When the Stars Align: A Couple Discuss the Power of Persistence in Relationships

Contributor photo • Michael and Tara Baker feel that their lives were destined to intersect.

By Richard Rourk

For a local couple, Valentine’s Day can arouse many feelings, but above all it is the pride of simple perseverance. Tara and Michael Baker, like many lovers, first met in college. The stars and a historic storm have aligned to reunite the couple.

Tara was originally from Unicoi County, but Michael’s family had moved here due to Hurricane Katrina. According to the Data Center, a New Orleans-based research organization, the storm and its aftermath displaced more than one million people in the Gulf Coast region of the United States.

“I grew up in Flag Pond, but moved to Erwin when I was in middle school,” Tara said.

“These mountains have always been home and will always be home,” Tara added. “I met Michael when I was in middle school because we took the same school bus after he moved to Flag Pond because of Hurricane Katrina. At that time, I didn’t have much thought of Michael other than feeling sorry for him because living in the middle of nowhere deep in the mountains was difficult as there was not much around and few to no neighbors.

Upheavals are never easy, especially for teenagers. Michael and his family described leaving his old life and everything he knew behind him to move to a place where he knew no one.

“My family moved to Flag Pond in 2006 after losing everything in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in Long Beach, Mississippi,” he said. “Tara and I met in the back of the school bus at Flag Pond.”

It turned out to be a pivotal meeting.

“She was 11 and I was 13,” Michael said.

Michael grew up on Upper Higgins Creek while Tara grew up on Sam’s Creek.

“That bus ride was over 30 minutes each way,” Michael said. “So we had a lot of time to get to know each other.”

For Michael, Unicoi County began to feel like home once he became a student at Unicoi County High School.

“I think Erwin felt like home during high school,” Michael said. “The community was so welcoming and friendly that I immediately found friends and community members who welcomed me as one of their own.”

It was in high school that Michael and Tara, who admit to being overachievers, began to form a lifelong bond.

“Once in high school, we bonded because we were working on the yearbook together,” Tara said. “It was during this time that I realized that Michael was destined to make a difference as he quickly became one of the most influential students in his grade and was constantly throwing himself into different tasks within the student council and the other clubs/groups he participated in.”

Although their bond is strong, Tara said that she and her husband are strong-willed individuals and sometimes clash.

“I’ll be honest,” she said. “I found him a little pushy and overbearing at times, especially when we were working to meet yearbook deadlines,” Tara said.

She added that upon reflection, these were not bad qualities.

“Looking back now, I realize that at that time I almost needed someone in my life to push my boundaries and challenge my way of thinking,” Tara said.

For Michael, having someone who could push him and who was as driven as Tara helped motivate him to achieve more in life.

“We had a lot of the same interests,” Micheal said. “I was a writer at The Erwin Record in high school and Tara was doing freelance work.”

In school, he was a yearbook editor and she worked as a photo editor for the yearbook.

“I think our same interests drew me to her,” Michael said. “I had feelings for Tara all through high school, but it wasn’t after high school, when I moved to Johnson City while studying at ETSU, that I knew it was she whom I was going to marry.”

Today, Michael added that he was glad he listened to his instincts and got married a few years out of high school.

Tara said their feelings for each other were always mutual.

“Over time, we became great friends in high school and I relied on him a lot in different ways because my home life was just complicated,” Tara said.

But the road to marriage was also complicated.

“Instead of seeing what was in front of me, even after Michael repeatedly tried to express his feelings for me, I zoned him out for almost two years,” Tara said.

“I vividly remember having a moment where I felt jealousy and I knew that meant that I cared about Michael much more than just a friend,” she recalled. “From there, we practically became inseparable. However, the exact moment I got to know Michael was one that happened in a moment of lesser expectation.

She explained that moments before beginning the birthing process of Liam, their son, that she recognized the truth.

“And feeling that fear of the unknown and the anxiety that comes with parenthood and the overwhelming vulnerability of the experience itself, we just looked at each other and I knew,” she said.

The Bakers have been together since 2011 and married in 2017.

“We were married in 2017 in Paris, France by UCHS drama professor Lori Ann Wright,” Michael said.

Becoming parents to Liam brought the already inseparable couple closer together.

“At first, my thoughts were consumed by fear, shock and worry,” Tara said.

