I am not certain when I knew that I wanted to marry my wife of 50 years, but it was early on in our relationship. The realization may have come as we sat talking in her driveway, something we often did when returning from a date; possibly a minor annoyance to her father, I might add, for her parents had often gone to bed by the time we pulled into the driveway and waiting for her to come into house must have been akin to waiting for the other shoe to drop. But more on this later. As we sat talking one evening, her profile illumined by the dim light from the car radio, I can remember taking a long look at her, sitting there looking out into the darkness as we talked, and realizing not only how much I loved her, but that this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. This realization came fast on the heels of another evening when I had screwed up the courage to tell her that I loved her. Now you might think, that at 16, we were too young to know our own minds in this matter, but it never seemed a problem to us. Both of our parents knew we were going steady, something that seems to have gone out of vogue by the early 70s, but I doubt that my parents gave it all that much thought, or at least not enough to discuss the seriousness of our relationship with me. My decision to become engaged on Christmas Eve of our senior year was accepted without question. I never discussed the matter with them, never asked for their advice. Not so with her parents since it was decided that I ask her father’ s permission. That cold Sunday afternoon in November is still burned indelibly in my mind.
Her father was working in his shop in an outbuilding that also served as garage and storage area. I walked the hundred feet or so from the house to the shop much as a condemned prisoner approaches the scaffold. I was always more than a little awed by her father, an awe seasoned with a healthy dose of fear, and I was uncertain of his reaction. Approaching him in his shop, surrounded as he was by an array of potentially dangerous tools, hammers, screwdrivers, saws and such, seemed to me not to be the most advantageous of surroundings. As I approached, the slightest sound might have cause me to bolt for the car, but my feet carried me on and when he looked up and saw me, it was too late to retreat. He returned to his work, planing a board. The plane, at least was not a threatening tool, no sharp edges although I suppose he could have beat me about the head and shoulders with it. I remember asking him what he was making. I don’t remember his response. Fear and the churning of my stomach have erased the response from my memory although I think there was one. Not one to delay an execution, I then blurted out “I want to ask you permission to marry your daughter.” “When?” he asked, and I mumbled something about after my first year in college. He looked at me hard and asked if I thought I could take care of her and I told him I thought I could. His response to that is a little hazy, as I was measuring my chances of making it through the shop door alive if necessary, but it was something to the effect of “OK” and he returned to his work. No handshake or words or welcome, just a positive acknowledgement of my question, and I escaped, not quite running, back to the house; understanding the feeling of a prisoner who has just received an 11th hour reprieve from the governor.
I should explain at this point that my future father-in-law was a gentle man with a gruff exterior. I didn’t realize that at first, the fight or flight response of being near him in those early days did not allow me to relax, but I did know that he had a puckish sense of humor. He would occasionally appear at the d river’s side of the car on some excuse or other, once asking me if l cared for some peanut brittle. The first time I met him, he was on the roof with a bucket of tar when I arrived and yet he was at my back as the door opened to acknowledge my knock and I later accused him of jumping off the roof rather than using the ladder to get down. Introductions were made and we left with the admonition to “be home early.” We were. He often remarked afterwards that he could have saved a lot of problems if he had just dropped that bucket of tar on me as I arrived.
We were married on a windy Sunday afternoon in August 1960. The weather was changeable as a front approached that would bring heavy storms later that evening, the violence of which was lost to the romance of our first night together.
To mark the highlights of 50 years together is beyond the scope of this writing, ranging as they do from a beginning as married students at Indiana University where we were joined by our first born, a son, years that saw an unused dollar as a chance to go for a drive with perhaps a stop at McDonalds afterward; to leaving the insularity of an academic community for the unknown of a first job in Maryland where we were joined by our second born, also a son; to 4 years in Munich where we were joined by our third born, and final, child, a daughter. The return to the reality of Maryland began a blur or settling into a house, of school activities, of children growing up and marrying; to now, when we are a couple again. For all of the adventure of those years, being a couple again is the icing on the cake.
I recently read of a couple in California who just celebrated their 72nd anniversary, a rarity in any age. They have their own blog at the-ogs.com (ogs stands for original grandparents) where they dispense advice, stories, songs and the occasional video. It certainly is a goal to strive for and I remain optimistic about that, but for the moment I am content with the rarity of reaching 50 years, no small accomplishment as statistics indicate that only 5% of married couples reach this milestone. But as much as I am proud of our accomplishment, this isn’t the real reason for writing this reflection, sketchy though it is. It really is a love letter to she who accepted the love of a gawky teenager and has since been the guiding light of my life, accepting me at my worst and my best and yet remaining a constant at my side. It is she who gives me cause to celebrate the past 50 years and it is she who gives me the hope of more to come.
I love you Princess.