It was Mother’s Day weekend in 1999 and Leah was graduating from Campbell University.
We had been dating for over a year.
Leah told me that she was not going to move to Rose Hill, NC without a reason. I knew just what she meant, so I asked her to marry me. Over the years, I gave Leah many reasons to wish she had made a different decision. Our first Christmas together as a couple one of those occasions.
Christmas Eve was a special time for our family. It was the one-day during the year that we knew we would all be together. We would have Christmas Eve dinner at my Aunt Jo’s house and then go to my parents to get our presents from Santa Claus. In the mid-90s our “Santa” presents changed to family gifts that my parents wanted to pass along. My father would always give us a note that he had written detailing his love and pride in us. My letter this year was different. It was written on a small sheet of paper with only three words. The winery was a lot smaller in 1999. We had six employees counting my brother and me. I was training to be the retail manager and planning to take over my parents’ responsibilities. In December, my mother and father decided to see what I was made of.
I had worked in the winery my whole life. I knew that our business picked up over the Easter holiday when the tourists are starting to travel. We would be very busy during the summer with people visiting our NC beaches and our fall was always crazy with grape season. We would transition to the Christmas season, where we worked six or seven days a week.
This Christmas season, my parents decided to leave for a long and very well deserved vacation. My father wanted to visit some distributors and take my mother to see a Christmas show in Nashville, TN. They would return on Christmas Eve, and I was to manage the retail and shipping department in their absence. My father wanted to see if I was prepared to take over and how I would operate without him. I knew I was being tested, and I worked hard to make sure every customer was satisfied. We had the best Christmas season ever at the winery, and I could not wait to see my father on Christmas Eve to brag about our accomplishments.
On December 16th, traffic at the winery was slow, and I decided I deserved a vacation too. Leah was leaving town to go work in Atlantic Beach, NC and I was going to be home alone. A coworker, Jonathan Murphy, invited me on a trip to Atlantic City. I told Leah that I wanted to go as I had never been to Atlantic City and wanted to see what a casino looked like. Leah begged me to stay home. She told me that my father was testing me and that there was plenty of time after Christmas to take a vacation. I wish I would have listened to her, but I didn’t.
On Christmas Eve, my father called me to ask if I would come over to the house a little early. He wanted to discuss work before dinner with our family. I couldn’t wait to see him. I wanted to tell him all the things we had accomplished while they were gone. As soon as I walked in the door, I started telling my parents everything. I discussed the challenges that we faced and how our team succeeded. I was very proud, and I wanted to make them proud, as well. My father asked Leah and me to sit on the couch. He wanted to give us a present before my brothers and sisters -in-law arrived. Dad gave me the note. I opened it up, and it was a small sheet of paper that read, “YOU ARE FIRED.” At first, I thought it was a joke. After all, I had just told him everything we had accomplished. Leah looked at me and asked me what the note said. I looked at my father in disbelief. My father then told me how disappointed he was in me. I will not go into all of the details, but it was not the Christmas gift I would have imagined that year. I stayed fired for a really long time. I really thought Leah was going to leave me as she was disappointed, too. My mother finally came to the rescue about four months later. I do not know what she said to my father, but it worked!