Tales from the Bonfire - The Big Question
by Paul Yeagley | D-29153
Bossier City, Louisiana
Skydive Louisiana, Gilliam
January 28, 2012
The Saturday started like any other. Tandem and AFF students scurried in as up-jumpers were getting their gear and such ready. However, one staff member, Mike Shoemaker, C-38831, knew it was going to be the day he asked Erin Fuselier, B-36469, the Big Question.
Mike had his proposal planned for a while and had tried to organize the jump for several weeks, but either some of the jumpers that Mike really wanted on the dive were absent or the weather was bad, and it kept getting moved back. On January 28, the stars aligned, and Mike got his shot and took it.
Near the end of the day, Mike pulled a few jumpers aside and let them in on the plan. Skydive Louisiana’s DZO, Bill Geaslin, provided advice, and he called for a sunset big-way and ensured that Erin was on the load. As the 10 jumpers geared up and assembled for a quick dirt dive, everyone was excited to turn points on a sunset big-way; little did they know that the first point was going to be the only point, and it would be a point they would never forget.
At one point during the dirt dive for the fake sequential, one of the jumpers, Freddie Morin, asked, “Wait, what point is next, and whose grip do I take?” On the way to the plane, I walked up to him and said, “Don’t worry about getting the second point, bud.” I was in on the plan, tasked with flying next to Erin in the 10-way star to make sure she saw Mike unveiling the banner that read, “Erin, will you marry me?”
The PAC 750XL roared to life as the jumpers scuddled in. Mike sat at the front of the aircraft, knowing that he was the last diver out on the most important formation he had ever been a part of. Those of us who were in on the secret could tell that he was excited, focused and very nervous. The PAC is known for its fast climb time; however, it must have been one of the longest rides to 14,000 feet that Mike has ever been on.
When the light went from red to yellow, the door opened and the cold January Louisiana air came rushing in. The camera guys Mike had asked to fly specific slots got in place and waited. Everyone who knew what was about to happen felt a little extra pressure to not screw up the formation: This was more than just having fun and laughing at the end of the dive. This was for Mike and Erin. This was for the rest of their lives.
The count came, the base left, the floating camera flyer got the shot and hovered above as the formation built. Photographer Todd Faulkinberry got into place directly across from Erin so he could capture the expression on her face when she saw the sign. I flew in and took Erin’s right arm, waiting for the last diver—Mike—to get to the formation and ask the Big Question. When Mike swooped down to the formation with a funny-looking blue roll in his hand, he gave Todd the signal to take a grip on his upper arm so he could stay in place and have both hands free to hold the sign. As he signaled Todd, some of the jumpers in the formation thought that he was keying the next point and tried to move. Those who knew what was going on wouldn’t let them break grips. In about two seconds, they found out why.
When Mike unveiled the sign, every eye in the formation saw it. Erin’s mouth dropped open, and her legs must have gone a little soft, too, since she started to backslide, but we kept our grips and held her close to the formation.
As breakoff time approached, Erin, Mike and a few others formed a really quick 4-way. Erin gave Mike a kiss and said, “Yes!” Then, she went tracking away—quite possibly the happiest track ever.
As the jumpers gathered on the ground, no one even stowed their lines as they looked to the sky, waiting for Erin to land. She came to a stop and ripped her goggles and helmet off as Mike glided across the ground toward her. She threw her helmet to the side, took a few hurried steps toward him, and they met for a kiss as Mike’s canopy deflated in the sunset.
That’s when Freddie walked over to me with a huge Louisiana smile and said, “Now I get why you said, ‘Don’t worry about that second point.’”