While some newlyweds open their wedding gifts as soon as possible, Kathy and Brandon decided to leave one present untouched for almost a decade. And when they finally opened it, it was far from what the couple expected.
A Chance Encounter
Long before a mysterious wedding gift existed, things looked much simpler for the two lovebirds pictured below. Kathy Hocter and Brandon Gunn met years before they tied the knot and had a young love kind of romance.
Don't be fooled by Brandon repping Michigan State University in the photo seen above - the college student actually attended Western Michigan. And that's precisely where he met his future wife, the lovely Kathy. She studied biological and biomedical sciences, and the two quickly hit it off.
Becoming a Couple
Sparks flew when Brandon and Kathy encountered each other. It wasn't hard to see that the new friends had something special between them, and neither of them denied it, either. And so, it wasn't long before the new couple added time for romance into their busy college schedule.
Both of the Western Michigan University students had thriving social lives. Brandon and Kathy loved spending time with their friends and going to endless social events when they weren't busy with homework. And as it turned out, the pair enjoyed merging different aspects of their lives to spend more time together.
They Tied the Knot
Kathy and Brandon were a college power couple. The pair kicked butt in their classes, had active social lives, and - perhaps most importantly - they had the unconditional support of one another. But would the couple's college romance last, or would their chapter end once graduation came?
The pair was the real deal - Brandon and Kathy's love went beyond the limits of the college campus. The lovebugs were prepared to take on post-college life together. And so, he asked for her hand in marriage, and she said yes. Kathy and Brandon became husband and wife on September 1, 2007.
The Mystery Present
As many newlyweds are, the pair was elated to open all of their wedding gifts shortly after the special day. They couldn't wait to see what their loved ones chose for them. But there was one envelope with very clear instructions: "Do not open until 1st disagreement." Little did Kathy and Brandon know that day would arrive rather quickly...
"When you first get married, there are growing pains: learning how to live with someone else, finding out their crazy quirks... The issues change depending on how long you've been married and what's going on in your life," Kathy detailed. And her and Brandon's marriage was no exception.
But They Left It Untouched
The special gift was from Kathy's Great Aunt Alison, a close loved one of Mrs. Gunn. Brandon and Kathy were naturally very curious about the envelope's contents and the box that came with it. "The presentation itself was very unique and it's not the typical gift," Kathy shared.
And with all of the troubles that came with learning to live with someone else and their quirks, Aunt Alison's gift might've proved useful. Yet despite these "growing pains" the couple had following their vows, they refused to open the mysterious present. And they had a few good reasons why.
Fast Forward Two Years
The truth was, Brandon and Kathy were a competitive duo. They each had a competitive nature in their cores and enjoyed letting it out with one another for some friendly competition. And that's exactly what happened with Aunt Alison's gift: neither Kathy nor Brandon wanted to give into opening it first.
But competition wasn't the only reason the box stayed untouched. "Problems evolve over time. When we would think about the box, we would keep that in mind. We'd say, 'We think this is a mountain, but maybe it's a molehill. Maybe we don't need it yet,'" Kathy explained. Around two years after the couple tied the knot, Aunt Alison's gift was still closed.
Their Family Worried
Brandon and Kathy's loved ones couldn't believe that they still had an unopened wedding gift two years after their wedding day. But the person who probably found it the most surprising? Aunt Alison herself. "She looked at us like we were crazy," Kathy remembered.
Still, others found the whole ordeal hilarious. The mystery box became a running joke for some of their friends and family members. But Kathy's mom didn't find it so funny. "My mom was like, 'Kathy, what if there's food in there or something,'" she said.
A Growing Fam
Brandon and Kathy realized that Mrs. Hocter had a valid point. What if the box was filled with time-sensitive stuff? After all, Aunt Alison clearly didn't expect the couple to keep it closed for this long. So the pair checked with the gift-giver and confirmed there was nothing perishable involved.
They still had something tying them to that special day years ago, but Kathy and Brandon were certainly not stuck in the past. The couple looked ahead and planned a future - and that involved starting a family. About three years after tying the knot, the Gunn's had their first baby: a daughter.
Life's Ups and Downs
And the couple-turned-trio didn't stay that way for long. Roughly three years after their baby girl made her debut, the happy family welcomed another addition: a baby boy. And if Kathy and Brandon thought getting married brought growing pains, they sure had plenty of those as they expanded their family, too.
Luckily, the lovebirds could always count on each other when the going got tough. "Life throws so many twists and turns at all of us, outside of marriage, and dealing with those problems can be difficult without someone to count on, lean on, confide in or cry with," Kathy shared.
Lots of Changes
Kathy was beyond grateful for her dedicated husband and partner in life. "Brandon is my constant," she said. "No matter what struggles I am faced with, I know that I can always count on him to be in my corner and me in his." And that made life a lot easier.
