Tying the Knot: The muppet and the monk

Tying the Knot: The muppet and the monk

By Denise Dunbar | ddunbar@alextimes.com

When Elizabeth Henry McKeever left Little Rock, Arkansas for college in North Carolina in 2004, she left behind a large circle of high school friends, many of whom stayed in state for college. A number of those friends attended Hendrix College, a small liberal arts school about 35 miles north of Little Rock.

At Hendrix, Alison McKeever got to know many of Elizabeth’s old high school friends. Though it took seven years, that overlapping friend group ultimately brought the two together, and Alison and Elizabeth married in 2014.

Though they didn’t go on their first date until 2011, Elizbeth and Alison had heard of each other through those mutual friends for years.

“All of my high school friends became all of Alison’s college friends,” Elizabeth said. “So, we’d always heard about each other because they’d say, ‘Elizabeth, you remind me so much of Alison.’ [And to Alison], ‘You remind me so much of Elizabeth.’”

“I said, ‘Why do they keep talking about this Elizabeth girl?’” Alison said.

They said their paths had crossed a few times before they became a couple, but neither remembered much about the other from those encounters.

“We think we went on a hiking trip together,” Elizabeth said.

“Yeah, we think we met multiple times,” Alison said.

About that hike, Elizabeth said, “You totally were not there.”

“Yes, I planned that hiking trip,” Alison said.

Another time, they individually attended a party given by mutual friends.

“Someone said, ‘Everyone get together [for a picture],’” Elizabeth said. “And we were the only people who didn’t know each other. They were like, ‘Put your arms around each other,’ and we were like, ‘Who are you?’ I can’t remember when that was though.”

“I think it was 2009,” Alison said. “[But] you made no impression on me whatsoever at that time,” she laughed.

In 2011, the two finally got together.

Elizabeth had returned to Little Rock after living away for seven years attending college, then working in the nonprofit world.

“I had just moved back to Arkansas and was living in my parents’ attic,” Elizabeth said. “It was sort of sad. But I thought, ‘I’ll move back to Arkansas and give it six months, and if I don’t find a job, I’ll move to D.C.’ I had tons of friends in D.C. at that point.”

Alison and Elizabeth with their son James near Halloween. (Courtesy photo)

Alison was working as the summer director at Camp Mitchell – the camp for the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas that Elizabeth had grown up attending. Alison was about to leave the area to attend graduate school in Fayetteville that fall, but after years of hearing about Elizabeth and how much they had in common, she was determined to ask her out.

“I had just been trying to work up the courage to ask her on a date, and it didn’t happen until my last week in town,” Alison said.

They had seen more of each other during that summer as part of the larger group, and Alison had jokingly already asked Elizabeth to help her chaperone a youth group on a trip to Florida.

“We saw each other in July at a birthday party,” Elizabeth said.

“And you had asked me to go to Disneyworld with you, and I was like, ‘No, I don’t know you.’”

“I was not being serious,” Alison retorted.

“No,” Elizabeth agreed, “but I didn’t know that. Alison was chaperoning a trip to ‘Harry Potter World.’ … I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m going to go with a bunch of teenagers to Orlando, but thank you.’”

When Alison finally did ask Elizabeth out for drinks, Elizabeth had just finished her first week at a new job.

“I was like, ‘Great, I need some friends,’” Elizabeth said. “She had been deathly ill.”

“I had bronchitis,” Alison said. “I went to the doctor and got a steroid shot, so I could go on a date.”

“You were late for the date to get [the] steroid shot,” Eliz- abeth said. “Because you were like, ‘This is my last chance.’ And then we got drinks and I was going to someone’s birthday party and Alison was like, ‘OK, I’ll come too.’”

“That’s also less creepy than it sounds,” Alison laughed.

Elizabeth agreed, “Little Rock is a small town, and she knew all these people. She was like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re going, that sounds great, I’ll go too.’ … Then we went back and met up with our mutual friends at the same bar where we had started. And I thought, ‘She’s not leaving. Maybe this is not just a friend date?’”

