A floatplane with a precautionary landing is involved. So are some of her favorite things, as upscale as charcuterie and as down-home as Chick-fil-A. And so is light, as soft as sunset and as bright as fireworks.
Oh, and on a deserted island, the chimney remaining from a burned-down house came in handy, although the video doesn’t show that part.
The video has attracted nearly 5,000 views since it was posted two weeks ago on YouTube. It depicts the creative and complicated April 28 marriage proposal Columbus resident Carson Hand made to Charlotte Smith, the Wadley, Ga., native he has been keeping exclusive company with for 6½ years, after they met at the University of Georgia.
Jonathan Giles, Nathan Crase and Nathan Wingate of Columbus production agency INCOLR did the video, showing the result of the loving ruse Carson and a bunch of friends and family orchestrated to surprise Charlotte. It runs for 7 minutes and 36 seconds, but the big ask took two months to plan and prepare.
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In an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, Carson and Charlotte shared their story behind the video:
Charlotte, 25, is a third-year medical school student at Mercer University. She has been doing rotations since last July at Midtown Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. Her goal is to be a dermatologist. She was raised on a farm an hour south of Augusta, and she graduated high school in 2010 from Thomas Jefferson Academy in Louisville, Ga. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Georgia in 2014.
Carson, 28, is a sales agent for Aflac. He is a Columbus native and graduated from Northside High School in 2007 and the University of Georgia in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in business management. He earned a master’s degree in business administration from Columbus State University in 2014.
Ledger-Enquirer readers are familiar with Carson. We’ve written about him in connection with his DJ and entertainment business, Fade to Black Productions, his musical career as a solo performer and with his band, Cracker Jack Prize, and he was one of the emcees at this year’s Miss Georgia Pageant in Columbus. We also featured him in 2014, when he earned a Dream Ticket to the “American Idol” regional auditions in San Francisco after winning a competition at Disney World – and completing his recovery from cancer treatment and the 9.6-pound malignant tumor removed from his liver when he was a sophomore at Northside High School in 2005.
Carson and Charlotte had talked about engagement for a couple of years, but they wanted to delay getting married until Charlotte knew where she would be doing her residency.
“We have a lot of the same values as far as our faith goes,” Carson said. “We both have been raised by incredible parents and grandparents that really instilled in us the importance of marriage and the values behind marriage.”
The last conversation they had about the timing of a proposal, Charlotte told Carson, “I want you to do what you think is going to be awesome.” And he thought, “That was exactly what I wanted to hear.”
Carson wanted the location to be beautiful and meaningful and special. In February, while waiting for Charlotte in the Mercer med school library, he heard a new song on Spotify: “In Case You Didn’t Know” by Brett Young.
Here’s the chorus: “In case you didn’t know/ Baby I’m crazy bout you/ And I would be lying if I said/ That I could live this life without you/ Even though I don’t tell you all the time/ You had my heart a long long time ago/ In case you didn’t know.”
“It really related to us in a lot of ways and how I feel about her,” Carson said.
That song must be part of the proposal, he thought.
“Somehow,” he said, “that song just ignited this idea.”
His family’s home at Lake Harding, where he and Charlotte spent numerous good times, would fit the beautiful and meaningful parts of his proposal criteria. But how could he make that location special?
“The creative juices just kind of started flowing,” he said. “How cool would it be to land on the water in a floatplane?”
The plane, the island
A fellow member of St. Luke United Methodist Church, Grandin Eakle, who is a photographer and pilot, connected Carson with a floatplane.
With the plane ride secured, Carson needed to figure out where it would take them. He thought of Tom Huston Island, named after the Tom’s Snacks founder and also known as Kudzu Island for its overgrowth and Chimney Island for the remnant from Huston’s house, which burned to the ground more than 60 years ago.
Carson and Charlotte would see the island every time they were on the Hand family’s dock or out on the water,.
“How special would it be,” he wondered, “for the rest of forever, every time we go out the slough or every time we sit on the dock and look at the island we know that’s where we got engaged?”
He shared his ideas with two of his best friends, Derek Hay and Kyle Yarbrough. They brainstormed the logistics.
