first saw you, I knew I wanted to be with you for the rest of my life," he said, kneeling. "Will you marry me?"
With many years of being sure they wanted to be with only each other, they had talked about marriage. That didn't keep her from being surprised. "We were both still in college, and so I hadn't thought about getting engaged. I was completely shocked," she said.
At her "yes," the room burst into cheers.
In 2016, they bought a house in Berlin, where they live with cats Khaleesi and Kitty. All through high school and college, Mike had worked part-time at Winslow Rental, Michelle's family's company, where he's now a sales representative. In 2014, Michelle and her mom opened Mason's Dog Boutique, an online purveyor of dog treats, toys, and accessories named for Mason, the family's black Pomeranian. This summer, they plan to open a physical store in Berlin. Michelle also works part-time as a teaching and research assistant at Rutgers, from where she will graduate with a master's degree in experimental psychology this spring.
The couple married in an evening ceremony at the Atrium at Curtis Center, two days after the 10-year anniversary of Mike's asking Michelle to be his girlfriend.
Ceremony and reception both reflected an art deco/1920s theme. The aisle was decorated with white ostrich feathers and led to a large, lighted Christmas tree. The couple wed with a self-uniting license in a ceremony led by the bride's Uncle Joe. They kept their vows secret from each other until they made them, yet both included the same sentence: You are my best friend and the love of my life.
Mike and Michelle recessed to an instrumental version of the theme from Up.
The reception, also held at Curtis, featured a palette of black, ivory, and gold, satin and sequined fabrics, and more ostrich feathers, these dripping with crystals.
When they were introduced to their 200 guests as husband and wife, a flower bomb made it "look like it was snowing white rose petals," Michelle said. The petals were still falling as the couple danced to Harry Connick Jr.'s version of "It Had to Be You."
The day of the wedding, getting ready at the couple's home with the groomsmen, Mike felt so much anticipation. "We had talked about this day since we were young kids on the school bus, joking around," he said. "And then, over time, we got serious and I knew it was really going to happen one day. At the wedding, when I first saw Michelle, I had all these flashbacks to our past, and I couldn't believe it was finally the day."
After the ceremony, Michelle and Mike got to see the reception room before guests arrived. That pause gave Michelle time to reflect. "Two years of planning had finally come together, and everything turned out 10 times better than I had even imagined," she said. "I was so happy, and excited, and it just felt right."
Best bargain: Michelle and her mom made customary Italian wedding favors by placing five sugared almonds in tiny gold-and-black boxes with bows and a note explaining that the almonds represent five wishes for the couple: health, wealth, happiness, fertility, and longevity. "They were handmade, nice, traditional, and not that expensive," she said.
The splurge: The couple wanted food and drink to flow heavily in a glamorous setting, which led them to their Cescaphe venue. Then they opted to rent 10 chandeliers for even more glam.
Two weeks at Excellence Playa Mujeres in Cancun.
BEHIND THE SCENES