There’s Tim. There’s Faith. But right now there’s Tim and Faith, and the couple is everywhere: on an ongoing sold-out world tour, on a new duets album, in a new television documentary, and in a new exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
How could anyone possibly trace back to where country’s most successful and dynamic duo began? Easy. It’s right there in the museum on a streaked mirror with now-faded black scribblings.
“I am gonna be your wife! Yes. Love you so, so much.”
Then, in bigger lettering: “T. I [heart] U F.,” Hill’s shorthand for “Tim, I love you, Faith.”
This is Faith Hill’s acceptance of Tim McGraw’s impromptu marriage proposal on June 26, 1996, right before he headed out on stage at a Colorado music festival.
“I didn’t know the answer until we walked into the dressing room, and I saw it written on the mirror,” McGraw told PEOPLE before a reception at the Nashville museum on Wednesday.
What possessed Hill to write on McGraw’s road-case mirror rather than wait to tell him in person?
“It seemed appropriate,” she said. “I mean, him asking me at a country music festival and then walking out the door! I thought, you know, this is the right way to do it.” Then Hill, rewinding the memory, thought again: “I’m not sure why I did that!”
“I don’t know,” McGraw, 50, interjected, “but it worked.”
“It worked,” Hill, 50, added. “Hey, 21 years!”
“We’re still here,” McGraw said, stating the unquestionably obvious.
The couple spoke just after touring the new exhibit for the first time, along with two of their three daughters, Gracie, 20, and Audrey, 15. (Maggie, 19, is away at college.) Both artists pronounced they were “thrilled” with the expansive display that traces their decades-long careers, in singular and plural.
And their daughters’ reaction?
“I think they probably think it’s cool,” Hill said. “There are some things they haven’t seen [before], and there are some things they laughed at.”
One of those things, the famously willowy Hill allowed, included an outfit of hers that isn’t quite filled out by the mannequin’s bustline.
“There’s one dress that needs boobs,” Hill said. “Gracie said, ‘It looks just like you, Mom!’”
There’s at least one other dress that’s definitely filled out – Hill’s stunningly understated wedding gown that almost resembles a full-length slip.
“She was barefoot, as well,” McGraw recalled about his bride on their Oct. 6, 1996, wedding in his aunt’s backyard in Louisiana.
“I was a hippie child,” Hill added. “I just loved [the dress]. It was simple and … I had a veil and flowers that were picked probably from the field out where we married.”
The museum exhibit includes awards, stage wear, and other memorabilia from their professional lives, of course. But more personal objects attest to their humble Southern beginnings – he in Louisiana and she in Mississippi – and their life together off stage. Among the childhood artifacts are baseballs that McGraw hit to score homeruns at ages 11 and 17 and a tiny Playskool desk, shaped like an airplane, that Hill used as a child.
There’s also a copy of the couple’s first Christmas card after daughter Gracie was born in 1997. The photo depicts McGraw, in Santa hat, and Hill in bed showing a Christmas book to their baby.
During the museum reception, Hill and McGraw thanked a long list of friends, colleagues and associates for their roles in their careers, but Hill, especially, took pains to speak about the couple’s “greatest gift” – their three daughters.
“There is not a day that goes by that I do not thank God above … for giving us those beautiful children because they have taught me more about forgiveness, honesty, acceptance,” she tearfully told the several hundred guests gathered in the Hall of Fame rotunda. “It’s because of them that I want to be the best person I can possibly be. Because of their dad …”
“That’s you, by the way,” she wisecracked, motioning to McGraw, who stood beside her on stage.
McGraw guffawed. “We have blood tests!” he exclaimed as the crowd and Hill joined his laughter.
“I do love this guy,” Hill said, trying to pick up where she left off. “He is spicy like Tabasco sauce. He is spicy and he’s a handful, and it’s awesome. And he’s just taught me to be spicier all the time.”
“Tim McGraw & Faith Hill: Mississippi Woman, Louisiana Man” officially opens to the public on Friday and runs through June 10, 2018. McGraw and Hill’s first duet album, The Rest of Our Life, releases on Friday. The documentary, Soul2Soul, filmed during their ongoing tour of the same name, debuts at 9 p.m. EST Friday on Showtime.