Revel in Tough Weather

Photo by Alisa Anton

It’s Not REALLY Winter unless …
Snow in Portland OR
Photo by Freddy Do

Winter no longer regularly serves up blizzards for me. Winter reality in the Willamette Valley of the Pacific Northwest can be chilly, will certainly be wet, but snow is a rarity.  So, rare that quite a light snowfall can close the schools and make the hilly streets of Portland undrivable. Inevitably, of course, that causes those of us who have migrated here from hearty climes to laugh at this city’s citizens who freeze up right along with the temperatures.

Snowstorms and blizzards created many of my best memories. One of the

Chicago El Stop
Photo by Brantley Neal

most outstanding of these hit Chicago the third year Jay and I were married. The snow already fell steadily in large, lacey flakes as I trudged home from the Morse Ave “El” stop to our Roger Park apartment at the corner of Ridge and Pratt. Jay, who had driven our faithful Beetle to his job as an Assistant State’s Attorney on the southside of the city left work at six, but traffic was so bogged down, he didn’t push through our door, covered with snow, until 8 p.m.  I was extremely relieved to see him.  The TV reports were dire. (It’s when I remember such an anxious time that I am a little bit thankful for cell phones.)

Snowstorms were a known quantity in Chicago.  We fully expected to awake the next morning to find the streets plowed, sidewalks shoveled, and people grudgingly trudging off to work, muttering “Thank God, It’s Friday.”

Wrong.

Snow encrusted streetTwenty-three inches of snow fell that night and the blizzard only abated somewhat as the sun rose on a city transformed into an alien arctic world. Jay and I were fortunate to have made it home. According to Chicago Tribune stories about the storm, thousands of people were stranded in offices and schools. Approximately 50,000 vehicles and 800 CTA buses were abandoned on the streets – and then buried in the snow.  All public transportation, including the elevated commuter train, was shut down. (https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-chicago-blizzard-1967-20170125-story.html)

The event was reported to be a disaster for adults, but a holiday for children.  By this standard, my husband and I, although 24 & 25 years old at the time, landed squarely in the kid category.

As soon as the snow stopped around ten in the morning, we triple-layered ourselves into the warmest clothes we had and headed out looking for adventure.  And, wow, did we find it. Heading east toward Lake Michigan a little less than a mile from our home, we laughed as our feet sunk deep into tundra at every step. But burning high energy kept us warm and encouraged.

Our quest took us to a winter wonderland.  Along the lakefront, mighty

Frozen waves
Photo by Curioso Photography

storm waves had frozen and then mixed with snow to form caverns and natural forts in every possible shape. And all through and over this enchanted stark white city swarmed children of all ages. Their brightly colored snowsuits flashed red, orange, blue, green and violet as they careened down icy slides and jumped off the tops of hardened mounds into piles of softer snow. Their laughter rang loud and clear in the crisp, frigid air.

We longed to join them but were curious about the rest of the city. Leaving the lakefront, we headed south to Lake Shore Drive.  It was almost impossible to discern where the beach ended and the road began.  The only real clues were the dozens of vehicles stranded poking up at various angles through the drifts along the expressway. Across this kaleidoscope of jumbled cars, buses, and small trucks, the city skyline edged a sharp line against a pale blue sky.

As a phenomenon of the blowing winds, just beyond the drive, a path of

Park benches in the snow
Photo by Jack Cohen

sorts was scooped through the mountains of snow on either side.  With the foolhardiness of youth, we decided to head for the Loop. It was crazy, no doubt about it, but going back to the confines of our tiny apartment when this once in a lifetime experience had happened right outside our front door didn’t feel like even a remote option. We were not alone.

Hundreds of other Chicagoans also came out to explore the magic.  Everyone spoke to everyone else. And although Chicago is a friendly city, ordinarily strangers pass one another by.  But not that day.  That day there were no strangers in Chicago.  The blizzard formed us into one strong community sharing a common experience.  Suddenly we had lots to say to one another.

Jay and I began our trek shortly after ten that morning.  By three o’clock, we were just wandering into Old Town, which lay nine miles from our home. That’s when the angels, who were guarding the city that day, came to our rescue.  Although the blizzard had closed most businesses, many Chicago taverns had remained open – all night.  They were still buzzing the next afternoon.  Neither the bartenders nor most of their patrons could get home. Thus, the taverns had become temporary shelters.  One of these, Piper’s Alley on Wells Street made room for us.

Tavern in the snow
Photo by Josh Hild

Sometime later, my memory is hazy about that part for obvious reasons, we stood in the long line at the payphone to call Jay’s fellow Assistant State’s Attorney and good friend Danny Weil.  Danny had an apartment above another Wells Street Tavern.  His couch served as our bed for the night.  By Saturday morning, the elevated train was working, if somewhat sporadically. Our adventure was over – but we learned another of Love’s Lessons well – sharing tough times with someone you love can transform hardship into splendor.

