“You don’t expect to go to Thanksgiving dinner and meet your future wife,” said Malvernite James Ballow. But that was just what happened to him in 2006.
Ballow, who worked for Sporting News as a web designer in New York City at the time, met Oceanside native Kara Wolfson, then a senior at SUNY Plattsburgh, through mutual friends at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner in Malverne.
Wolfson offered to go on a beer run with Ballow. On the way to the store, Wolfson skipped through songs on the CD player in her dad’s car until she landed on Jon Secada’s “Greatest Hits” album. Ballow half-sang along, much to her delight.
Eight years later, Ballow proposed to Wolfson in Central Park following an afternoon meandering around the Central Park Zoo. The couple moved to Malverne shortly afterward, only blocks from where they first met. They married in 2015. Last summer they had their first child, Cole Ballow. Shortly before Valentine’s Day, the couple sat down with the Herald to share their story — and their secrets to a happy marriage.
“We’re goofballs with each other,” Kara, now 33, said. “There’s not a day that I’ve been with James that he doesn’t make me laugh.”
James, 36, jokingly kept a Heineken beer cap that she gave him from the night that they met as a memento.
At their first encounter, they exchanged numbers, and afterward they kept in touch. “We were truly friends ,because it wasn’t like we were physically seeing each other,” Kara said. “It was just through hours of phone calls and texts, but it was platonic.”
A year later, on Valentine’s Day, James jokingly sent Kara flowers, and she sent him a gift basket. There was a snowstorm, and he said that out of all of her friends, his flowers were the only ones that made it to her. “I became known as the ‘flower boy,’” James said.
Kara asked him to be her boyfriend on Feb. 11, 2008. “I had a feeling this was going to be serious,” she said, “so I felt like I needed to be the one to initiate.”
He had just moved into an apartment in Lynbrook, where they were sitting on the floor as they discussed the idea of starting a relationship. “I was sick when she asked me out, so I like to say that I wasn’t in my right mind when I agreed to it,” he said with a laugh.
They sent each other cards each month throughout 2008. For their first anniversary, he sent her a vase of flowers each day, from Feb. 11 to Valentine’s Day. “I knew I had to get her flowers on the 11th and flowers on the 14th, so why not make a grand gesture of love?” he said.
They took cooking classes together, walked on the Long Beach boardwalk, went to the zoo, picked apples, went to sports events and concerts. They even invented their own holiday. They called Black Friday “Love Day,” and usually spent it ice-skating or eating out.
“He and I have a very strong foundation because we were friends for so long before dating,” Kara said.
She got sick in November 2012, suffering from vertigo-like symptoms. She was bedridden for almost a year, and while that halted their adventures, her sickness didn’t keep James away. “For me, that was very telling of his character and who he is,” Kara said. “I think a lot of other guys would’ve thought, ‘I didn’t sign up for this. Where’s the fun in the relationship?’ But he never left.”
“Once we really started dating, it was just a natural progression from there,” James said. “My life with her was so good that I couldn’t imagine it without her.”
Both agreed that the key to a healthy, long-lasting relationship is the willingness to put forth the effort when things get difficult. “Not every day you’re going to smile, but you want to know that who you’re coming home to at the end of the day still gives you butterflies,” Kara said. “He is my home.”
“I just don’t let a whole lot bother me,” James said, “but when things get tough, I don’t even have to ask for her help because she’s always there.”
Kara is now a marriage and family therapist, and James works as products director for Major League Soccer.
Between their careers and raising Cole, they still find time to celebrate each other. Jon Secada’s “Greatest Hits” remains on their playlist, and “Love Day” is still one of their favorite “holidays.”