Rob Taylor: What she really wants for Christmas |

Rob Taylor: What she really wants for Christmas

I am sorry for Grand County’s loss. It has been nearly two years since Gary and Sandy Ashby departed for the next stage of their lives – somewhere in Indiana. Some of us still have not recovered.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure of their acquaintance, the Ashbys both worked for the White House in the 1970s before finding their way here. Gary was part of everything, including local chamber events, the Grand County Tourism Board and the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre Board. For pocket money, he worked for the county a short while before finding his niche at Mountain Parks Electric.

When he boxed up his office for good, he stripped the walls of autographed photos of Presidents Carter, Ford and Nixon shaking his hand. He departed rather suddenly, leaving his coworkers feeling as though someone had confiscated Mount Rushmore.

Sandy is a United Airlines flight attendant, who didn’t mind the Denver commute – except for one tragic elk run-in near Coffey Divide. She was the smiling face of Trinity Church of the Pines’ Sunday school program and a fixture in the Christmas Eve bell choir.

Together, Gary and Sandy are a picture of what a relationship should be. Most of us would assume that they knew – from the moment they met – that they were meant for each other. Not so. According to Sandy, it took Gary three years longer than it should have.

Sandy’s 21st birthday had been perfect. It began with fine dining at historic Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town Alexandria (Virginia) – the same location that Washington, Jefferson and Madison had once tossed around the idea of declaring independence from England. The building’s historical significance created an ambiance of importance, which was only enhanced by its colonial architecture, sophisticated waiters and elegant place settings. But that night, Sandy felt a sense of anticipation – as though something significant might happen – as she gazed into her date’s eyes.

Her date, Gary Edward Ashby, was “the one,” or so she told her friends. There wasn’t any single attribute about Gary that did it for Sandy – like his dashing appearance, refreshing sense of humor or the way he so kindly treated others. It was the sum of the parts. Spending time with Gary was like enjoying a seven-course meal: Satisfying from first impression to the parting remarks.

For Sandy, the joy that Gary “brought to the table” that night – a box of diamond earrings – could mean only one thing; she would be engaged by Christmas.

“Oh, Gary. They’re perfect,” she said.

“An appropriate gift for a classy lady on her 21st birthday,” he said, returning her smile, as the entire restaurant – patrons and wait staff alike – began singing “Happy Birthday.”

As fall gave way to winter, the anticipation of being engaged consumed Sandy – who counted down the days until Christmas Eve. She felt as though a great burden had been lifted when the day finally arrived and Gary was on her doorstep. He stood there with a smile and a package. After taking advantage of the mistletoe, he presented the gift.

“What could this be?” she asked flirtatiously, although it was a rhetorical question.

She began unwrapping, dividing her attention between the tissue paper and Gary’s smile. Nothing could have prepared her for the moment of truth ” when she first beheld the pocket calculator. If not for the festive music, the silence would have been profound.

No ring? Sandy thought, trying to compose herself. She repeated it in her mind again and again … No ring? … No ring! Two years and still no ring.

“Do you like it, honey?” Gary asked, flirting back, unsure how to interpret the quiet. Knowing that Sandy had difficulty balancing her checkbook, he was certain that the expensive pocket calculator (that had just become available for retail sale) was as thoughtful as it was practical.

What happened next is sketchy. By one report, the calculator went hurling through the air, barely missing Gary’s head.

Three years later, Sandy got her ring. They laugh about it now, but it was one of the most memorable Christmas Eves that the couple – who has been married for 30 years and counting – has spent together in love.

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