On A Whim
By Debbie Lagestee • Photos by Valerie & Ed Photography
Matt and Vanessa Tidwell met 15 years ago. Vanessa, who grew up on James Island, received a phone call from her mother in a state of panic, telling Vanessa her house was on fire and quickly hung up the phone.
Vanessa raced to her mother’s home to find the fire department on the scene, and they already had the fire under control. As it turned out, it was a small fire in the garage. Matt was one of the firefighters called to the property. As the situation settled down, Vanessa noticed a good-looking fireman. Although they didn’t speak that night, she noted his name on his badge. Days later, Vanessa told a friend about that night, including the “hot fireman.” Vanessa relayed his name, and her friend found him on the social media site MySpace. Vanessa sent him a message through the website to thank him for his service and for helping her mom. Shortly after, that first message sparked a friendship and ignited a romance.
Matt is very gregarious and outgoing and likes to make spontaneous decisions. Being a planner is not a personality trait he possesses. However, when he was ready to propose to Vanessa, he put the ultimate plan in place to surprise her. He asked her to go to her mom’s house, and he would meet her there to change the smoke detectors in the house. Vanessa was already at her mom’s house when Matt pulled up in the fire truck dressed in his full firefighter uniform, accompanied by his coworkers. Vanessa came outside when she heard the truck. She was shocked when Matt broadcasted the proposal over the radio for all to hear. It was with great joy Vanessa said yes. They were married on August 7, 2009, at Tidewater Chapel, surrounded by their family and closest friends. One of Matt’s colleagues officiated the wedding, and another was their photographer. They had the time of their lives celebrating their nuptials.
Vanessa is an RN, BSN, and has worked for Roper St. Francis for 20 years. She spent the first 16 years of her career working in the Endoscopy field, and for the past 4 years, she has been working at Roper St. Francis Eye Center. Vanessa loves her job and the flexibility it provides. She currently works part-time to allow her time to focus on their two kids. She spends her days off volunteering at the kids’ school. It gives her a great work/life balance. She loves working in the OR and is grateful to be surrounded by fantastic coworkers.
Matt was 26 years old when a car accident changed his life and career trajectory. He was working with his identical twin brother at a sign company. He loved his job and had no intention of changing careers until the accident. Matt was traveling for work in San Jose, California, when he was involved in a rollover accident; fortunately, he was not severely hurt. After the accident, he quickly got out of his car to help the injured lady who had rolled her car when she hit him. The firefighters and EMT arrived on the scene, and Matt looked on as the firefighters used their jaws of life to cut the other driver out of her car. It was a life-changing moment for him. Matt recalls, “It was like a light switch went off. I knew it was what I wanted to do.” Matt has been with the Fire Service for 16 years. His career began at James Island Fire Department, where he worked for 2 years. He left James Island Fire Department to work with Mount Pleasant Fire Department and went to Paramedic school. Matt continued his education through the years to rise through the ranks. He has been with Mount Pleasant Fire Department for 14 years. He was on shift work for many years working 24 hours on and 48 hours off. He loved the camaraderie with his coworkers and always looked forward to going to work. Matt has so many unforgettable memories of making meals and eating together, playing jokes on each other, goofing around, and giggling like schoolboys before going to sleep in a big room together. He was fortunate to hang out with his best buddies, who have become life-long friends. Matt is forever grateful for those days.
He transitioned to an administrative role and is currently a Battalion Chief, providing Planning and Logistics for the department. Working Monday through Friday is a different dynamic and adjusting to the new schedule took a few months for him and Vanessa. They eventually got into a new routine and now enjoy more time at home together. Matt also serves as the Public Information Officer, communicating with the media and news outlets.
Vanessa and Matt have a 10-year-old daughter, Aspen, and an 8-year-old son, Beckett. Aspen is a sports-loving girl and has been playing soccer for 6 years. She currently plays for Cainhoy Soccer Club. She doesn’t like to sit still and is willing and eager to try new things, including any food. She is a people person, has a great sense of humor, and is always looking for a party! Beckett is enrolled in acting classes at Charleston Stage. He loves acting and enjoys putting on a show for people. He is a performer at heart, always dancing and singing around the house. He loves to go see shows with the family at Dock Street Theatre. He is quick-witted with a comeback. He’s an old soul who enjoys hanging out with his two grandmothers.
Their Great Dane, Ajax, joined their family last year. Ajax is a 1-year-old rescue. One Saturday morning, Matt was sitting and drinking his morning coffee he saw a picture of Ajax online. Within minutes he said to his family, “Let’s go.” Without hesitation, Vanessa agreed, and they picked him up from Water’s Edge Great Dane Rescue. He is sweet and loyal but in the rebellious teenager phase. He is nicknamed ‘Velcro” because he will go anywhere his family goes.
Just as the Tidwell family adopted their dog on a whim, they take weekend excursions and vacations similarly. Most recently, Matt was scrolling through Tik-Tok videos and saw a family driving around on a golf cart going through caves. He saved the video, researched, and learned the place was Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri. He knew his family would have a blast, so he booked it for their spring break in 2022. They drove to Missouri and stayed in a cabin at the resort. They toured the caves and incredible trails on the four-seater golf cart. The kids participated in a fishing tournament where Aspen took first place. The family was also victorious in the resort-sponsored scavenger hunt. Another time Matt found an Airbnb in North Carolina.
The amazing thing about it was that it was a railroad caboose on a bison farm. He thought that would be an out-of-the-ordinary adventure for the family. Off they went for a couple of nights, then the next night, ventured to Greenville, SC, to stay at an ultra-modern condo. They refer to the getaway as the Ying and Yang of all weekends. No matter where they go, their philosophy is the same. They choose a destination, but aside from a hotel, they don’t make plans or book anything until they arrive. They enjoy getting a feel of the place, experiencing the vibe, and then deciding what to do and how to fill their days. One of their favorite trips together as a couple was to New York City to celebrate their 10th anniversary and Vanessa’s 40th birthday.
They stayed in Times Square, saw the show ‘Mean Girls’ on Broadway with backstage access, and The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular. They walked miles and miles visiting all the New York sights. They overheard other tourists discussing how wonderful the restaurant Let’s Meat was, so in a typical spontaneous fashion, they walked the 4 blocks to check it out for dinner. As much as they love to travel and visit new places, they always come to the same conclusion. “We are quickly reminded Charleston is the best place to live,” says Vanessa.
In 2010, Matt and Vanessa built their home in the Ricefield subdivision of Carolina Bay. With the hopes of having children, they knew it would be a great place to raise a family, and it did not disappoint. Their neighbors on both sides and across the street built their homes simultaneously and quickly became best of friends. They had babies around the same time, and watching the kids grow up together has been so special. The kids ride bikes and play in the yards while the parents socialize. The Tidwells love walking around the neighborhood to see all the creative decorations, especially during the holidays. Beckett loves to join the fun decorating with lights and holiday blow-ups. As a bonus, their families live nearby, which makes family gatherings simple.
Living life with a spontaneous attitude keeps boredom at bay. When given a chance, Vanessa and the kids embrace the crazy and fun ideas Matt presents to them. Life is an adventure, and they never know where it will take them. They will keep living life on a whim!