We’d love to hear of a time when what could have been disastrous turned into a grand adventure for you because you were together.  Hope to hear from you.

Jule

Couple behind waterfall
Photo by Theodore Vasile

 “Bad weather always looks worse through a window.” — Unknown

Ever Shifting Midnight Mood

Northern Lights

Do you run into the same debate every year that I do?

Two men conversing
Photo by Product School

On one side there are the “naysayers,” those folks who contend that New Year’s Eve is a whole lot of hooey (or some other even more disgusting load). Some deplore the debauchery, wage war on “excessive” food and alcohol, fear an increase in accidental fatalities of many kinds, and remind everyone else that the “new” year will be no different than the “old.” – happy and sad in all the same ways. To demonstrate their rejection of the noise, nonsense and “people in funny hats” they’re in bed by nine p.m.

Others argue that it is a holy season, best celebrated with sacred ritual, contemplation, reflection, and repentance. The stroke of midnight finds them on their knees – praying.

Firewords
Photo by Andreas Dress

Tipping the other end of the seesaw are the “yay-sayers.” Even the most diehard naysayers know what they do – They have FUN! Or, at least, they attempt to do so.  Whether they succeed or not is an open question.

In the early years of our marriage, before we became parents, Jay and I “threw” a New Year’s Eve party every year in our tiny apartment.  I say threw deliberately because all those occasions were tossed together extemporaneously. At some moment after we’d survived Christmas with our families, it would hit us that NYE was just around the corner. We’d blissfully ponder the swank affairs available throughout the “toddlin’ town,” immediately realize we couldn’t afford even a glass of champagne at one of those venues, and without taking another breath announce to one another, “Let’s have a party.”

Parties, you might note, also cost money.  But, no, Jay and I are not only ultimate yay-sayers, but we also eternal optimists. We weren’t about to let our $5/week grocery budget stand in our way.  We had a commodity more valuable than mere currency.  We had friends!

Time to dial some numbers. (And yes, in those days we still had a dial-up telephone.) “Hey,” we’d announce, “we’re having a party for New Year’s Eve.  Yep, that’s right – this coming Thursday. Can you come?  You can? Cool! What can you bring?”

Two glasses of white wine
Photo by Element5 Digital

Not that we were completely freeloading hosts. A trip to Woolworth’s (I still find life without a local “five ‘n dime” more challenging than it needs to be.) and a couple of bucks laid down meant I headed home with a bag, filled to the brim for conical hats, streamers, crepe paper, and horns.  Our guests provided the booze and the food.  We provide the place and the fun!

Well, in all honesty, I cannot take credit for all the fun.  Some of that goes to our brother-in-law Bob.  At that time, Bob was a carney.  He actually traveled all over the Eastern United States with a carnival. He managed several amusement rides at county fairs and church festivals in the days when you didn’t have to travel to Orlando to be scared witless.

Bob’s sweep through the backroads of the Southern states put him in regular touch with the folks that brewed “hooch,” home-made alcohol of uncertain proof. Compared to liquor store prices, those spirits were dirt cheap – they were a fraction of the cost of the branded products.  Why? Well, their producers didn’t pay taxes. So, whenever our brother-in-law returned home at the end of the carnival season, he came bearing “gifts” That throat-searing, gut-wrenching liquor was his contribution to our New Year’s Eve blasts.

Clear-ish blue liquor
Photo by Marcel Straub

In fact, it contributed most of the “blast” to the affair. Neither Jay and I nor our friends were used to drinking much alcohol.  When we did, we shared a beer at a picnic or while watching a football game. Those years preceded the country’s love affair with wine. (Our contemporary growing consumption of wine didn’t kick off until the 1990s.)

Thus, even shot-glass size helpings of the “hootch” that we consumed at those parties transformed us into bon vivants for the night.  We found life weirder and more ridiculous with every hour.  The music we chose for the stereo became louder and more raucous as the conversation turned to laughter and giggling, and some couples drifted into a corner, losing all regard for decorum.  We did always manage to keep an eye on the clock and tune in the radio to the broadcast from State and Randolph for the midnight countdown.

In fact, the only “disaster” that ever occurred was when the “mayor’s casserole” exploded. Mayor Richard J. Daley’s wedding gift to Jay and I had been a silver chafing dish that held a glass casserole dish and sat on a silver stand over a Sterno burner.  Because we valued it highly, we only brought it out for the NYE party.  That proved to be bad timing.  As 1967 slid into 1968, a loud explosion rocked our dining area. Suddenly the middle of the table was engulfed in fire, a fire that surrounded the “mayor’s casserole.”

A  brave unknown threw a pan of chilled shrimp onto the fire.  Jay raced to the kitchen to get water.  Guests poured out the front door.  Someone else threw a heavy winter coat over the now diminished flames.  We had extinguished the fire.  (Thanks, perhaps, to those who spend midnight in prayer).

