By Maureen Houston
A lost cat led Lizzie Nelson to the love of her life, "scruffy vet" Jeremiah Lehde.
"Mom and God get all the credit," she said.
The Belleville attorney's adventure began on a hot July 2012 Saturday when she found a declawed cat in her backyard, figured it was someone's pet and took it to Belleville Animal Clinic to see if it had a microchip. Mom Maribeth went along.
A couple months later, when Lizzie needed to schedule her dog Oliver's annual checkup, Mom suggested she call that cute, scruffy vet.
Lizzie, 27, and Jeremiah, 30, told their story, seated at the kitchen table on a breezy, gray fall afternoon. A cake-top decoration of a blond bride and dark-haired groom was on display alongside their Oct. 12 wedding photo.
Had Jeremiah remembered their first meeting? Yes and no.
"The tech said someone has found a stray cat and would I take a look. They're in the lobby," said Jeremiah. "I figured the customer and she were boyfriend and girlfriend."
That was it.
"Then, she brought her dog in a couple months later. She had a very well-mannered dog. I could tell she cared for her dog and, she was very beautiful. That's what struck me at first. I also kind of picked up on her personality."
"Tell her what you texted your tech," said Lizzie.
"No one looks that good at 8 in the morning," said Jeremiah, who was all business during the visit. "I guess I wasn't too terribly talkative."
"I thought he had no interest," said Lizzie. "He didn't say two words to me at the time. Then, I got a call at 4, letting me know the heartworm test was negative and did I want to go on a date (the next day) Sept. 8?"
Was she surprised?
"I had to listen to the message three or four times to realize I was hearing what I heard."
Jeremiah took a chance.
"I figured if she (had a boyfriend), then so what. He's a lucky guy and it's a nice dog you have and it was very nice meeting you guys."
Lizzie and Jeremiah went to Belleville's Seven restaurant and lounge for a laidback dinner.
He learned she was an assistant state's attorney for St. Clair County, that she had grown up in Belleville and Memphis, had two younger siblings and liked animals.
She found out he was an Okawville farm boy, the youngest of four, and was a star running back and linebacker on Nashville High's football team before graduating in 2002.
They haven't been apart more than a handful of days since.
Was he the one? "I had never been in love before I met him, as crazy as it sounds," said Lizzie. "About a month into the relationship, I was having thoughts. I didn't know. We're both really big into faith. I prayed God would send me a sign. My grandpa (Belleville ophthalmologist Ed Szewczyk) died in 2009. lt was hard that he would never see my wedding day. That night, I had a dream. Grandpa was in the dream. He shook Jeremiah's hand."
How Jeremiah proposed: "We had only been dating six months and change," he said, but they'd talked about marriage. He had a family friend make the ring. "I had it for a couple weeks. I couldn't find a good time. More than anything, I got tired of having the ring. I just wanted to give it to her. It was about midnight (March 22, after they had been out for the evening). I had the ring hidden in the house. I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me."
Lizzie's reaction: "That my prayers were answered. When he started getting down, I said, 'Are you really doing this right now?'"
When they married: Seven months later at 2 p.m. Oct. 12 at St. Teresa's in Belleville, with a "beautiful string quartet."
"We planned the wedding so soon after we got engaged because, it's like the Billy Crystal line," said Lizzie, "'When you know you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to begin now.'"
Where they had their reception: Casaloma Ballroom in south St. Louis. "My style is lacy, vintage. I told (Jeff and Zach Bair of Grimm & Gorly) what my dream was and they transformed the place."
The wedding cake: "It was a replica of my grandma and grandpa's wedding cake, ornate, but simple. Nancy (Robinson of Artistry on Cakes) had an antique cake topper. She gave the man facial hair like Jeremiah, and for me, painted the hair yellow. She let me keep it."
The groom's cake: "One of Jeremiahs traits is he wears big colorful high-top sneakers with his scrubs," said Lizzie. "On the cake, (a bullmastiff figure of Jeremiah's dog) Dodo is wearing the shoes. It is pure sugar. It will last forever."
Honeymoon: The Caribbean island, Aruba. Jeremiah planned it and kept it a secret until lunch a couple weeks before the wedding. "I looked down at her arm and said, 'You are going to have to tan before we go to Aruba.'"
How they liked it: "I loved it," said Jeremiah. "She got bored."
"It was very, very beautiful," said Lizzie. "It was only 20 miles by six miles. There were not a lot of touristy things. I did the beach for five days. I was ready to come back and start moving in."
Source of tiffs: "She likes to have everything neat," said Jeremiah. "I can let dishes pile up."
Their interests: Both are active in their respective churches. Jeremiah, a runner, plays guitar during three Sunday services at Christ (United Methodist) Church in Fairview Heights. Lizzie teaches second-grade PSR at St. Teresa's.
Their pets: "I got Oliver on November 13, 2009, from the pound," said Lizzie, of the possible schnauzer-terrier mix.
Jeremiah's Dodo was also rescued."When you have to learn how to spay and neuter, you work on the animals," he said. "They had neutered him and sent out a rescue organization email: 'We have 10 to 15 dogs up for adoption. It was 1 a.m. and I was on ER rotation. I went downstairs, looked at all the dogs, came back up, and put down $15. It was the best $15. He was 90 pounds when I got him. Now, he's 160. He smelled awful. He was stinky for two or three weeks. Just the 5-minute car ride home from the vet school, my car smelled for two weeks."
A little black cat named Phantom is their newest pet.
Lizzie's co-worker called on a Sunday morning in Mayabout a tiny injured kitten. Lizzie told Jeremiah.
"I immediately knew it was going to be a project," he said. "When she brought him in, he was teeny tiny. His eye was hanging out. A cut on his head was full of maggots. Even with that, he had an appetite. My boss let me go in and fix him the next day. ... He came home and did great.
"We have a limit and this is it," he said.
"My dream in life," said Lizzie, "once we have more money and our loans are paid off, is to someday open up an animal shelter ... I take on a lot of charity cases."
"That's what brought us together," said Jeremiah.