Most couples have an origin story. A retelling of how they met, how they learned about one another, how they fell in love. If the couple stays together long enough, their origin story can take on mythological proportions. It becomes a somewhat mystical combination of fact and fiction, of reality and imagination, of risk and surprise, of uncertainties resolved and of promises fulfilled.
My wife, Judy, and I will celebrate our 51st anniversary in a few days. We have our own origin story. We have told it to our sons and daughter-in-law many times, and to old friends and other family members when we reminisce. As we tell our story, they will sometimes jump in to remind us of a detail that may have been missed or an emotion that should be emphasized. We tell it to new friend we meet for the first time, and we are now telling it to our two granddaughters. With each recounting, it takes on fresh meaning and renews the ties that bind.
Most of our origin story actually happened. The rest is true nevertheless.
In spring 1965, I was a senior at St. Edward's High School in Lakewood, Ohio. Our all-boys school hosted a fundraising, musical variety show called Tune Time. Each year, we partnered with an all-girls high school to put on the show. That year, we partnered with St. Augustine High School.
I was the MC who would introduce every act. During an early rehearsal, I saw a girl dancing on stage. She dazzled me as she twirled, leaped and moved to the music. I was, to use an old but appropriate word, "smitten!" For me, it was love at first sight. I actually told my best friend at the time that I wanted to marry that girl, even before I had ever met her. (I used to think that love-at-first-sight was a really rare occurrence, but I have since come to believe that it happens to people much more than one might assume.) In any case, my friend arranged a phone call with Judy, and we found a time for our first date. That was not easy to do. Her dating dance card was filled almost every Friday and Saturday night. She was popular--outgoing, vivacious, smart and really beautiful. I learned early on that I had a lot of competition. But I persisted. Then I got lucky. She was available to go to my senior prom with me. I learned later that mine was the fourth prom that she went to that spring. For me, it was a major coup to have her as my date. For Judy, I was just another notch on her prom dress belt.
I was head-over-heels in love with her. For Judy, not so much. I wore my heart on my sleeve (and still do by the way). But I was too easy. She saw me as a nice guy for a pleasant date, but there were no sparks for her. I tried to woo her with flowers, and in fact sent a bouquet of flowers to her after each and every date. But it seemed to no avail in changing her feelings. I went off to college in the fall. We dated a number of times that following Christmas, in the summer of 1966, again over that Christmas and then in the summer of 1967. I sent flowers again and again.
Then, the unexpected happened.
We dated over Christmas 1967. I invited her on a date for New Year's Eve, December 31, but of course, she already had a date for that night. So she agreed to go out with me on December 30 instead. Unbeknownst to me, she had determined that our relationship was going nowhere and had decided to tell me that there was no point to us dating any longer. In other words, I was hanging by a dating thread.
That night, her father died in his sleep.
She was estranged from her father because, as I would discover later, he was not a caring and loving person. As it so happened, as paramedics were taking his body out of the house on a gurney in the morning, my flowers arrived. I had sent a bouquet of flowers nestled in a miniature gondola (a detail that Judy recalls although I don't). My flowers, carried up the porch steps, literally passed the gurney coming down the steps.
Whether just a happenstance or fate or the hand of providence, that occurrence caused Judy to look at me in a different way. During the wake for her father, my family came to pay their respects. My parents and my many aunts and uncles then stayed throughout the proceedings, even though some had only met Judy briefly while others had not met her at all. And that too caused Judy to reconsider her feelings for me. So in a way, my family helped me to court her as well.
We dated steadily after that, became engaged at Christmas in 1968, and married in August 1969.
Truth be told, there have been times over the years when we wondered if we would stay together. When people learn that we have passed the 50-year mark, I invariably get the question, "What's the secret to staying together?" I hate this question. I don't have an answer and don't even know if there is such a secret. The best that I can offer is that we both didn't fall out of love at the same time. And our origin story helped. I could always remember that beautiful girl dancing up on the stage; Judy could always remember that persistent boy sending a gondola bouquet at a troubling time.
There is an addendum to this origin story. On our wedding night, we agreed to a 99-year contract that she could renew annually--after that, all bets were off. Our vows confirmed the first year, and she has renewed the contract each year since.
The contract is up for renewal in a few days--for the 52nd year. I am on my best and sweetest behavior. I bring her her coffee in the morning, have told her about the special dinner I've arranged, tempt her with DeMet's Turtles (her favorite candy), and will of course have flowers. In other words, doing all that I can to influence her decision. After all, we only have 48 years to go on the contract. Will she renew? I'm on pins and needles!
To be continued.