But the beautifully ornate silver casserole had disappeared.  In its place remained a blackened, scarred, ugly piece of metal. When it cooled, someone threw it into the trash can behind our apartment.  The pretty silver lid had been in the kitchen. For years I hung onto it – a useless reminder of our days of glorious foolishness. Jule kissing Jay at midnight

 

“New year is the glittering light to brighten the dream-lined pathway of future”
― Munia Khan

 

I’d love for you to share right here on these pages, your best, worst or funniest New Year’s Eve memory.

Love,

Jule

People toasting with wine
Photo by Kelsey Chance

Honeymoon Disaster

Skiers on Mountain Top
Twenty-Something “Logic”

Successful honeymoons are all alike. Every disastrous honeymoon is disastrous in its own way.

December is a whirlwind of celebration in our family – a birthday, an anniversary, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  We do it all and we do it up big. Perhaps, Jay and I got this going because we’re still trying to wipe out the blot on the page that was our honeymoon, a misadventure if ever there was one.

Advent Wreath
Photo by Waldemar Brandt

Naively, we set it up that way. Getting married during Advent was until recently frowned upon in the Roman Catholic Church.  In the church year, this is a season of preparation and reflection, not festivity and frivolity. Had we heeded that ancient wisdom and chosen a more sensible wedding day, our honeymoon may very well have been blissful.

The minds of twenty-somethings, however, are not known for wisdom. And we were no exception. Immediately following Jay’s sister’s wedding in October, it seemed perfectly reasonable to plan one of our own to take place six weeks later. The Saturday before Christmas made eminent sense because we would both be on school break. Being married during a festive season chimed for us with romantic fervor.

Jule and Jay's Wedding Photo

In photos taken on my wedding day, I am truly beaming and dewy-eyed. No hint in those pictures that many of the guests became stranded in an icy underpass on the way to the reception or that the caterer took the lids off the food an hour early and everyone who did make it ate cold food. Undaunted by such setbacks, we took off in a snowstorm for northern Michigan and our skiing honeymoon.

Not Necessarily a Time for Everything

Skiing? Honeymoon? Those two words sound odd together because there are very few people in the world for which they flow smoothly in the same sentence. And we were not among them.

Vintage hotel room
Photo by Lina Castaneda

The idyllic oblivion that carried us through the wedding mishaps refused to let us be daunted by the icy roads and dense fogs that dogged our journey north. After several hours, we arrived cold, wet, hungry and happy at our shabby-chic inn on Traverse Bay.  Okay, more shabby than chic, but the beds were comfy even if the rooms were chilly.  And we had enough heat between us to overcome that obstacle.

The real calamity waited for the next morning. We headed for the ski slopes at a nearby resort, one of us a seasoned skier, the other one a complete neophyte. We intended to bridge the gap by signing me up for ski school. Once that was settled, Jay kissed me goodbye, hoisted himself on a J-bar and was literally up and away. I stared at the tall, thin boards in my grasp. My heart sunk. I couldn’t possibly learn to maneuver on such outlandish objects. I felt every bit the deserted wife.  And I’d only been married three days.

Nonetheless, I trudged after the bright young woman who assured a collection of other adults, all of whom appeared fairly stressed, that we’d be skiing “in no time.” Not true.  When Jay came to collect me for lunch, I could finally stand on the skis without immediately tripping, but I certainly wasn’t “ski-ing.”

Photo by Harrison Moore

After a hearty burger, he told me not to worry and headed for the slopes. My eyes followed him until he was a blur at the top of the mountain. Then I trudged by to ski-school. By the end of the second day, I was the last in my class still not “skiing.” My classmates had hit the hills – albeit the bunny slopes. Reduced to practicing with the kids’ class, my mood darkened every day.  Only the fabulous nights saved our marriage from being one of the shortest ones on record.

Calamity Jule

Downed skier

Photo by Clement Delhaye

And then that ended.  On the fourth day, I begged Jay to let me try skiing with him.  He chose the easiest of the trails. Heart in my throat, I slung a leg over the J-bar and managed to slide off at the top without crashing into the snow.  With much encouragement, I pushed off.  Suddenly the world raced by and I had no idea how to stop it or control its direction. I panicked, dug in my poles and flipped over backward.

Jay slid to stop, knelt beside me, and whispered “Jule” in hushed tones.

“What?” I barked back.

“Thank, God. You’re okay,” he answered.

“I am not,” I retorted. “I can’t move my right leg.”

Another skier alerted the ski patrol.  Rescuers arrived and I was carried down the mountain on the back of a very burly, good-looking hunk.  Sadly, I was in no state to appreciate that unique opportunity. At a nearby clinic, we discovered nothing was broken, but I had torn all the ligements in my knee and sprained my ankle. I would be on crutches for several weeks.

