“Was it love at first sight?” She asked. I looked over at him and already knew the answer.
“What?” He asked.
He looked to me for guidance because he couldn’t hear her behind the mask.
“When you met your wife, was it love, at first sight?”
The inquiry was in its processing stage, and then I saw the understanding hit.
“No!” He said as if having to endure it again.
“Really? Why not?” She asked.
He crossed his arms tightly across his chest and said,
“She was a prude!”
“Well, you were no catch either,” I said in her defense, recalling her version of their first meeting. He smiled at me, knowing I was telling the truth.
It was a blind date, set up by friends that were a couple. They thought the two of them were compatible, but it was an act of God because they were from two different planets.
While she grew up in a small town in North Dakota, highly disciplined, he was on the streets of St Paul, causing a whole bunch of mischief. He had learned how to scam people wherever he could just to get a few cents in his pocket.
While still in elementary school, he took a handful of free pamphlets from the church and sought out the homebound elderly in his neighborhood.
“I would sell them. It was a quick way to make money. I had to sit and talk to them sometimes, which was boring. Sometimes I got a cookie, which made it better. But I always got paid.”
He was also in the recycling business. A small store sold pop in bottles which he and his friends would steal. They would drink it and then go in the shop’s back door where the owner would give them change. Then, they would race around to the front and buy candy.
“You could get a lot of penny candy back then.” He always said it like he wore a badge of honor.
He attended Catholic school where nuns were at the ready to whack him across the forehead with a ruler for any infraction. This did not deter him from getting out of line. He and a friend would sneak into the empty church during recess and roll under the seating.
It was on a hill with a dramatic slope from the back to the front.
“We would get on our sides to see who could get to the front first.”
One day, the back door flew open, echoing across the empty sanctuary.
“Who is in here?”
The two boys didn’t move a muscle, hiding under the pews, hoping she didn’t find them. He saw her long, ankle-length dress and heard the swinging of the beads as she went row by row.
“Jackie! Are you in here?”
Out of all the kids, she could name from his class, he was on the radar.
His prayers were answered, and she didn’t find them. And instead of being led by fear, he and his companion continued their daily race. If he could get away with it, he did it.
He graduated with all F’s and was sent into the military.
Meanwhile, my mom was scoring at the genius level on IQ tests and was the valedictorian of her class. She walked the straight and narrow path and lived under her father’s constant verbal and tormenting abuse. She escaped to nursing school in Minnesota, and this is where their two very mismatched worlds collided.
Doctors were in pursuit of her, and she went out on dates quite frequently. The night before her encounter with my dad, a suitor had brought her a corsage that she had pinned on a dress coat; she left it on because the flowers were fresh.
“I had to come down this long staircase,” she had told me. “He was waiting at the bottom.”
When she took the last step, he turned to her, pointed at the corsage, and said sarcastically,
“What do you think we are going to a ball or something?”
That set the tone for the night. She instantly hated him. And to send the message, she crossed her arms and made sure he came nowhere close to her.
“I was getting long-stemmed red roses and gifts from men who already had graduated from medical school. There was one in particular that I thought was going to develop into something more serious.”
I always envisioned the outcome of that. By some chance, what if she had married a wealthy doctor and I had been born into it?
“But your dad and I were a marriage made in heaven.”
And just like that, the pony, the outdoor pool, and everything else I ever wanted would vanish.
An unseen force was pushing them together; they saw each other again and somehow figured it out. While she loved picnics, he abhorred them. She loved to dance, but he didn’t. But she had a way of getting her way.
One night when he refused to dance with her, she accepted the invitation of another man. He had gone to use the restroom, and when he came back, he couldn’t find her. When he saw she was enjoying herself with someone else, that was the last time he said no to dancing.
Later, they found out they had been at the same party at a house before knowing one another. As they talked about it, all the details were the same, but they never saw each other there.
“We were just supposed to be together,” she would always say even when things weren’t perfect.
“We got into a big fight, and I took my engagement ring off right before the wedding,” she told me. “I was done with the whole thing. But then he came and looked so devastated that I forgave him.”
I guess when a divine plan is at work, anything can happen. I had seen her unflinching attitude once her mind was made up. But he somehow had worn down her defenses.
“He kissed me and slid the ring back on my finger.”
There went my mansion on easy street.
I didn’t come into their lives until way after the initial flames had flickered. One child after another had arrived, and I was the last of the six. When my dad wanted my attention and said my name, he would accidentally rattle off all five ahead of me before landing on mine. One morning I woke up to my mom calling in the dog.
“Chris! Stop barking and get in this house!”
“Did you just yell my name out the door?” I asked from my room that was near the kitchen.
This had now gone to a whole other level. She opened my door and looked at me in shock; it was an expression I came to know well as she tried to keep up with so many kids and things to attend to.
Many years later, while I was in high school, I had come home one evening to find him lying on the kitchen floor trying to fix the dishwasher. He had gotten off work early because it was their anniversary, and he had walked into a pool of water.
He could usually repair anything, build what she wanted, and never took a car in for an oil change. He did everything himself. But this was proving to be a challenge.
“We were supposed to go out,” she said when I came in. “He’s been working on this for hours.”
I could tell that the tension in the room was high as his frustration was climbing, and he was hungry.
Much to his dismay, he could not remedy whatever was wrong. This meant he would have to call for someone to help, but it was way past the time to do that. It was a blow to his ego.
Their evening out turned into a pizza delivery, and she got out paper plates. He still seemed annoyed as he mindlessly ate while still trying to figure out why he couldn’t solve the problem.
Suddenly, he came back to reality and remembered this wasn’t a usual weeknight.
“I got you a card,” he said, jumping up to go get it. He came back and handed it to her.
She opened it and started to laugh to the point she had to put it down on the table.
He looked at her like she needed to be committed to the nearest facility.
“Why are you laughing? That card isn’t funny!”
She tried to catch her breath, and once she did, she read it out loud.
“To my dearest wife, on her birthday!” This put her right back over again while he just shook his head and said,
“Dammit! I hate this day!”
She laughed louder. But, I saw him start to relax. For her, it was the perfect anniversary with no dishes to do, no meal to cook, and he had made her smile unexpectedly.
When something is meant to be, God will make it happen for the benefit of both. In Ecclesiastes 4:9 it says:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: One can help the other up if either of them falls down. NIT)
That was the secret to their success, even if it looked worn out, frazzled, and all-out insane. They used their strengths to help one another’s weaknesses.
My parent’s entire relationship was filled with moments where they had to see the good in the middle of big messes. No matter how bad things got, it was made to last.
(All smiles until all the kids showed up; 68 years later this week)