"It's so much easier to get through life when you have someone that will always be there for you and that would do anything for you, no matter the day or time," Kathy continued. The growing family went through many changes together - including moving three times - and the unopened gift was a constant.
Lots of Disagreements
As Kathy, Brandon, and their two kids moved from one home to another and another, the box came along with them. But now years since receiving the gift, Aunt Alison's present was usually stuffed in the back of a closet. The couple figured out how to get through arguments without it.
"For the little things, learn how to disagree and move on," Kathy shared. "For the bigger things, learn how to get mad and get over it. Giving up was never an option in our situation because we never had the illusion that marriage was going to be easy."
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
More years passed, and they still resisted opening the box. "My husband and I are both very competitive people. We love a challenge... We kind of set [the gift] aside because it was special to us," Kathy admitted. But that wasn't the whole truth: they were also scared not to use the mystery present at the right time.
"Like any marriage, we faced stressful times and obstacles (finances, jobs, kids, etc.) that tested our partnership," Kathy explained. "We didn't want to ruin the importance of [the gift] by opening it after a silly fight." And, as they say, out of sight, out of mind.
Going to a Wedding
So after nine years of marriage, two children, three moves, and countless other changes and obstacles, Aunt Alison's present remained unopened. So far, Kathy and Brandon had managed without its secret contents. And following so many moves and life challenges, they pretty much forgot about it.
That is, until one fateful day when Brandon and Kathy couldn't help but think back to that gift. The couple had attended endless weddings since tying the knot themselves, but it took a specific union to remind the Gunns about their big day and a forgotten piece from it.
The Place Where They Met
Brandon and Kathy were over the moon when a particular card arrived in the mail: an invitation to the wedding of some close friends of theirs. But it wasn't just the who that got the couple excited; it was the where. The wedding location was Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Kalamazoo was home to Western Michigan University, the exact place where the now parents-of-two first fell in love all those years ago. Things certainly looked a whole lot different now. Rather than partying and cuddling between classes, Brandon and Kathy managed their home between work shifts. They were happy to return.
Thinking of Gift Ideas
Once the invitation arrived, it was practically all the duo could think about. "We were talking about how excited we were to attend an upcoming wedding in Kalamazoo," Kathy said. Little did they know that excitement would lead them to remember a closed box that had slipped their minds over the years.
Aunt Alison's gift came back on their radar as Brandon and Kathy prepared for their friends' Kalamazoo wedding. One night after the two children were fast asleep, the couple slipped outside to spend some time on their deck. And that's when they began brainstorming gift ideas for the newlyweds-to-be.
"[We were] discussing what would be the perfect gift for the newlyweds," Kathy shared of that fateful evening with Brandon. But the brainstorming session wasn't easy; the couple didn't want just any ol' wedding gift for the Mr. and Mrs. to be. So Kathy reflected on which gifts from her wedding she loved the most.
"So I thought back to our wedding day (nearly 9 years ago) and tried to recall the gifts that had meant the most to me," she explained. And that's when Kathy remembered. "The gift that meant the very most was still sitting in a closet... unopened," she said.
No Lack of Disagreements
After years of being out of sight and out of mind, the old gift was back. "On our wedding day, my husband Brandon and I received a gift from my Great Aunt Alison. On the plain white box was a card that read, 'Do not open until your 1st disagreement,'" Kathy remembered.
"There had obviously been plenty of disagreements, arguments and slammed doors throughout our 9 years," Kathy confessed, not to the surprise of any married couples. "There were even a couple of instances where we both considered giving up... but we never opened the box."
What They Truly Feared
The committed couple had made up quite a few reasons for not opening the box: their competitiveness or the fear that they would waste it on a small argument. But something else was holding them back - the fear of what opening the present ultimately meant about their union.
"I honestly think that we both avoided turning to the box because it would have symbolized our failure," Kathy admitted. "To us, it would have meant that we didn't have what it takes to make our marriage work and we're both too stubborn and determined for that."
The Box Was Already a Big Help
Brandon and Kathy's competitive and stubborn natures might've been a match made in heaven, but it also got the couple into a hole of fear. The Gunns were scared that if they finally opened Aunt Alison's secret sauce to solving marital disagreements, it meant they were incapable of fixing things themselves. But even closed, the gift was already helpful.
"It forced us to reassess situations," Kathy explained. "Was it really time to open the box? What if this isn't our worst fight? What if there's a worse one ahead of us and we don't have our box?!? As my Great Uncle Bill would say, 'Nothing is ever so bad that it couldn't get worse.'"
Its Mysterious Contents
And while the gift went forgotten for some time, now that it was back on their minds, Kathy and Brandon began predicting what its contents were. This had been a common activity when the couple first received the box and envelope from Aunt Alison, and they enjoyed it just as much years later.
"All along, we assumed that the contents of that box held the key to saving a marriage - an age-old trick - unbeknownst to us rookies," Kathy shared. "After all, my Great Aunt and Uncle had been married for nearly half a century. So, we thought the box would save us."