Girl by fireplace
Photo by Jon Tyson

The next morning, Jay set me up on a big cushy sofa in the front of a roaring fire, an Agatha Cristie mystery and a thermos of hot cocoa at my side.  He advised that I rest and sleep.  He’d see me when the slopes closed.  That lasted one day.

Honeymoons, I insisted that evening, were meant to be spent together. We need to move to Plan B, which as it happens was non-existent.  But we couldn’t go “home.”  Our apartment wasn’t available for another week.

Salvage Operation
Fox Theater Detroit
Photo by Josh Hammond

Instead, we drove to Detroit where we spent our first Christmas with my grandmother and treated ourselves to “Mary Poppins” at the Fox Theater.  It was the most enchanting moment of our honeymoon.  The movie was our “spoonful of sugar.”

It meant that for the next fifty-five years, we remember the ups and downs of the Honeymoon Disaster with fondness rather than bitterness.

We had vowed “For Better, For Worse,” and in one week of Love’s Lessons, we learned how very true that promise would be.

Did your honeymoon live up to your dreams?  What Love Lessons did you learn on your honeymoon?  We all have so much to share with one another.  Please do so right in the comment box.

Gratefully,

Jule

Your honeymoon tells the world–and maybe you–who you are.

GINGER STRAND, Inventing Niagara

http://www.notable-quotes.com/h/honeymoons_quotes.html

Frankie’s Catches Fire

Restaurant fire

“Frankie’s Catches Fire,” the headline read last January. Oh, no, I thought, not another one.

As the years fly by, many places that we cherished for the memories they evoked have, one by one, bit the dust. Jay remains the “love of my life.” Yet, it’s still hard to see empty space or alien edifices taking over where there once a cherished memory dwelt.

The little chapel where we vowed “for better or worse” transitioned into a school auditorium when St. Mary of the Woods Parish built a grander church, filled with spectacular stained glass and acres of marble, but no echoes of our hopeful promises.St. Mary of the Woods

On one of our many sojourns to northern Michigan, we discovered that the fine old Victorian Inn in which we had honeymooned had vanished. The past winter, hot flames fed by frigid winds had consumed its antique wooden frame, leaving behind only ashes and no incentive to rebuild in a style no longer considered practical.  We wandered the field at the edge of the harbor, but it was impossible to make out even a vague outline of the once elegant rooms.

A few years later as we rode along Touhy Avenue on Chicago’s northside on our way to the airport, we witnessed the swinging arc of a wrecker’s ball crashing into the truly ugly, but to us beloved, walls of “The Purple Motel.”  Ah, the wages of sin are death.  But our uppermost sentiment was not residual guilt but deep frustration that we couldn’t find a way through the cyclone fencing surrounding the deconstruction site.  We would not have even one grossly lavender brick to serve as a souvenir.

Building deconstructing
Photo by Davidson Luna

 

The motel joined the list, along with so many of the lovely Art Deco buildings along “Boule Mich” as we had loving called Michigan Avenue when we were young and first in love.  Back in those days, rather than the bustling upscale shopping area one finds today, fine old shops, bastions of the early twentieth century were going out of business.  There were almost as many empty storefronts as going concerns.  And Jay and I loved it that way. Strolling from the curve of Lake Shore Drive south to the Chicago River and back provided us with unhurried free entertainment. Once the John Hancock Tower went up and the avenue regained its popularity, we felt like strange tribes had invaded our private preserve of romance.

Now another announcement of loss!  But, no , as it turned out restaurant workers had managed to contain the fire and the South Bend landmark was saved.

Such relief.

In the mid-1960s, Frankie’s had been a crowded, yet surprisingly quiet, hang-out, a perfect place to listen to jazz and have long heart-to-heart discussions. Many an evening Jay and I spent all evening Frankie’s without noticing that there was another soul in the place.  We drank endless refills of root beer for me and the real stuff for him.  We solved the problems

Couple in window
Photos by Tao Heftiba

of the world and the difficulties of the university system. We embraced our hopes for our nation and for ourselves. We discussed music and movies, philosophy and religion, politics and sports, families and friendships.

We never actually spoke of love, but it was the subtext of every conversation. The more we learned about each other, the more we wanted to know.  The more we knew, the less we could imagine living without this person. So, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me when on Dec. 5, 1963, Jay slide a small leather box across the table.  But it did.  It took my breath away. Intuiting a reality and staring it in the face are two entirely different experiences. I opened the box.  Inside lay a small class ring. It was an exact replica of Jay’s Notre Dame ring.

Notre Dame did not allow fraternities on campus.  The tradition of Two class rings“pinning” could, therefore, not take hold in that culture.  Instead, a form of pre-engagement, unique to that university, was “miniaturing.”  This meant that a young man committed himself to a permanent relationship with a young woman by offering her a miniature of his own class ring. (My post-feminist awareness cringes at the term, but this is now, not then.)

