COLUMN: Eau Claire is for Lovers
why fall in love in Paris when Eau Claire can be just as romantic?
I met my wife Arwen in 1994 when we were both attending Regis High School. I was a freshman, she was a sophomore, and we were assigned to the same playacting group on the forensics team. As the story goes, because of an alleged nose-picking incident, she thought I was gross. The climax of the play where she and the other girl in our group beat me with pretend umbrellas was her favorite part of the performance.
Fast forward a few years to find us both on UWEC’s forensics team. By that point, our shared history had helped us become friends. She was dating some other guy, and I made it clear through a number of uncharacteristically flirtatious gestures that, if given the chance, I would love to try my hand at wooing her. On the beautiful spring day she dumped him, I drove to her parent’s house by Princeton Valley and met her in the driveway, ready to start our courtship. A couple of years later at her senior year forensics banquet (Wally’s Chalet), I proposed. A year after that we got married at St. Olaf’s on Eau Claire’s north side, then had our reception at the former Water’s Edge restaurant on Lake Wissota.
Every year, the lead-up to Valentine’s Day prompts some romantic reminiscing, especially now that Arwen and I have surpassed our twenty-year anniversary. As a couple of townies whose entire history has taken place within a few miles of the Chippewa River, it has become apparent that the Chippewa Valley is essentially the third member of our relationship. Does that mean we have the greater Eau Claire metropolitan area to thank for the state of our marriage? Cities like Paris, France are notorious for infusing visitors with amorous feelings. Is our corner of Wisconsin capable of accomplishing the same thing?
...it has become apparent that the Chippewa Valley is essentially the third member of our relationship.
In 2002, one month before we were married, I moved into the townhouse off Golf Road, immediately adjacent to Exit 68 on I-94, which would serve as our first home. As a nod to tradition, and because I had never had the opportunity to live by myself, Arwen waited to join me until after the wedding. But my final thirty days of bachelorhood were not quite as carefree as I had hoped. A friend of a friend needed to rehome a cat, and the first friend and Arwen devised a way to get me to acquiesce: show up with the homeless cat and reiterate that it had nowhere else to go. I gave in. Because Arwen had opted for marriage and a job working for her mother instead of attending law school, we named the cat J.D., after the degree she gave up for a life with me in the Chippewa Valley.
Every fall throughout the early 2000s, the Running Water Poetry Slam would host a championship Grand Slam. By 2005, I had spent loads of time in front of Acoustic Café’s microphone, reading the mostly silly poems I had written and enduring the subsequent judging. After qualifying at a match earlier in the season, the big night arrived. My third-round poem that night was one I had been preparing for weeks, and when I finished, the crowd went wild, but there was only one person in the room I was hoping to impress, just like I had during our time in high school and college forensics. I returned to my seat next to Arwen, who smiled and said, “That’s why I married you.”
In March of 2008, my very pregnant wife was desperate to welcome our first child to the world. We had been crisscrossing the East Hill all week, hoping the walks would jumpstart the miraculous process. It wasn’t working. By Wednesday night we were ready to attempt another popular strategy, so we headed to Cancun (the old location, in the former Hardees) for some spicy food. By the time we were ready to head home, the contractions had started, so we spent the rest of the evening waiting for the stopwatch to tell us it was time to head to the hospital. Gordon was born the next morning in a room at Luther Hospital overlooking Half Moon Lake.
I can’t imagine many people would argue that Eau Claire is a particularly romantic city, despite a solid selection of nice restaurants, several charming hotels, and a few pretty spots worth visiting, depending on the time of year. But as a backdrop for the sort of romance that spans years and all manner of family milestones, I know of at least one couple who will be holding hands over a table at Houligan’s this Valentine’s season, appreciating all the love in the air around here.