Mickey and Paul Franson do not seem like the law-breaking type. They are church-going folks. She, 55, teaches special ed. He, 54, is a high school PE teacher, football coach and deacon.
But on a recent sunny morning, the Deerfield newlyweds propped a ladder against a dinky old shed in La Grange's Gordon Park, intending to climb to the roof, to their chimney, to deface property.
That is, until the fire chief arrived.
"Uh-oh," Mickey, who was halfway up the ladder, giggled down to her husband, who was holding the base. She scrambled down, and the fire chief informed them the roof was off-limits; they conducted practice burns in there, and it wasn't safe.
The couple nodded and apologized, sheepish like kids, like they might have reacted had they been caught 35 years ago, which was when Paul first stood on that dinky shed's roof and scrawled across the chimney bricks, with aluminum paint that still reads clear as day: "MICKEY YOU ARE THE GREATEST."
That was in 1977, during a summer break from college when the 20-year-olds first fell in love. Mickey and Paul have returned to the chimney several times since. It's where Paul wrote "Will You Marry Me?" in black marker and, on the brick below, Mickey responded "Yes!" It is where they got married three weeks later, in a rooftop ceremony that so surprised the neighbors that they called the police.
But several decades passed between the first chimney graffiti of their youth and their chimney engagement on June 26, 2011. They each married different people, had children, got divorced.
Gazing at each other, which they do often and adoringly, Mickey and Paul seem astonished that they were led back to one another.
"How many of us get a second chance to do it again?" said Paul, who teaches at Downers Grove North High School and is a deacon at Hobson Road Community Church in Downers Grove.
The pair met at Lyons Township High School, where Paul considered Mickey Gervase "the nicest girl in school" and Mickey thought Paul Franson "the most handsome kid in the class," though they never dated then.
Home from college one summer break, Mickey was working at her father's gas station when Paul pulled in. She asked if he'd go with her to a wedding that weekend, saying her date had canceled (a white lie; she had in fact been debating between several potential dates). Paul agreed to go.
They dated for eight months of heady first love. That's when Paul, working for the park district, lunched on the roof of the old maintenance shed at Gordon Park and, with a can of aluminum paint he was supposed to be using to paint a fence, scrawled his first ode to Mickey.
But back at college, he at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston and she at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., the distance became a challenge. This was a time when college students shared one phone at the end of the residence hall. And, for Paul, there were other girls much closer by.
Paul called Mickey and told her, "I love you, but I can't do this." She was heartbroken. He still feels guilty about it.
"I feel like I betrayed all the niceness that she was," he said.
They barely spoke again.
More than three decades later — after Paul had been married for 26 years, had two daughters, and divorced; and Mickey had been married 19 years, had two sons and a daughter, and divorced — time came for the Lyons Township High School Class of 1975's 35th reunion.
Mickey was co-chair of the reunion committee and happily single. Paul, weighed down by depression since his divorce, did not want to go. But a friend kept pestering him and he caved.
On the drive to the Oct. 2, 2010 reunion, the friend asked if there was anyone he was afraid of seeing.
"Yeah," he remembers telling her. "Mickey Gervase."
Mickey was the first person he saw upon entering the reunion. She was checking people in. When they finally were able to talk later in the evening, Paul apologized for how he treated her in their youth. Mickey told him she harbored no bad feelings. Then she asked him two questions:
Was he still married? He said he wasn't. And where was he in his faith? He said it was as strong as ever. It was what she hoped to hear.
They started dating, and it felt like they had picked up where they left off, but with the maturity to grasp what they had and how not to let it go.
Again, their courtship lasted eight months. But this time, after going to church, Paul took Mickey to the Gordon Park rooftop. As they admired his silvery handiwork from 1977, he proposed on the chimney with a black magic marker.
The couple was engaged for just three weeks before making the impromptu decision to get married at a double-engagement party they were having with Mickey's sister and her fiance, who had gotten engaged five days after them. As the party wound down that Sunday, July 17, 2011, they made an announcement.
"We said, 'You've been asking us when we're going to get married,'" Paul recalled. "'Well, we've picked a date.'"
He invited the guests to follow them to the chimney, where they had already arranged for the pastor from Paul's church to officiate.
Thirty-three guests gathered on the ground as Paul and Mickey said their vows on the roof, beside their chimney. The police arrived after receiving a call about a disturbance, but left when they heard what was happening. A year later, Paul and Mickey remain giddy about their love story, in awe of what feels fated.
"This is what the right person does to someone," Paul said, after being called out on the fervor of their adoration. "I'm not romantic. Mickey makes me romantic. I'm not a writer at all ..."
"He has written me the most beautiful letters," Mickey interjected.
"I am not a lot of things, but I am a lot more things with my wife," Paul said.
They also remain committed to their chimney, and preserving its role in their romance. On their wedding day, the Fransons noticed that the black marker from their engagement had washed away. Paul had started to retrace the words with the aluminum paint that had proven so trusty, but stopped after "Will You Marry" so that the guests wouldn't have to wait.
That's one reason they wished to climb back on the roof that recent sunny morning when the fire chief interrupted — to finish what they started.
When the chief drove away, Paul turned to Mickey and said: "We're going to have to make a night mission out of this."
She agreed: "We'll come back and wear black."
Love lesson: Timing is everything in relationships. Ask Mickey Franson, who says her second round of romance with Paul is richer because they are both more mature.
"I don't think I really understood what love was — just unconditional adoring of another person," Mickey said.Copyright © 2015, CT Now