By David McGrath, Special to Tribune Newspapers
January 6, 2013
Holly Marie DeMark was experiencing Post-Breakup Syndrome. Though not recognized by the medical profession, PBS is as painfully real as a broken heart.
"I was still licking my wounds," Holly recalled, "and wanted a little distance."
In May 2005, having recently completed a yearlong internship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Holly, then 24, had returned to live with her parents in Oak Forest. Looking for a place of her own, she answered an ad on Craigslist for a rental home in Ravenswood, a place that already housed several other tenants.
"I'm the middle child of five, so I figured I (could) handle a possibly chaotic living situation," she said. "I was looking forward to meeting new people too."
After talking with Mark, the tenant who volunteered to recruit additional roommates, Holly signed on. "You'll like the other tenants," Mark told her. "And there's a nice Canadian living in the basement."
The "nice Canadian" turned out to be Erich Martin Neumann, born in Montreal, raised in London, Ontario.
"I was secretly enthralled," Holly said. "Good-looking, and he had these elegant manners. There was something about his straightforwardness and sincerity."
Like Holly, Erich had also ended a long relationship, but in his case the parting was amicable. Holly, meanwhile, remained conflicted over hers. But that was about to be resolved by, of all things, baseball.
Mark had arranged a tenants outing at Wrigley Field for a night game. Holly, a lifelong Cubs fan, eagerly signed on. She was somewhat surprised to discover that Erich was joining them too — turns out he was crazy about the Cubs. When his family moved from Montreal to southern Ontario, he would watch the Cubs after school on WGN America.
"I don't think I would have loved baseball ... if it weren't for the Cubs being played on TV in the afternoon," he said.
What's more, after studying cartography at the University of Western Ontario, Erich was offered a position at Landrum & Brown aviation firm in Chicago. He jumped at the opportunity — not just for the job, but also for the chance to work near Wrigley Field.
Fast-forward to July 17, 2005, and the Ravenswood group Cubs outing — which morphed into Holly and Erich's first date.
For Holly, it was a magical evening. After the Cubs actually beat the Pirates 8-2, the group headed home, eventually squeezing their way through the crowd at a neighborhood outdoor festival. Holly could hear the Old 97's on a nearby stage, performing "Question."
"It's a saccharine, sweet song about a guy proposing to a girl," Holly said. "Which makes me wonder if over time I lined up the events." In fact, she would have bet pints all around that the entire evening was a setup — except that nobody, not even Erich, could have arranged for all those stars in the sky.
At one point, Erich raised one of Holly's hands with both of his and, leaning into her face to be heard in the crowd, whispered, "Is this OK?"
"I just kind of melted," she said.
A romance developed immediately, but Holly, still cautious, thought it best not to tell their housemates. Which amused Erich.
"She still had a room upstairs in the house we rented," he said, "but I don't remember her spending any of her time in her room anymore after that date."
Eventually a new concern emerged: Given the difference in countries, cultures and families — Holly from her large and raucous South Side clan, Erich from his smaller, keep-your-own-counsel French tradition, with few relatives who even spoke English — could this relationship last?
Ultimately, they both recognized the differences as pluses, choosing to see the advantages of nurturing connections so different from their own. Plus, there was always baseball — and their great baseball adventure of 2006.
"Baseball stadiums hold some kind of magic for Erich," said Holly, now a project manager at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. "He has a bizarrely accurate memory for when stadiums were built. That's how the trip started — we'd be watching baseball, and he'd start talking about the stadiums, and he'd ask if I'd been to each one. The answer was almost always no.
"So he started using his two superpowers — mapmaking and baseball knowledge — to put together a trip that would capture as many stadiums as possible."
The experiment was a success. "It was an amazing trip," Holly said.
The cross-border couple grew so close, in fact, that surprises became impossible. Therefore, there was no drama about if or when Erich would pop the question.
"We went to Montreal for Christmas in 2008," Holly said. "We found a jeweler and picked out the ring together a few days before the holiday. It would be ready on Christmas Eve, so we came back to the city that day.
"We went to the most beautiful place we could think of — the Oratoire Saint-Joseph, on Mount Royal. It's a gorgeous basilica and a historical site in the city. We went to a balcony near the top, with a great view of Montreal. It was snowing and freezing, so we were alone.
"Erich asked nervously if he should get down on one knee, and I said yes, despite the snow. So he asked me to marry, and I said yes. It was a lovely moment, but really it was the perfect culmination of our planning together, which is a good representation of us as a couple."
They were married July 17, 2010, the five-year anniversary of that first date at Wrigley Field. Last spring they had a baby boy they named Henri.
"I look forward every night to coming home and being able to spend time with Holly and Henri," Erich says.
Not to mention, they live close enough to Wrigley Field that they can catch a Cubs game whenever they want.
Love lesson: "I do recommend getting married as long as you have found the right person," Erich Neumann says. "I would not be enjoying my life as much as I do now if I were not married to Holly. The sense of security and having someone there for you is gratifying."
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