The ring fit perfectly.  That, as it turned out, was pure good fortune.  Jay had not realized that the rings had to be ordered ahead of time.  When he decided to ask me to commit to him, he casually went to the college bookstore to buy one of the rings and heard the bad news that it took six weeks to acquire one. But, lo and behold, a miniature containing a stone that matched Jay’s had come back into the store that morning.  The young women for whom it had been intended said, “No.” Jay blithely went off with the ring to offer it to a girl he felt pretty sure would say “Yes.”  And she did.

But, over the years, I’ve often wondered about that other girl.  Did she ever regret it?  Did they change their minds? Is she still living with her true love?

Love’s lessons I’ve learned can be harsh, but sometimes what begins as loss can turn into a win.

“I find myself becoming increasingly nostalgic for the past, but after all I suppose that is the only thing one can be nostalgic about.”
― James Rozoff

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/sentimentality

Have you had a favorite place disappear on you?  Tell us about it.

Another Kind of Winter Wonderland

Lake Michigan in winter

Surrounded as I now am – some might say crowded out by – the objects of a lifetime of collecting, I recall the simplicity of our very first apartment both with nostalgia and with dismay.

Cluttered, Rustic Room
Photo by Jonathan Borba

These memories rose up in response to twitter posts that declared that certain pieces of furniture and accessories must grace a home in order for it to proclaim, “An Adult Lives Here.”

It’s a fairly materialistic viewpoint.  Surely, our actions, rather than our possessions, mark us as true adults.   Despite this truism, the lists make fascinating reading. They give the reader insight into the personalities of the list makers as well as opportunities to debate the lists and compose one or two of their own.

After reading several articles on this subject, my imagination swung back through the years.  I realized I could still see the very first home that Jay and I called our own as vividly as if I’d just shut the door behind me.  And as I walked those rooms inside my head, I fancied myself holding one of these 21st-century commentaries. The comparison between the glossy photos and the scene that presented itself was starkly hilarious.

The apartments in our building were smaller units carved out of what had once been spacious, high-ceilinged homes on Lake Michigan. Thus, as unlikely as it seems, although Jay and I were both still in school and neither of us had full-time jobs, our very first apartment stood at the end of Columbia Avenue in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. The view from our tiny bedroom and not much bigger living area was a huge expanse of Lake Michigan and its sandy shore, both of which were encased in ice and snow most of the time we lived there.

In the middle of a Chicago winter, finding any apartment at all presented a serious challenge. Traditionally, leases turned over only in May, but this tiny space, the back third of the original third-floor apartment, became available for a four-month sublet on January 1, just two weeks after our wedding. The rent, $160 a month, stretched our meager funds to the breaking, but we only had to make it work for one season. In May we could look for something more affordable.

Chicago alley
Photo by Zachary Lisko

The unit came unfurnished. Neither of us owned a stick of furniture. Jay had been living at home between college and our wedding. I was fresh out of a college dorm. Our financial obligations included not only living expenses but also law school and college tuition.

Thanks to generous wedding guests, we had received several small practical appliances and utensils along with the not-so-useful silver tea sets and candlesticks. That was a small start. But where to sit? To study? To eat? To sleep?

With our budget bottomed out by necessities, begging was our only alternative.  And there we got lucky.

Jay’s parents had no need for his bedroom set now that he’d flown the coop.  With the help of a friend’s Volkswagen bus, we took two trips to haul a twin bed mattress set, two dressers, a bookcase, a desk, and a desk chair across the northside of Chicago from Edgebrook to Rogers Park. His Aunt Florence heard of our plight and unearthed a card table and chairs that had sat unused in her basement for a decade.

Desk by a window
Photo by Musa Bwanali

Now we could move in. The entry to the apartment was off the back alley, up the backstairs and into a four-by-five-foot glassed-in porch.  We put Jay’s old desk and desk chair on that porch and I had an instant study. I cannot say I’ve ever had a nicer one- better furnished, maybe, but a better view – never.

We settled the card table and chairs in a corner of the “living room,” a space we thought might have been a housekeeper’s room at one time. Around that table, spread with sheets of long, lined yellow paper, Jay and his fellow law-school colleagues would sit and argue casework for hours.  Not good for their eyesight since the sole source of light was a small fixture in the center of the room, but an experience that bonded them into lifelong friends.

When it was time to eat, the books and papers were shuffled to the floor or the top of the bookcase.  We ate every breakfast and dinner at home, and I packed us each a lunch. Even fast-food restaurants were out of the question. (At some distant future date, we would spend more on a meal in a high-class restaurant than we spent on groceries in those four months.)

