Love blossomed on Christina Wisniewski and Keith Walker's very first date, amid the romance and merriment of his sister's wedding.
The couple met in June 1996, when Christina was hired as a waitress at E. W. Beck's restaurant in Sykesville, on the Carroll County-Howard County border. Christina lived in nearby Eldersburg, while Keith was living just a little farther away in Columbia.
The restaurant is owned by Keith's brother-in-law, and Keith was starting his second year there as a manager. He says he immediately noticed "the bright, vivacious new waitress with the adorable smile that could light up a room."
Too shy to act on his attraction, Keith endeared himself to Christina by being friendly and helpful as she learned the ways of her new job. He even got up the nerve to tease her, telling her she should buy him a birthday gift to thank him for all his help.
Ten days after she started working at Beck's, Christina presented Keith with a card in honor of his 26th birthday. It seemed like the right thing to do for such a "genuinely nice guy," she says.
After he got the card, Keith was really smitten. When his date for his sister's wedding canceled, Keith's friends urged him to take Christina instead. But he didn't have enough nerve, he says. Unknown to him, one of his friends then invited Christina to the July wedding -- as Keith's date. Keith learned of his friend's act and he and Christina made plans to attend the wedding together.
The date was awkward at first, the couple say. Christina found herself a bit intimidated, meeting Keith's entire family at once. And because Keith was in the wedding, the couple didn't spend much time together. But their co-workers at Beck's went out of their way to make Christina comfortable.
Later that evening, the couple went to a crab feast. On a walk during the event, they shared their first kiss. The next day, Christina gave Keith a card telling him how much she had enjoyed the evening. Though she worried about scaring him off, she added that she had feelings for him. That was fine with Keith because his feelings for Christina had deepened immediately after their date.
So Christina and Keith -- who saw each other every day at Beck's -- began dating exclusively. In August, Keith told Christina that he loved her and presented her with his fraternity pin.
In November 1997 -- after receiving Christina's father's blessing along with the stern warning to "take care of my baby" -- Keith surprised Christina with an engagement ring. Crying tears of joy as Keith slipped the ring on her finger, Christina said yes.
During their nearly two-year engagement, Christina became a full-time nanny for a family in West Friendship. Keith still works as Beck's food-purchasing manager.
On Sept. 18, Keith, 29, and Christina, 21, were wed at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Eldersburg. Keith's sister Shannon Beck was matron of honor and his brother Adam was best man.
Christina's father, Joseph Wisniewski of Eldersburg, and Keith's parents, Donald Walker and Gail Walker, both of Columbia, were among the 180 guests.
The couple's reception was held at the Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center in Ellicott City -- "in the exact same room where the magic began," Christina says with a giggle.
Christina and Keith included in their nuptials a tribute to Christina's paternal grandparents. Marion and Norma Wisniewski celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the same week that Christina and Keith were married.
Christina and Keith say they hope their marriage is as long and as happy.