Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Path to the Alter Is Not Straight: Part 2 Get Me to the Church on Time

In Part 1 I failed to mention this 13 year span between my Life Companion (LC) and myself was NOT a "going steady" relationship. In fact, at some point LC was dating and engaged. He received the proverbial 'Dear John' letter which will play into a latter part of today's post.

Before you empathize with him, he was having periods of great adventure, too. He was not a brawler, but he loved the taverns and beers that sailors enjoy and met local girls in every port. Most American Navy ships were welcomed by the local economy (and females). It meant a boost to the local economy. The European ports still remember the US rescued their countries from tyranny, especially France. I remember he mentioned "the girls in New Zealand" were unusually beautiful....hmmmm.

Although I was never engaged, I had one or two male companions, one of which I might have accepted engagement if he had asked.

Desperately wanting grandchildren, my parents occasionally engaged in matchmaking, even before this 13 year romance. No doubt their criteria and mine were worlds apart.

An early attempt at matchmaking was arranged by two sets of parents, mine and a preacher family. Plus we were escorted by his parents. YIKES! how old-fashioned and embarrassing was that for me among my peers. That match was a shot in the foot from the git-go. I was not going to be any preacher's wife and have preacher's 'always in the spotlight' kids.

Another young man pursued me with great encouragement from my parents. He had buck teeth and a very nasal speaking voice I could NOT tolerate. In my too critical evaluation I imagined a lifetime of listening to nasal tones turned me off after only a few dates. A meter reader for the local natural gas company, he was simply BORING!!! I, with missing eye-teeth and a prominent facial birthmark, was not a pin-up gal; admittedly my youthful skin deep criticism was unkind, if not downright tacky. This was during my college years; he even came to Austin to visit me while in college.

Another suitor was the son of an insurance agent with whom Dad did business. I knew he was either gay or bisexual, but said nothing. In those days I'm sure his parents were pushing him to marry. Nothing was ever said. He dutifully dated me several times. I lost track of him.

My family seemed resigned to the fact I would be an old maid, spinster, or some other term designated for women who failed to attract a husband. It never occurred to them I enjoyed the freedom of the single life, not tied to the apron strings of my parents.

Having always been an inquisitive, cerebral person, I enjoyed pursuing every avenue of intellectual learning plus I developed extracurricular activities like bowling leagues and horses. I pursued avocations of photography, art in several forms, music, to name a few. I joined professional pharmacy and business or civic groups. I attended pharmacy conventions. This zeal and zest for learning can also be at odds with domestic life. I am not known for keeping a reasonable balance in all phases of life. Excess seems to define me.

[To this day I have a yearning to learn every new idea that comes down the pike, i.e., I taught myself to build computers, as well as use them in my 50s. I built a darkroom and completed a photography correspondence course in my late 30s and continued in this field with workshops in Vermont and NC in my 40s and even seminars in my 60s and 70s for my love of photography.]

Not all these pursuits were fulfilling and quickly abandoned, but how would I have known had I not tried?

I tried my hand at women's softball. My short legs and flat feet were detriments to any dexterity I may have had . I was a very good hitter, but soon as I got on base, I was replaced with a runner who scampered around the bases like a jack rabbit, not my tortoise crawl.

For a long time I continued membership in my national pharmacy sorority and rose to a national office.

Freed of the teenage peer pressure, I reconnected with high school friends who were single. We often traveled together. One friend, whose husband was in Germany, and I toured, guess where? Arkansas!

Amid these frenetic activities and profession, LC and I continued to write each other now and then. Each time I announced receipt of a letter my family would prod me about contents, like maybe, just maybe, I might not be destined to spinsterhood.

Quite frankly I was amused, and privately, gleefully laughed at the time others spent lamenting my continuing single status.

I do not remember exactly how we became engaged. I believe we discussed it in letters and agreed in letters, although it may have involved collect-to-me phone calls. He said he had an engagement ring to mail to me. None of these letters or phone calls were day after day, --more like weeks apart.The long-distance collect phone calls were not cryptic and short, ofter over an hour in duration. I've often joked I had to marry-I could not afford the collect calls!

>Needless to say the news of my engagement was ecstasy to my friends and family-I was escaping spinsterhood. I was pretty blase' about it myself, as we didn't discuss a wedding date. At the rate we did things a wedding date was another 12 months of letter negotiations. Again the military controlled your time, all the time. The military did not care if you ever married: that was another dependent to support.

It took at least 6 months to agree to engagement and receipt of the ring. Because of the time lag in communications, it never occurred to me why LC's Mother had the engagement ring. It was a lovely ring and nearly fit. I had a minor adjustment in size upon receipt.

Besides LC's Navy duty, his Mother was ill and he was frequently summoned home when there were crisis in her care. Part of his salary was dutifully sent to his Mother for safe keeping or use. He was his Mother's pride and joy. His brother and sister warned me, that when LC was in his Mother's presence, anyone else in the room might as well not be there. I'm glad I was forewarned!