Carson and his father, Phil, spent about four hours over two days on the island cutting a path through the overgrowth from the water and up a hill to a flat area, where the proposal would happen.
She doesn’t know
In total, Carson and his crew spent two months scheming without the secret leaking. Keeping the plan from Charlotte was “extremely difficult,” he said, “because she’s nosy, just like I am.”
He teased Charlotte by getting her friends to text her with guesses that he would propose to her when they celebrated her birthday in early April at Rosemary Beach, Fla.
“I believed all my friends,” she said.
Carson even had to stop sharing his location with her on his iPhone. She asked him what happened, and he fibbed, “I don’t know. What are you talking about? My phone must be screwed up or something.”
Charlotte figured, “I thought it was just because he one day was going to drive to Augusta and buy the ring (from her family’s jeweler), and he just didn’t want me to know when.”
Carson also didn’t want Charlotte to know his location so he secretly could drive across the state April 20, eight days before the proposal, to ask her father, Charles, permission to marry Charlotte.
“We had an awesome conversation,” Carson said. “He gave me great advice about marriage.”
He told Carson, “You’ve got to be ready to give more than you get. … The most important thing is y’all and not necessarily you, and she needs to understand that, too.”
Carson told Charlotte he would be out of town for work the last week of April, so he had a couple of days to be at the lake for final preparations without her being suspicious. April 27, a Thursday, the day before the proposal, was full of stormy weather – and Carson was full of anxiety.
“This whole plan was hinging upon having good weather,” he said.
The precautionary landing
April 28 dawned foggy but dry in Columbus. That morning, Carson called Charlotte – and the ruse began.
He told her a friend, who is a pilot, had promised to take him for a ride whenever he had an opening. That opening would be this afternoon.
Charlotte looked out the window of the physicians lounge in the hospital, saw dark clouds and said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. The weather’s not looking very good.”
Carson, however, convinced her to come along. He also told her, after the plane ride, they will meet friends for dinner, so she needs to be dressed for the occasion.
And, lo and behold, the sky was clear by the time they gathered at the Columbus Airport that afternoon, around 5:30. The clock on Operation Proposal was ticking, and it all needed to go right for the big ask to happen around sunset, which that day was 8:19 p.m.
The pilot told Charlotte he did aerial photography, so she didn’t suspect the cameras mounted in the cockpit and on a wing actually were filming the first chapter of this proposal story.
They flew up the Chattahoochee River to West Point. On the return trip to Columbus, the pilot told them to not be alarmed but something was wrong with one of the gauges and the floatplane needs to land on the lake.
Charlotte, who has been skydiving, figured jumping out of an airplane is a lot scarier than landing on water, so she was wasn’t worried, but she thought, “Crap, I guess we’re not going to make it back in time for dinner.”
The plane just so happened to land near Tom Huston Island and the Hand family’s lake house.
“All part of the plan,” Carson recalled with a smile.
The boat ride
As a safety precaution, the pilot told them he would be more comfortable if he would fly back to Columbus alone, and maybe they knew somebody who could pick them up. Carson called another friend, Shawn Thomas, who just so happened to be on the lake in his pontoon boat with a production crew doing a promotional “photo shoot” for Steve Kennedy’s restaurant, Overbored.
The crew from INCOLR actually was there to document the next chapter of the proposal story.
After being rescued, Carson and Charlotte saw on the boat a charcuterie board and champagne, two of Charlotte’s favorite things, supposedly being used for the photo shoot. But the crew said they were done with that part of the shoot and Carson and Charlotte could enjoy the spread. Then the crew asked Carson and Charlotte if they wouldn’t mind having their photos taken while they finished the shoot on the island.
By this time, around 7:45, Charlotte was worried they would be late for their 8 p.m. dinner in Columbus, so Carson texted that friend, Kyle, who actually was preparing for their arrival on the island. No problem, Carson thought; they were on schedule for the proposal to happen at sunset.
When the boat landed on the island, Charlotte saw tiki torches lighting a path up the hill of this formerly overgrown and deserted island made. Now she was suspicious.
“I just started laughing,” she said.