Was It a Letter?
So Brandon and Kathy assumed the box and envelope were filled with nuggets of wisdom from an experienced wife. "We thought there would be a long, heartfelt letter about the struggles [Alison and Bill] had faced," Kathy said. The duo thought the mysterious contents could ultimately salvage their union, if ever necessary.
And "in a way it did," Kathy said. She continued, "That box went beyond what I believe my Great Aunt had intended. It was by far the greatest wedding gift of all. For 9 years... that box sat high on a shelf in various closets gathering dust, yet it somehow taught us about tolerance, understanding, compromise and patience."
Kathy's Aunt Couldn't Believe It
So following years of the box being stuffed into the back of closets in three different houses, it was back to the front of Brandon and Kathy's minds. And one family member, in particular, was beyond surprised when she learned the couple had still not touched the gift.
"Aunt Alison was surprised that we kept it for nine years, then the lessons it taught us - inadvertently," Kathy shared. "She didn't realize just how special the gift was to us until a number of years after our wedding when she found out that we hadn't opened it yet."
The Day Finally Arrived
Aunt Alison was understandably shocked at just how meaningful her gift turned out to be. When choosing the special present, she never imagined that Kathy and Brandon would wait a whopping nine years to open it! And neither could the rest of the couple's family.
But soon, all of that would change. Brandon and Kathy decided that it was finally time to open the mysterious box. "If we've made it this far, I don't think we need the box to save us," Brandon explained. The couple realized their deepest fears about opening the gift weren't real.
What Was Inside
After nine years of marriage and a few more than that of partnership, Brandon and Kathy knew their bond was unbreakable. They were raising two children together and had encountered endless challenges - yet each time, the couple overcame these hardships together.
"Today, we decided to open that box because I finally had a realization," Kathy shared. "I realized that the tools for creating and maintaining a strong, healthy marriage were never within that box - they were within us." With or without the box, their future was bright.
A Message for Brandon
After nine years of speculating what was inside the mysterious box, there was no longer anything to speculate about. The old container held two glasses of wine, along with some special bath gels and other self-care products. But that wasn't all Aunt Alison included.
The caring relative also gave the couple a set of instructions. One envelope was addressed to the husband, and one to the wife. "Brandon, go get flowers and a bottle of wine," said the letter for him. And Aunt Alison made sure to provide Brandon with the money for the purchase.
Kathy's letter had a similar surprise. "Go get a pizza, shrimp or something you both like. Get a bath ready," Aunt Alison wrote all those years ago. The couple was surprised at the box's interior; it was totally different from the sentimental items or letters they imagined were inside. Yet, it was still perfect.
"Those items were meant to bring us together; to remind us to take care of each other, to do something thoughtful for one another. It was meant to help us lower our guard during a difficult time and remember why we became a couple - why we wanted to be together," Kathy gushed.
Spreading the News
So after nine years, deep, dark fears, and countless disagreements, the secret was out: the secret gift included glasses of wine, stuff for a bubble bath, and moolah for wine and pizza or shrimp. Aunt Alison's recipe for reconciliation in any marital problem.
"[Aunt Alison] was flabbergasted... and tickled," Kathy said. "She thinks that it's the funniest and the cutest thing because she can't believe we even hung onto it for that long." Kathy and Brandon soon realized that their beloved Aunt wasn't alone in finding the situation special.
An Internet Sensation
Kathy and Brandon knew they had something special here. It was more than a story about a mysterious wedding gift that went unopened for nearly a decade. It was a story about love, about working as a couple through issues, and believing in your marriage.
So Kathy sent their story to Love What Matters and, before they knew it, the post had 23,000 likes! "I wish I had had this gift when I was married," a Facebook user said. "I am getting married in two weeks and to get a gift like this would be so symbolic of what marriage is all about," wrote someone else.
A Lesson for Everyone
The loving couple were shocked that their anecdote went viral. "My husband and I are in awe of how much attention this story has garnered," Kathy expressed. "I had only intended to give credit to my great aunt and share how important the box was for my husband and I."
"And the lessons that it had inadvertently taught us," she continued. But the story of the once-forgotten gift went above and beyond what she intended. "Now that our story has gotten so much attention and inspired others, it seems to be the gift that keeps on giving!" Kathy added.
The Famous Aunt Alison
And if Kathy and Brandon were flabbergasted by how much attention and praise their post on Love What Matters got, we can imagine Aunt Alison was even more shocked. "Now she's even more surprised at the response our story has received," Kathy confirmed.
Kathy's relative became a social media icon for a moment; one everybody seemed to want to meet. "[Aunt Alison] is just tickled by how much attention this has gotten - how many people have shared that they wish they had an 'Aunt Alison' and those that think her gift was absolutely genius," Kathy shared.