“I was only 19 when I found out I was expecting Liam,” Tara said. “Like most at this age, I was in the middle of my college career and trying to figure out how to navigate the world of adulthood. Michael, being the go-getter that he is, showed no concerns. to the world. He was excited from the start, but also ready to support me in any decisions I had to make for us. Looking back now, Liam arrived just when he was supposed to.

“My life has just moved at high speed in so many ways,” she continued. “So I’m thankful that when I was 19 and 20 life was slower and I was able to focus on being a mother and had the perfect opportunity to stay at home. with my child for his entire first year of life – a luxury that some mothers never experienced regardless of age.

Michael said Liam was a gift from God.

“I was very nervous, but excited when I found out about Liam,” he said.

“I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason,” Michael said. “While most people don’t start raising a family at 21, I was looking forward to it. Liam has been the biggest blessing to me, and I’m so grateful that Tara and I were blessed with God has a plan and I can’t wait to see what else he has in store for Liam.

Living in a community like Erwin has helped the Bakers settle into their parenthood.

“I’ll start by saying I hate the word perfect, even though I’m a perfectionist at fault,” Tara said. “However, I’m learning that being perfect, having the perfect family, working the perfect job, etc. is overrated.

Tara noted that “perfect” is subjective to a person’s vision and understanding.

“That being said, Erwin is the perfect place to raise a family for several reasons,” she said.

Featured photo • Liam Baker, left, is pictured with his parents, Tara and Michael, in front of the family Christmas tree.

Location is part of the equation.

“We love these Appalachians and all the outdoor recreation that comes with it,” she said.

The city itself is also part of his reasoning. “Erwin is quaint, unique, and scenic while providing opportunities for growth in so many ways,” she said.

Additionally, Tara said she was impressed with Erwin’s sense of true community.

She said Erwin is a community that cares for each other and she was lucky to have grown up surrounded by such people.

She recalled a job she had as a 16-year-old serving tables at the local restaurant Hawg N Dawg. She never imagined that the guests at these tables would be the very people to watch her family blossom, to cheer on her child at basketball games, to call the family every time their dog comes out of the fence.

She added that the folks at Erwin are always quick to “offer help when needed. Locals have also been enthusiastic in supporting the couple’s small businesses, which include Union Street Taproom, Ginseng Mobile Bar and Greater Impact Realty.

“We are blessed beyond measure and grateful that Erwin is perfect for us,” Tara said.

Tara, who is a mother, wife, educator and co-owner of two small businesses, is always looking for the next adventure in life.

“Michael and I are both dreamers, risk takers and planners,” she said. “The latter, I believe, is an important part of finding the balance between motherhood and heavy workloads.”

Others have helped her achieve this balance.

“I learned that it really takes a village to raise a child, so having a strong support system like Michael’s family has has been so important to us.” she said. “Other than that, I learned that giving myself grace, even though it might be one of the hardest parts for me, has kept me going because mother guilt is real.

“Finally, we have always allowed and/or found ways for Liam to be part of our professional lives,” Tara continued. “He’s helped in my classroom, in business, and even in Michael’s real estate career.”

For Michael, who has carved out a career as a realtor and co-owner of a small business, finding balance is also key. He is also a long-time member of the Council of Mayors and Aldermen of Erwin.

“I live by the motto work hard, play hard,” Michael said. “I am passionate about real estate and economic development in Unicoi County, but for me, my family comes first.”

Michael said he strives to ensure that every ball game, practice and other activity his son undertakes.

“A lot of times I come straight from work or from a meeting,” he said. “I think it’s important not just to show your kids that you work hard, but to include them.”

Michael added that his son Liam has helped him put up signs in yards, knock down walls, clean a house before an exhibition and much more.

“I’m blessed to be able to bring her to work with me and include her in things like this,” he said. “Not only have we created memories none of us will forget, but he’s learning the value of a dollar and hard work.

Adhering to this “work hard, play hard” motto, father and son can often be found enjoying Watauga Lake after work.

The bakers offered some tips on what got them through tough times.

“If there’s a will, there’s a way,” Tara said.

“As mentioned before, my biggest advice to anyone who wants to have a successful work life and family is to give yourself grace in difficult times, be patient even when you’re away, plan/take time for each other, to be present in the moment even when it seems impossible, and finally to revel in all the moments spent together,” she said.