After that first date, they decided to continue seeing each other while Alison was in graduate school.

“We were like, ‘Why don’t we try this out and see how it works.’ And it kept working,” Elizabeth said.

One of the many things the two had in common was a strong attachment to the Episcopal Church. Alison had grown up in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where her English parents had moved in the 1980s so her father could teach at Oklahoma State University. She had grown up attending the Episcopal camp in Oklahoma.

Elizabeth also grew up attending church. She said, from an early age, the priesthood was on her radar.

“When I was in high school, I was one of those weirdos who really liked church and really felt like there was an important message of hope and redemption and light in a world that’s really dark,” Elizabeth said. “I was in the nonprofit sector before following this call, and I thought, ‘If there’s any nonprofit institution that I care the most about, it’s the church.’”

Alison’s future vocation as a children’s librarian also became clear to Elizabeth during one of their early dates.

“Alison wooed me with a documentary she had been watching about the pedagogy behind Sesame Street and how it was designed to bring preschool to low income children,” Elizabeth said.

That, combined with Elizabeth’s call to the priesthood, led some of their friends to call them “the monk and the Muppet.”

The Episcopal church requires pre-marital counseling, and when the two realized marriage was likely in their future, they decided to go through the counseling before making a commitment.

“By the time you decide to get married, you need to have already talked through all of the things you talk through in premarital counseling,” Elizabeth said. “So, we actually did our premarital counseling before we got engaged. We thought we needed some help talking through things like kids and family and what do we even understand marriage to be in this new age?”

Their counseling done, Alison and Elizabeth set an official engagement date, and they each planned a special surprise for the other.

“My part of the proposal was we went up to the camp …,” Elizabeth said. “I had a friend hide [a] picnic in the trunk of our car while we were at church so Alison didn’t know.”

Alison made a book of photos and captions that marked the milestones in their life together to that point and had it printed. It’s called, “My Bee Charmer: An Engaging Story” because Elizabeth is a bee keeper.

The couple were married in D.C. on Sept. 6, 2014, and then had a blessing ceremony in their Arkansas church on Oct. 25, 2014.

“Instead of rushing to the courthouse [in Arkansas] and having our marriage contested, we knew if we got married in D.C. we could file our taxes together and all of that stuff,” Elizabeth said.

Alison and Elizabeth married in D.C. in September 2014, and then had a blessing ceremony in their Arkansas church in October. (Photo/Kati Mallory)

Elizabeth’s mother, who does metalworking as a hobby, made their matching wedding bands.

“She took the gold from her original engagement band,” Elizabeth said.

“And my mom gave us her original wedding band,” Alison added.

Elizabeth’s mother melted down the rings, did the calculations to find the right composition and cast the rings, then stamped the insides with their initials.

The two decided they wanted the same last name, and settled on McKeever for several reasons.

“We knew that I was likely to be the biological mother of our children,” Elizabeth said, “So we thought it would be nice for our children to inherit my genes and Alison’s last name and a strong link to her British heritage. Alison is also the last McKeever in her family line, so the name would have died out in her generation.”

Having the same last name also made things easier from a practical perspective.

“I decided to change my name because I wanted to have the same last name as the rest of my future family, especially in a part of the country [Arkansas] where same sex families are still relatively uncommon,” Elizabeth said.

They wound up in Alexandria after settling on the Virginia Theological Seminary as the place for Elizabeth to attend seminary. Alison took a job with the city as a librarian and works at the Duncan branch.

They decided to go ahead and start their family before Elizabeth began seminary. Their son James, now two- and-a-half, was born in 2016, just a couple of months after they arrived in Alexandria. Both Alison and Elizabeth said it’s been wonderful to have a young child on the VTS campus, with its supportive community and acres of open space.

Elizabeth is a third-year student at VTS and is set to be- come a deacon in March, then graduate in May. While the McKeevers don’t know what their future holds, they’re excited to begin their next chapter, whatever and wherever it may be.