Coffee cup on bed
Photo by Taisiia Shestopal

The dressers went into the tiny bedroom, one for each of us. It would be eight years before either of us had any other space for our folded clothes.  That left the twin bed. It did double-duty.  During the day, the pillows lined up against the wall and it was our sofa.  At night, we curled up together like proverbial spoons in a drawer and slept deeply, happy and exhausted.

I visualize myself looking at the “must-have” list in my hand. What is missing in these rooms? It depends on whose list I’ve chosen, but several objects jump right off the page. There is neither a coffee table nor a console table (I don’t think I knew what that was in 1965.). Missing in action are a “really well-made sofa,” extra chairs, an ottoman, and art on the walls.  (Oh, wait a minute, there in the hall is that strange etching Jay’s mom’s neighbor gave us.  She’ll probably never visit – it’s a three-flight walkup, but best to have it on display.)

No, not by any accepted standards was that little place an “adult” abode.  Maybe that’s why it still saddens me to think that when our sublet was over, we had to move.  I closed the door not just on my first apartment, but once and for all, on my childhood.

“I am convinced that most people do not grow up…We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias.”
― Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter

Magnolia
Photo by Anders Wetterstam

When did you realize that your youth was over?

Many Ways to Arrange a Marriage

Road between Autumn Trees
Once Upon a Thanksgiving

Arranged marriages are not the norm in modern Western society.  Yet, there can be times when either with full intent and by accident, a parent can help “arrange” a marriage for his or her child. My mother-in-law, Mary Brophy Ward by a simple act of kindness, inadvertently nudged her son into a deeply committed relationship with me much more quickly than had been his intention.

In early November 1962, Jay and I had just resumed dating. We had met the year before on a blind date, but nothing had sparked between us. Jay thought I was the kind of girl he hoped to marry someday, but he was a long way from such a serious undertaking. As for me, I was in the midst of falling deeply in love with another guy to whom I would become engaged within a few months.

Couple walking in woods
Photo by Tom the Photographer

My engagement shattered the following June.  After a long, lonely summer, I returned to college and invited Jay to a party on campus. I’d been on his mind. So, it was a welcome call. We began to see each other every weekend, usually to walk from St. Mary’s to Notre Dame and join dozens of other couples dancing to the sound of crooners the Huddle DJ preferred. Cheap, pleasant fun, it was a good, nicely-paced way to get to know each other. We both liked what we discovered.

Meet the Parents

Jay’s parents had tickets for all the Notre Dame football games. Routinely, they drove to South Bend from Chicago, attended the game, met Jay after ND lost (it wasn’t quite the same team in those days), and took him and a bunch of his friends to dinner.

The first week of November, Jay invited me to meet them. His sister Maureen was a freshman at St. Mary’s.  She and her roommate, another Maureen, would be joining us as would Maureen’s parents, who were visiting from Oregon. In those days games always started at noon and ended around three-thirty. So, after the game, we all met in Jay’s small single room in Dillon Hall for soft drinks before going out. We barely fit in the small space, which was already jammed full with a twin bed, desk, desk chair, bookcase, and lounge chair (still one of Jay’s stables). In order for us all to fit, a crowd that had grown to include Jay’s best friend Jack and his former roommate Phil, I sat on top of his desk (oh, to be that slim and nimble again).

Jay’s dad, John Francis Ward, was a member of Mayor Richard Daley’s cabinet and a no-nonsense guy when he was around family (though we had heard he could be quite a cut-up when out with friends). Mr. Ward was perturbed.

Model heart on med book
Photo by Robina Weermeier

Jay had entered Notre Dame three years before as a pre-med major.  By the end of his junior year, he had completed all his pre-med credits – and decided he didn’t want to be a doctor! His senior class roster was filled with Russian Lit and Political Science courses. His dad must have been brooded over this for a few weeks because suddenly in front of everyone he confronted Jay. “Well, son, if you aren’t going to be a doctor, then just what do you plan to do with your life?”

Priest with Chalices
Photo by Shalone Cason

The whole room hushed. Jay turned white. His freckles stood out against his pale skin, and then he gave a slow smile. “I’m going to become a priest,” he said. His timing was unfortunate.  I had a mouthful of Pepsi just sliding down my throat. It caught there.  I choked and sputtered and splattered Maureen who was sitting on the desk chair with a spray of sticky soda.

When I got my breath, I realized all eyes were on me. I could feel the warmth of my blush start on my neck and flush up to the roots of my hair. I switched the focus to Maureen. “I’m so sorry.  Are you okay?  Here I have a hanky.”

A Simple Invitation

As things calmed down, Mrs. Ward came over and engaged me in conversation. Something must be happening between her son and this girl, and she wanted to know just what.  In the conversation, it came out that I wouldn’t be going home for Thanksgiving because the trip to Minnesota was too long for the short break.  She immediately invited me to come and have Thanksgiving with them.