I knew of LC's Mother's health problems since I first met him. In 1956 lupus erthmatosus was somewhat rare, often misdiagnosed, disease, an autoimmune disease seen in women more than men. In the area of his SC home, there were several women with it, a somewhat unusual statistic. She had a severe case. In order to receive medical care and because of the rarity, she had an agreement with the Univ. of So. Carolina Medical School to treat her as a study case for the rest of her life. In this same time frame the drug, cortisone, was being used in trials. She had access to this drug under the conditions of her treatment which otherwise would have been unavailable.

Sometime in the later part of our 13 year courtship LC's Mom developed breast cancer and was fighting two diseases. She had some periods of remission from one or both diseases. By the time we were discussing engagement her cancer had metathesized. But she was a fighter. Many times she was carried to Charleston seemingly without hope, only to rally and go home.

After our engagement she had a crisis with the cancer which was spreading. She was rushed to Charleston. LC again was called home. He requested I fly in Charleston to meet his Mother, because it looked like she was approaching the final days of her life.

Since I had the means to make such trips, I did. My parents even suggested we just get married "somewhere" while we were there. I never knew if their thinking was charitable so his family, especially his mother, might enjoy the moment, or they secretly thought the engagement was going to dissolve into spinsterhood. Anyway, that did not happen nor was it suggested.

I returned to Texas, still engaged, but no wedding date. However, miraculously his Mother rallied, even returned home.

However, I never regretted this trip, because I received several tender letters from his Mother during the interim before we finally married. Since she died two months after we married, these letters are most of what I personally knew of my mother-in-law. I'm sure none of the often cruel caricatures and characterizations of a wife's mother-in-law would have characterized LC's Mother; I believe she would have been a wonderful mother-in-law, even if my presence in a room, might not ever be acknowledged, as described to me.

We began to negotiate a wedding date. I say negotiate, but it was not so much between us, but negotiating the intricacies of Naval duty and leave requests which can be cancelled after granted. His ship was in port at Norfolk VA between assignments. It was going to be designated a reserve trainer ship for the Naval Reserve at Fort McHenry. Baltimore, MD. At least I knew where we would live for awhile.

All things seemed to be working together for setting a wedding date. I think we started looking at dates in the summer of 1968. We would set a date, but almost immediately the Navy interfered with some unexpected assignment, and there may have been additional crises with his Mother; these details are a bit fuzzy.

By now ecstatic friends and family were dancing the rite of exorcising spinsterhood, and planning bridal and wedding showers.

I don't remember how many dates were set in late 1968, and cancelled, but friends and family began to wonder if this marriage was ever going to happen.

Through it all LC was non-plussed with his Z personality, Que' Sera, Sera. I weathered the first few postponements with humor, but began to be a tad edgy when I began to lose face with my friends and family.

As 1968 faded into 1969 we finally set a date for February 21. I began serious planning for a small informal church ceremony. I was footing the bill. And I bought a wedding ring. His leave was approved and his Mother's medical problems were in one of its stable periods.

Before I end this post, I'll interject a smaller subplot: the engagement ring. LC was the ultimate jokester and sometimes engaged in hyperbole himself. I never questioned its origin, cost or its authenticity. Although I did not select it, I accepted it. After we were married, he continually joked he got in a Crackerjack box. Finally, at some point he or someone in his family told me it was the returned ring set of the Dear John author. Frankly, to this day, either one might be true! I do not know, and probably won't know the day I die. LC's humor sometimes includes tantalizingly telling half the story, and leaving the ending for days, months and years later.

We neither one are wearers of our rings till-we-die persons. His ring interfered with his almost all his jobs. He almost lost a finger when it became entangled in some apparatus [He also has an partially amputated finger from a childhood accident.] Our rings are in a drawer together. I wore my rings until I gained weight and it would not fit. Now, arthritis joints would not allow me to were rings. However, I hope to get around to seeing if it can be "stretched" enough to wear.

Both of us do not believe wearing rings guarantee fidelity....which is a matter of commitment in vows and heart.

PHOTOS: Using old ring boxes, a ring holder and red silk remnant; on camera flash with new flash defuser.

TO BE CONTINUED..... [MISSING! One Fiancé! Part 3: Get Me to the Church on Time (not the best music rendition link)]

You Tube My Fair Lady Soundtrack


Arkansas Patti said...

Wow, did you have a lot trying to keep you from marrying that sailor.
Interesting thought about the govt making it difficult to prevent another dependant. Food for thought.
As much as was thrown in your way to climb over only makes it that you two finally succeeded, all the more special.
Keep it coming.

Lorna said...

this was a full-cup-of-coffee morning treat.

NitWit1 said...

Apologies To my readers: I notice a lack of close editing for which I apologize. When recording memories over 40 years old, I rush to get them in writing before I forget them.

Several readers have suggested I publish them. There is a some programs around to do that. I'll sure have to do a lot of proofreading; I am not skilled as I speedread and/or "skim" read a lot. I've never like to read anything twice.

Linda said...

Your story brought back many memories. I also married a military man. You are so right that you owe your soul to the military. Military comes first no matter what's going on in your family.

Liz said...

Oh my! What a tale! I lok forward to heraing how you actually make it to the altar. You did make it to the altar, didn't you ...

faye said...

Another 'engaging' installment.
Can't wait for the saga to continue... a delight to read.