By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
Sometimes you just know when it’s true love.
Shannon Hayhurst was on her way to a family reunion in July 1996 in Colorado. She’d never traveled across country before. All of her family here in Marion County drove west, caravan-style, making a real family vacation of it, driving and stopping at places like St. Louis.
How could life get any better than traveling and spending time with family?
She found out on July 7, 1996.
Nathan Barkley was working at YMCA of the Rockies, a resort at a town close to Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park.
He was from Corowa, in New South Wales, Australia, a little town about three hours north of Melbourne. He was here in the States on a two-year student exchange program, studying marketing while doing odd jobs at the resort.
That fateful day, he was passing out skates at the rink, where Shannon had been hanging out during the reunion.
She said she was attracted by his accent.
They started talking and exchanged addresses. He was leaving soon to go back to Australia, he told her, and he didn’t think a relationship would last. But they could be friends. It turned out he stayed at Colorado and they continued writing to each other.
“A month later, he said he loved me,” she said.
That October, he visited her family in Fairmont. He later moved in with her parents, staying in the play room.
“Everybody loved him,” she said. “My mom and I cried when he left.”
In December they got engaged. He had to return to Australia in April to apply for a fiancé visa. He came back in June with a surprise in mind.
One day she was working at her grandfather’s convenience store on Industrial Park Road. Nathan borrowed her car to run some errands. When he came back to the store, he had this mischievous look on his face, Shannon said.
“I wanted to know what he was up to. He told me to let it go. But I said no. I didn’t like secrets.”
She went out to her car. Rummaging around a bit, she found a small jewelry box.
“I peeped inside and found a ring,” she said. “But I thought it was a friendship ring.”
She went back to the store, box in hand.
“What did you find?” Nathan asked her.
“And then he proposed,” she said.
She doesn’t remember the exact words.
“He just said he loved me and asked me to marry him.”
She kind of knew this was coming.
“But not that quickly,” she said. “He’d bought the ring that day. He was planning it all along. Sneaky.
“I had no idea. I did not expect it.
“It was meant to be,” she said. “I did not hesitate. I knew the moment we met that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. It was love at first sight. I know that’s a cliché, but it was.
“I got tears in my eyes, and jumped up and down. I’m sure a customer walked in and I had to calm myself down.”
They were married Aug. 16, 1997, at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church by Pastor Gary Steele.
“Our church didn’t have a minister at the time. He was from another church,” she said.
It was a hot summer day. The small country church was packed with 150 wedding guests. People were standing in the back. The air conditioning wasn’t working well.
It was a beautiful wedding.
Her party consisted of her sister, Michele Hayhurst, as maid of honor, and cousin Marla Henderson and good friend Lisa Carpenter as bridesmaids. Best man was Mark Dearborn. Her brother Jeremy was a groomsman.
“For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the other one,” she said with a rueful laugh.
All of her friends and family were there to wish them well. But Nathan had only one relative there, a cousin from Pennsylvania. The rest of his family — parents, two brothers and a sister — couldn't make it from Australia.
“He’s the baby,” Shannon said. “It was very hard for his mother to let him go.”
The wedding was a blur, she said. But she does remember some details from it.
“I remember my dad crying as he walked me down the aisle,” she said. “I was excited to be getting married.”
And she was nervous, too.
“Nathan had these vows that were a tongue twister. I can’t remember it now, but I was nervous that I wouldn't get it right.”
But everything worked out fine. Sixteen years and two kids later (Makayla, 12, and Kyle, 10), they are a happy family.
“There was just something in my heart when I met him. It just clicked. I can’t explain it. I knew deep down I would spend he rest of my life with him.”
Email Debra Minor Wilson at email@example.com.