It wasn’t until we were married that I learned that Jay was horrified by his mother’s invitation.  He felt it defined a certain seriousness about our relationship that he had not quite come to accede to yet. But he couldn’t very well take back his mother’s invitation.

Our first Thanksgiving together was beautiful and seemingly uneventful. I came in on the South Shore electric train in the morning, enjoyed a day basking in the warmth of his large family, stuffed myself as people do on Thanksgiving, and took the last train back to South Bend that night.

Thanksgiving meal
Photo by Stephanie McCabe

As low-keyed as that Thanksgiving holiday was on the surface, at the fundamental level it marked a turning point. I spent my first holiday ever with a family not my own, moving a little further into life away from my origins. Jay, for the first time, actually saw me in the midst of his whole family, celebrating with them in their traditional way. And it felt just right.  After that weekend, he knew he could never again imagine “family” without me.

So many times Love’s Lessons have come to me during life’s celebratory seasons.  It seems that the heightened sensitivity to human connection that is integral to the holidays helps to forge new bonds as well as to cement older ones.

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie

Tell us about your first Thanksgiving with a significant other.

Defining Moments: Losing JFK

Woman mounting dark staircase
Photo by Ali Yahya
The Shock, The Tears

Cold November winds rattled the tall windows of the St. Mary’s College dining room, but I was hot and sweaty that Friday as I rushed to complete setting the tables and loading the dishwasher racks with dirty lunch dishes.  I had a train to catch. The next Thursday would be Thanksgiving, but I would be working that day.  Instead, I had the coming weekend free from Friday through Sunday evening. My excitement mounted as I ran out the kitchen door and up the five flights of stairs that led to my dorm room.  When the staircase opened into the small lounge at the end of the fifth-floor hall, I paused to catch my breath.

At that moment, I realized that although the room was packed with other girls, a weighty silence filled the room. Everyone was gathered around the radio in the corner. Many girls were crying.

“What?” I asked.

My roommate Carrie disentangled herself from the cluster, holding her finger to her lips. Tears slid down her cheeks, causing rivers in her make-up. “The President’s been shot,” she whispered.

My stomach roiled so brusquely that I had to cover my mouth to fight back nausea. “But he’ll be okay, right,” I said.

“No one knows,” Carrie said. “He’s on the way to the hospital now.”

My elation drained away. I glanced at my watch.  I still had to catch that train. The guy with whom I’d been going steady for over a year was waiting for me in Chicago. With leaden feet, I trudged back to my room, tossed my soiled white uniform on the floor, quickly washed my face and applied some lipstick (the extent of my make-up in those days). The clothes I had picked out lay ready on my bed, navy turtle neck, bright red and navy plaid wool knee-length skirt and block heel navy pumps. It had taken months to acquire that outfit, but it no longer gladdened my heart.

Lugging my suitcase, I trudged through slush across campus under the barren trees to the bus stop.  Other girls waited there and queried me.  “Have you heard anything more about Kennedy?”

“Only that the governor of Texas was shot as well.  No more news than that.” It was frustrating. On the bus ride into South Bend, the usual girlish chattering was hushed. Some girls openly prayed the rosary. I stared at the bleak November cityscape wondering how such a brilliant and bright leader could be the target of such hate.  It’s a question I’ve asked myself times past counting since then.

I couldn’t really feel joy but was so very relieved that happenstance was taking me into Chicago on that day of all days, that I could be with Jay at this difficult time.  Passengers on the South Shore train didn’t know much more than my classmates except that journalists reported that Jackie’s dress had been covered in blood as she cradled her husband’s head in her lap. It became harder and harder to hold on to the little hope I had.

Girl looking out train window
Photo by Jassir Jonis

Jay was waiting beside the track when my train screeched into the Randolph Street.  His face, which I could see through the window, was ashen. I stepped out of the train car and into his arms. From the way he clung to me, I knew we had lost our hero.

That’s who John Fitzgerald Kennedy was to the post- World War II/pre-Vietnam conflict generation. Handsome, charming and blessed with a radiant smile, he seemed a new kind of politician, dignified and intelligent, bold and brilliant in world affairs, and forward-thinking in his domestic policies.

Kennedy at Cape Canavril
Photo by History in HD
Shared Bereavement

For my cohort group, the question “Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated?” would remain a bonding conversation starter for years to come.  We would learn that like any hero he was flawed, but that didn’t mitigate our sense of having lost one of our brightest and our best.

Kennedy’s death was a turning point for me is another important respect. As soon as I first learned of the attack, I immediately knew that I needed to be where Jay was to ride out the mourning the loss would bring on. When the worse possible things happen, knowing who it is we must be with is one of the most important of Love’s Lessons.

 

 

November Blues

Remember Me Tonight
Photo by Aldo Delara

November’s dreariness often drives me to salute it with an equally bleak piece of writing.  The grey skies, the disappearance of October’s brilliant foliage, and the consistently misty mornings followed by damp, rainy days trigger my saddest memories.

