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Book plays a cameo role in couple’s proposal

Brian Schmidt Grace Saulog. | Provided photo

Brian Schmidt and Grace Saulog. | Provided photo

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Updated: March 14, 2013 6:17AM

We all play a part in love stories. First of course is the starring role we perform in our own — the co-starring role, really — as the young beau, or the stunning beauty. Roles that we reprise, if we’re lucky, in a kind of permanent repertory theater, as the part gradually shifts into the longtime spouse, the graying hubby, the busy mom.

We also take a turn in supporting roles. Some we’re aware of — say, the third wheel who brings the couple together. In high school, I directed the fifth act of “Hamlet” as a drama club project, and the guy I cast as the melancholy Dane ended up marrying the girl who was cast as Ophelia — a rare instance of life improving upon art.

Most roles we’re not even aware of — the stranger in a funny hat who the future couple are both laughing at when they bump into each other and meet.

This column has gotten folks married — remember that nurse from Norway who wed a Chicago man atop the Willis tower? (OK, it didn’t last; that happens) — and now my recently published book, “You Were Never in Chicago,” has played a cameo — the part usually taken by a box holding a ring — in a couple’s betrothal. Given that Thursday is Valentine’s Day, it’s a story worth sharing.

Brian Schmidt and Grace Saulog met while both were students at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “She was good friends with all my friends,” said Brian, 23.

“We were neighbors in the dorm,” said Saulog, 24, referring to Evergreen Hall, an ideal name for the stage where true love blossoms. “I went over there one night — I wanted to go on a walk through campus, and I asked him. He of course said yes. We just clicked from there.”

Not to telegraph too strongly the moral of the story, but I had to smile at her “of course.” Confidence: the key to many locks.

This was four years ago. They dated through college. She was studying to become a nurse. He was studying marketing, planning to enter his parents’ business, Atlas Stationers on Lake Street. Which is where I enter the picture. In a world of giant OfficeBarns, I cherished the family’s small office supply store, with its cast iron columns and nice clerks. I wrote a column about Brian’s mother, Therese, who delivers orders while running through the Loop.

After graduation, Brian returned to Chicago. Level-headed young woman that she is, Grace wasn’t about to rush up to the city after him. Not to follow a mere boyfriend.

A fiance, however, well, that was another matter. A fiance she might join in Chicago.

“I just wanted to make sure,” she said. “I knew he was always committed, but didn’t want to just move and then we never get married. I wanted to make sure he really wanted it, wanted to be with me forever. So I just waited.”

Single gals, take note.

About the time young Brian was setting himself on the high board of life, getting ready for his big dive into matrimony, I was doing a book signing at his parents’ store — there are no independent bookstores in the Loop, so I suggested the idea and the Schmidts jumped. They sold almost 100 books, including one to their son, Brian, who had an idea of his own. We discussed it, and I signed a book to his beloved.

“He kept talking about your book, for a few months,” she said. (Guys do sometimes prattle on, a drawback of the gender.) “He was going to give it to me on our four-year anniversary in November. But then our anniversary came up, he said: ‘We ran out of copies — I’ll give it to you in a few weeks.’”

Artful of him. The real reason was Grace’s mother was visiting the Philippines and Brian, who will surely shine as a son-in-law, wanted to wait until she was stateside and could share their joy.

Then over Christmas, Brian went to visit. “I picked him up at the train, he took me on campus,” Grace said. “He said, ‘Oh I have your late anniversary gift, that book I was talking about.’

“I opened it, saw what you wrote.”

What I had written was, “Good luck on your move to Chicago.” A bit vague perhaps.

“I said, ‘What do you mean, I’m moving to Chicago?’ ” she said.

Imprecision, the writer’s curse. I probably should have written “Brian’s asking you to marry him, please say ‘yes.’ ” But it was a first draft.

“She didn’t really get it at all, at first,” said Brian. “She really didn’t know what to say. She kept saying, ‘No, no, no!’ ”

Meaning yes, yes, yes?

“I knew exactly what she meant,” he said.

“I started screaming,” said Grace. “He probably got two sentences into his speech. I was freaking out.”

Brian also got down on one knee — a surefire giveaway. “He started his whole speech,” said Grace. “I kept saying no — technically, I don’t know if I ever said yes, but he knew what I meant. I think I eventually said yes, an hour later.”

The wedding is set for June 7, 2014, at the Schmidts’ church in Gurnee, reception to follow in Libertyville.

“Lots of time,” said Brian.

On Monday, the future bride moved to Chicago from her hometown of Salem, Ill.

“I’m just really excited,” said Grace.

Congratulations to the happy couple.

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