Atop the hill was a table for two with flowers and a menu from the Transmetropolitan, the Athens restaurant where they had their first date.
“Once I saw that,” Charlotte said, “I was like, ‘OK, I’m 100 percent sure.’ ”
Also on the island was one of Carson’s guitars. And he played and sang her that song, the song that started this idea for this special proposal, “In Case You Didn’t Know.”
By the way, Carson noted, whenever they were together while he was planning this ruse and that song came on their Spotify, he changed the channel. “I wanted the first time we heard that song together to be that day,” he said.
When he finished the song, Carson stood and began the proposal.
“The video shortens up a lot of what he said,” Charlotte noted. “He talked for a while.”
The ring was in his guitar case.
He got down on bended knee. Through tears, she said yes.
“We had a really special moment there, just taking it all in,” he said.
The Transmetropolitan menu, however, was just a prop, so no calzones for them this night. Instead, they dined on other Charlotte favorites: margaritas, chips with cheese dip and salsa, spicy chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A – no pickle for her but definitely cookies and vanilla iced coffees – and white chocolate cheesecake from the Last Resort Grill in Athens.
Derek and Kyle were the waiters.
During dinner, Charlotte started piecing together the secret plan.
“I was just asking a million questions, and he kind of started from the beginning,” she said. “I was just surprised at all that he did and how I never found out about it. All these people knew, and I had no idea.”
Carson had about 10 folks work on the preparation and more than 30 knew about in advance.
“I was really not surprised but very surprised that he put that much into it,” Charlotte said. Turning to Carson, she added, “Not surprised because that’s just the kind of person you are; you go over the top for everything. But it was really special. It was like more than I could have imagined.”
After dinner, Carson and Charlotte danced, and Derek and Kyle shot off fireworks.
“Really, really cool,” Carson said.
Charlotte told Carson, “I couldn’t believe that you did fireworks, too, after all the other stuff.”
Friends and family
Derek and Kyle then broke character and hugged Carson and Charlotte. They walked back down the path. Shawn picked them up in the pontoon boat, and they rode to the Hand family’s lake house. Relatives of the newly engaged couple held sparklers on the dock as they greeted them.
“I started crying again,” Charlotte said. “That was totally unexpected, but I was very, very glad they were there, very appreciative that they came.”
The next morning, Carson took Charlotte on a boat ride. As they returned to the lake house, Charlotte saw approximately 20 of their friends on the dock, providing another wave of congratulations.
“That was awesome,” Charlotte said.
The next day, they started planning their wedding, scheduled for May 26 at Charlotte’s family farm.
Several weeks later, when they saw the video for the first time, Charlotte said, “I cried the whole time.” Carson added, “I didn’t really expect anything less, but Jonathan and his team, I mean, they just brought to life everything. I knew I wanted this, but I knew she also would want something that we could always watch and show our kids and grandkids.”
Throughout planning and preparing for the proposal, so he wouldn’t get too bothered by snafus, Carson reminded himself, “Regardless of what happened, regardless of how it went, at the end of the day, we were going to be engaged, and that was going to be the most important thing.”
He also focused on being grateful.
“I feel like God really had His hand over the whole thing, he said. “I mean, I almost couldn’t believe how perfectly it came together. … Without the people that helped, my parents and our friends, I mean, it wouldn’t have been possible.”
They consider the collaboration a metaphor for the marriage they hope to create.
“It’s hard to put into words how much those people mean to us,” Carson said. “… We just feel so blessed and fortunate to have each other, definitely, but also to have such an awesome network of people that love us.”
One item Carson forgot to put on the island was a corkscrew for their bottle of Apothic Crush wine, but he and Charlotte found out later that Derek and Kyle had used the chimney to break open the bottle.
While relaxing after that weekend, Carson asked Charlotte, “Is it what you thought it would be?”
She replied, “It was perfect.”
Carson’s maternal grandfather, George Corradino, an award-winning band director and the former director of music education for the Muscogee County School District, gave him this advice while Carson was growing up: “Always surround yourself with good people, and they’ll make you look good.”
Carson concluded the collaboration for this beautiful and meaningful and special proposal “was a perfect example of that.”