October 25, 1998|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Thomas Downs loved Ellyne Brown for nine months before he broke her heart. The Baltimore natives were students at Tuskegee University then. Ellyne was in graduate school on her way to becoming a veterinarian. Thomas was a sophomore in the animal-science program.

Introduced in September 1989, Thomas and Ellyne felt immediately attracted to one another. But it took Thomas some time to convince Ellyne that their age difference (he was 19, she was 24) wouldn't come between them. When it did nine months later, Ellyne was both sad and angry. "It just wasn't working out," she says. "I was settled and he was young."

Thomas knew he wasn't doing right by Ellyne. But he just wasn't ready to be so serious. "I cared for Ellyne too much to hurt her by dragging her through a relationship I wasn't ready for," he says.

The couple ran into each other occasionally at parties. They talked - "my hostility had died down after about a year," Ellyne says with a laugh - but the conversations were superficial. Both went on about their lives pretending the great love they shared had never happened.

Ellyne graduated from vet school in 1992 and returned to Maryland to begin working. (She is a self-employed researcher and consultant.) Thomas graduated from Tuskegee in 1995. It was at a friend's graduation party early that summer that Thomas mustered the courage to approach Ellyne. He said, "I came back to Baltimore just to get you, Ellyne." And as she reeled in surprise, a friend interrupted the conversation and the moment was gone.

At the time, Ellyne was involved with another man. But when Thomas began calling her to discuss job prospects (he now works as a biologist and lab technician), she did not put him off. The other relationship wasn't going anywhere, she says.

She and Thomas begin dating seriously again in January 1996, though Ellyne didn't know if she could trust her heart to Thomas. And he wanted to be positive her heart was truly his to hold. "I wanted to be sure she was through with this guy so I could have her all to myself," he explains.

In early December of last year, Thomas took his mother and Ellyne's mother to dinner to ask their blessing before he proposed. The women were so excited they followed Thomas to his home, where Ellyne was supposed to meet him.

Ellyne came in, sweaty and tired after dance-troupe rehearsal. As she chatted incessantly about that night's practice, Thomas seized a lull in conversation, sat Ellyne down and began singing "This Christmas," a popular R&B ballad about a very special Christmas. With their mothers looking on, Thomas formally asked Ellyne to be his wife.

On Oct. 10, Ellyne and Thomas were married at Union Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore. The ceremony and reception included Afrocentric traditions with special meaning to the couple and their parents, Marlene and Sidney L. Downs of Baltimore; Ruth Brown of Baltimore; and Harts Brown of Columbia.

Ellyne's bridal bouquet was dotted with cowrie shells, still used as currency in some parts of Africa, and considered symbols of financial security and fertility.

Thomas was strikingly handsome in a hand-sewn vest adorned with Adrinka symbols. The symbols, which originated in Ghana and Cote d' Ivoire, are drawn from historical events and proverbs. The motifs include strength, bravery, valor, humility and praise. Adrinka symbols also embellished the couple's wedding cake.

At the reception, the guests enjoyed a Liberian wedding dance, a gift to Thomas from Ellyne, performed by her fellow members of the Aurora Dance Company.

The celebration did not truly begin, however, until a libation was offered that invited nature, God and Thomas and Ellyne's ancestors to share in their joy. In accordance with African tradition, a cup brimming with wine was lifted to God. As the liquid overflowed, all those present prayed Thomas and Ellyne's life together would overflow as well - with blessings and happiness beyond compare.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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