Fifty eight years ago today my parents got married. I could call them High School sweethearts were it not for the fact that they never actually attended West High at the same time. He graduated in 1949 and was best friends with my mother’s brother and she did not graduate until 1954. By the time she was a sophomore in high school he was overseas with the Army in Korea. He told her to attend her school dances with other boys and enjoy her high school years. She kept him supplied with care packages, one included a table-top Christmas tree with messages on gift tags to be used as ornaments from friends and family members. A pretty clever and thoughtful gift in the days before Pinterest that took both time and forethought.
He returned from Korea, attended her school formals with her and proposed the evening of her senior banquet. He pulled a box from the glove compartment of his car and would open it and look at it and then look over at her and close it. He did this several times until she grabbed it away from him. He had not asked her father for his only daughter’s hand because he was fairly confident that the business executive who rubbed elbows with the Twin Cities social elite of the era would deny the electrician’s son. Her mother was fond of my father but told my mom she would need to be the one to tell her dad. Terrified and excited she needed to wait until his return from a business trip.
She went off to college for a year in Illinois, while my father studied at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Not terribly academic she returned home after her freshman year and got a job. After a two year engagement they wed in the spring of 1956. I still remember in junior high coming home from the Linden Hills library informing my parents that someone had given me an inaccurate date in my family tree research. I was fairly certain I would fail the class if I indicated that my eldest brother was born less than four months after their wedding date. My parents assured me the dates were correct. I had seen newborn pictures of my brother Bob, those chubby cheeks did not belong to the face of a premature baby.
I was married, with kids of my own and my father had been gone for a number of years when I finally reconciled our one major disagreement from my childhood. The year I was a ninth grader the ninth grade became part of the high school, which meant that activities such as school dances were open to freshman. I attended the Welcome Dance with my circle of friends and later in the fall came Sadie Hawkins with a large group of kids all planning to go as couples to The Malt Shop and then the dance. My father said “no” that I could not attend. My mother in an unusual display of taking my side in an even more unusual situation of my father and I disagreeing said “Chuck, let her go.” but to no avail. My epiphany twenty years later was that were I to have asked a boy to this dance, in my father’s eyes I would be betrothed. In looking back I chuckle, the boy was not likely to have agreed to the invitation and throughout the remainder of high school dated several of my friends. He is currently married to his third wife. Meanwhile it would be 11 years before I brought a “boy” to meet my parents. Ironically the first time I did it was so the man could ask my father for my hand. “Sir, I have known your daughter for what may seem like a short time but I am very much in love with her and would like to ask for her hand.” was the brief explanation my husband offered for our quick visit to my parent’s cabin during a snow storm on my father’s birthday. My dad simply said “What does Nancy think of this?” to which I was speechless for the first time in my entire life and responded with a vigorous nod.
My parents were not ones to celebrate their anniversary (or most milestones) with gifts for each other and date nights were so rare that I can recall using the fingers of one hand how many times I spent an evening with a sitter as a child. I remember that their class reunions were special social outings for them and how my father loved to dance. I also remember how my mother did not enjoy dancing. In an odd twist of fate I love to dance and my husband does not. In retrospect it was not that my parents did not enjoy an evening out it was that finances were tight and popcorn and cider with a movie or in front of the fireplace fit the budget better than dinners out.
My father was an incredibly patient man and one that was always willing to make sacrifices for us kids or our mother. He would work long hours as an electrician, often outdoors in the elements of Minnesota. The winters were brutal but for a man who had suffered with Hay Fever since childhood, the summer months could be downright miserable for him. It was during those months that we stayed at the cabin and Dad would arrive on Friday night with a car full of groceries and clean laundry and stick around until Sunday night when he would drive home for a night’s rest in air-conditioned coolness, only to return either next week or on Wednesday night (to gather more laundry) and leave incredibly early on Thursday morning to make the 100 mile “commute” to his job site. All of this amidst the sneezing, watery eyes and nose blowing. I recall one summer where he simply commuted to the cabin each night and shopping and the laundromat in Cumberland Wisconsin were utilized during the weekend. I never remember him complaining but the thought of it coupled with allergies is exhausting.
As patient as my father was, my mother had numerous things that annoyed her. Tapping her on the shoulder was one thing that drove her crazy, so us kids would do it frequently to annoy her. Another thing that really bothered her is something my husband does to this day as sort of a nod to my father. When adding sugar and creamer to his coffee he would stir it until my mother (despite her best effort to ignore it each time) begged him to stop the clanking of the spoon against the side of the mug. Despite the fact he snored their entire marriage she never grew accustomed to it and even if she had not retired for the evening, the entire household could be awoken by her yelling from the base of the stairs “Roll over, you’re snoring.”. Personally, I always found the sound comforting, as I equated snoring with breathing and after some medical issues I liked hearing his vigorous snores from the bedroom across the hall. I married a snorer myself and when he began using a c-pap machine the week our oldest left for college the silence became oddly noticeable to me.
My dads humor overshadowed my mothers annoyances but their interactions mirrored that of a sitcom couple more than star-crossed lovers you would see in movies. His mother’s cousin recently commented that “I never saw a couple more in love than those two.” In spite of their health issues, financial woes and extended family drama they stuck to their vows of “For better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer…”
There was a time when I was in high school, my brothers away from home and my mother erratic, that on a particular evening her behavior was what she herself would have referred to as “out of line”. I asked my dad “Why don’t you divorce her?” His response was a resigned “I married her for better or worse. This must be the worst!” His humor again serving as the buffer and helping his daughter to understand that when a person is the least likable may be the time they need you the most and that you don’t just walk away from your commitments because a particular day (or year or decade) is unpleasant.
So here, on their anniversary, I picture them looking down on their children and grandchildren and all that their young love and devotion resulted in. I see them smiling, content and pleased with deciding to proceed regardless of the lack of endorsement. Faintly, I hear the distinct sound of my father leisurely stirring his coffee and envision my mother trying to wait him out for the first time ever, while all of us who ever knew them know it’s not going to happen this time either. The guy has infinite patience and she should know that more than anyone.