by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer
Love is kind and love is cruel, and sometimes symbols of love fall off steep cliffs.
Andrew Amonette, 45, had a plan. He was going to propose to his girlfriend, Carolyn Hicks, 39, on the edge of a bluff that was special to them both, a place he had helped name “Andrew’s Hope.”
Operating on the ruse they were only visiting friends Daniel and Becky Lehmann and taking in the views on July 28 at the Lehmann’s Wildstream Retreat center and ministry in Monteagle, he led his girlfriend to the place where several years before he made a rock formation that read “hope.”
Andrew and Carolyn, both from Nashville, met at Christ Presbyterian Church in the Music City in summer 2016 when Carolyn taught second grade Sunday school class and Andrew’s son was a student. Andrew is an attorney with two kids and Carolyn, a research nurse at Vanderbilt, has four children.
The proposal spot at Wildstream became a symbol to them both when they first visited Monteagle together last year and went to see the bluff view that Andrew says inspires hope.
After reading a letter about what the spot at the cliff meant to him and his hopes for the future of their relationship, they took photos of one another and then Andrew got down on bended knee.
“I felt she was going to be totally surprised,” he said. “My plan was on track right until the ring box slipped out of my hands as I brought it up to open it. Watching it roll off the cliff was a surreal moment—I couldn’t believe it was happening.”
They heard two crashes after the ring tumbled over the precipice, a more than 100-foot drop to the bottom.
“I certainly was in shock and disbelief,” he said. “I was so excited to give Carolyn the ring, a really unique 1920s-era antique engagement ring. And, in the moment of giving it to her, it slips out of my hands and falls off a cliff.”
Andrew took a path to the bottom, while Carolyn directed him from above on where the ring may have fallen. He quickly found the box, but the ring was gone.
While he was still searching, Carolyn trekked down and “sweetly accepted” his proposal sans ring.
“She was so encouraging even with the knowledge that the chance of finding the ring was remote given the terrain,” he said.
The Lehmanns joined the search effort and Becky put a call out on Sewanee Classifieds, a community email service, asking for metal detectors.
At least four people responded with offers to loan their metal detectors, Carolyn said.
“They all had encouraging words for our search and told us they would be praying and hoping for a miraculous recovery,” she said.
They searched the rest of that Saturday until after dark, but called off the search around 9 p.m.
The next morning searchers cleared an area around the tree where the ring box was discovered, scanning the area with metal detectors, Carolyn said. Her dad also came and joined the search on Sunday morning.
“We were starting to lose hope when two men so kindly offered to rappel off the cliff to see if the ring happened to be lying on one of the small ledges below the edge,” Carolyn said.” We thought it was unlikely, but certainly a possibility.”
Enter veteran cavers Joey Favaloro of Monteagle and friend Butch Guevara of Covington, La. The pair rappelled off the bluff about 10-feet apart, but about 30 feet down, Favaloro’s rope got tangled in some shrubs, he said.
While Guevara went down to untangle the rope, Favaloro kept scanning for the ring.
“I noticed something sparkling in the sunlight on a small ridge about 20 feet below me,” Favaloro said.
With the rope untangled, Favaloro descended and found the ring about an inch from the edge of the approximately one-foot wide ledge.
“In my humble opinion being able to find that ring on the side of the cliff with all the shrubs and bushes was nothing short of a miracle,” Favaloro said. “Prayers were answered that afternoon. Both Butch and I were glad we could help and are always looking for a good cliff to rappel.”
They returned the ring to Carolyn at the bottom, but Andrew was at the top and she sent him a cell phone picture of the ring on her hand.
“I wanted Andrew to see the ring on my finger, so I started running up the steep trail to the top of the mountain,” she said.
Andrew started making his way down to meet her, but they took different paths and missed one another.
“Eventually, we were reunited and shared some very special moments with each other and the wonderful folks who were there to help us and then witness the amazing recovery that was absolutely miraculous and an answer to prayer,” Carolyn said.
The response from friends and the community was uplifting, Andrew said.
“I guess you can say we had a 24-hour detour—now a story to pass down to our family for years to come—of people on the Mountain helping in a time of need to bring about a miraculous recovery,” he said. “We are so thankful for the prayers, words of encouragement and efforts of all who helped—truly remarkable.”
The wedding date is likely to be a few years out, but they are considering Wildstream Retreat center as a venue.