The Debra VanDriest Love Story

Seven years ago I had a routine surgery that went incredibly wrong and left me hospitalized for three months. Afterwards I was sent to a local rehab hospital for physical and occupational therapy. While there, my occupational therapist, Allie, came to my room every morning to help me get ready for the day, engage me in conversation, and always (and I do mean always) provide encouragement.   

The little things we take for granted like walking, getting in and out of bed, showering and getting dressed without assistance were almost impossible to me, but Allie's positive attitude, kind heart, and ability to motivate me gave me hope that someday I'd be able live independently again in my home and return to work.  

One of the issues I had in rehab was an inability to eat. Every morning Allie would tell me stories about what her father made her for breakfast. She said he'd be happy to make me breakfast too, but as wonderful as the offer was, I would decline since I just didn't feel like eating. As I was being released, Allie asked me where I'd go for my first meal after I was able to leave the house. Without hesitation, I told her I'd go to Franchesco's for a Ceasar salad with shrimp. She started smiling and said, “Do you know my last name is Salamone. Franchesco's is my family's restaurant!” Throughout the years following my hospital stay and rehab, Francesco's continued to be the place I'd celebrate or gather with friends. My parents even had their 55th wedding anniversary dinner there.

Both my fiancé and I had been single for a long time. In truth, we both thought we'd live the rest of our lives without a significant other. Cue the doves and dolphins . . .  We met online and within a couple of weeks of talking, went on our first date. It lasted 8 hours and time flew by. We were so much alike, yet different at the same time and had so much to talk about. 

Kurt says he knew right away I was "the one".  I'm a bit more pragmatic so it took me a little longer to come to the same decision, but Kurt changed my life and I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with him. I'm in awe God chose to bring this Christian, loving, gentle, kind, good-hearted man into my life.

After having asked for my father's permission to marry me, Kurt proposed on Christmas Day with a roaring fire in the fireplace, orange rose petals filling the room, and two glasses of champagne. After a few days of enjoying the excitement of the engagement, we began to talk about wedding plans and what was important to us. 

We both agreed we wanted a simple, yet elegant wedding. We wanted our venue to be beautiful, warm and inviting. It needed to be a place that cared about us, with people who would want to make the day personal and perfect. The food had to be amazing; the service impeccable. 

Ideally, we wanted the ceremony and reception in the same location to make it easy for out of town guests. The venue also needed to be easy to find and close to multiple hotels for the convenience of those attending. 

I knew our wedding venue needed to be Franchesco's. Since Kurt is from out of town, we made dinner reservations, and afterwards he agreed Franchesco's was ideal. 

When I called to begin our planning I was connected to Michelle. Just like her cousin Allie, Michelle has such an incredible spirit. I adore how excited she has been for Kurt and me. It's like we've known her our whole lives.  

Michelle has made our planning so incredibly easy! She asks questions to make sure she understands what is important to us, provides great ideas and options, and is quick to respond when I call or email her. Although I'm normally pretty well organized, the thought of getting married is beautifully overwhelming, and Michelle eases every single concern as our day gets closer. (If you read between the lines, she's talked me off the edge multiple times!)

Our wedding is going to be even more spectacular than I could have imagined, all because of Michelle and the staff at Franchesco’s. The Salamone family may not know how they've all embraced me over the years, but their restaurant has been a place of victory and celebration in my life. It's unbelievable I will now wed my soulmate there.