As it is, I expect, with a lot of you, ruminations on failed romance and loss of love are frequent contributors to these blue moods.

While I can’t claim that my past is littered with love affairs gone awry, there were relationships that when they fell apart, ripped my heart in half and left me filled with such a depth of remorse, regret, and guilt that I couldn’t see any reason to keep living.

As this year’s somber November squats in my soul, I remember Ed. Edward was my last great love before I met my husband.  Even though Jay and I have been appreciatively married for fifty-five years, there’s still a piece of my heart that belongs to Ed.  It’s his forever.

Never Quite Prepared

Following high school, I attended St. Mary’s College on what was called the “Staff” program.  It was a wonderful opportunity created by the Sisters of the Holy Cross to help young women in financial need to earn their bachelor’s degree.  In return for thirty hours a week of dining-room service, we received room, board, and tuition.

Photo by Chuttersnap

At that time, meals at St. Mary’s were a very formal affair.  A nun sat at the head of every table and those of us who served set the table beforehand.  Once everyone was seated, we served breakfast, lunch and dinner family style.  When “sister” rose from the meal, the girls at her table were free to go – and we could begin to clear the dishes to take them back to the enormous dishwasher in the kitchen.

And that is how I met Ed.

Ed worked the dishwasher. This floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall contraption ran on a conveyor belt that poured out enormous bursts of hot steam.  To clean the dishes, you fed trays loaded with dirty plates, glasses, and cups in one end and lifted the steaming, spotless dinnerware out from the other. The nuns firmly believed that working the dishwasher was much too demanding for young women in their “CB” (the sisters’ delicate way of referring to childbearing) years. Mind you, they would have been horrified if any of us actually became pregnant!

The school administration hired local young men to run the dishwasher. Ed, the son of a local family with five boys to raise, had started working on the dishwasher in high school, which was before I entered St. Mary’s.  With his big, blue eyes, curly, sandy hair and wide smile, he quickly became a favorite with the older girls with whom he worked.

Photo by Hunter Bryant

For them, he was more a little brother than a romantic interest. When I started at St. Mary’s, Ed who graduated from high school that same year, left South Bend to go to the University of Indiana in Bloomington. So, it was nine months before I walked into the kitchen one morning to find all the seniors very excited that Ed was back for the summer.

Something Is Starting

I’ve written before about “love at first sight,” and I’ve tended to play it down.  But that June day it happened to Ed and me. Cupid not only shot us with his arrows, Venus smiled on us as well because I had already decided to stay at St. Mary’s for the summer.  Thus, Ed and I were thrown together daily and soon getting together as often in the evening as my curfew allowed.

Couple sitting by river
Photo by Justin Groep

Romantic was Ed’s middle name. He brought me daisies for breakfast.  He bought me books of romantic poetry and inscribed poems to me on their inside covers. We spent long hours sitting on the banks of the St. Joe River, discussing our philosophies of life.

He loved jazz and gave me one by one an enormous collection of jazz records to play so we could talk about the artists.  Sadly, there was no place we could listen to music together.  Guys were forbidden entrance to dorm rooms.  His mother wouldn’t hear of him entertaining me in their home.  His school was 400 miles away.  And jazz clubs only seated the over-21 crowd.

Still, our affection for one another grew steadily and our sheer happiness in just being together blossomed like a wildflower garden.  Summer ended, but our love did not.  We wrote one another almost daily. We phoned each other weekly despite how outrageously expensive that was. Whenever Ed came home, we spent every spare minute together.  We plotted a future – living in New York City.  He would be a poet and I would be a journalist. We’d live in Greenwich Village, true Bohemians. Perhaps, we’d even move to Paris or Barcelona. Our dreams had no boundaries.

In January, I took the bus to Bloomington to bunk with a girlfriend there and spend the weekend with Ed. It was then I met his roommate Phillip.  Phillip was a dedicated philosopher and something new to the naïve Catholic girl I had been until that time – an atheist. Phillip expounded at length on the reasons God couldn’t exist and the foolishness of religion.  He frightened me because I could see Ed really admired him.

Ed came to St. Mary’s for Valentine’s Day – with a ring.  It wasn’t a diamond.  He and I would have disdained such a bourgeois tradition.  The ring’s stone was a lovely oval opal that shimmered like a rainbow.  It had belonged to his grandmother. When he asked if I would accept her ring and be willing to become family with him, I, of course, vowed I would.  Suddenly I was engaged.  There was so much excitement in the dorm and the kitchen the next morning.  All our friends were elated.

Blow the Whole Thing Up

At Easter, the ax fell. Home for the spring holidays, Ed joined me that Sunday after his family dinner.  He led me to our favorite place by the river. There, he explained to me that he had become convinced that Phillip was right.  God didn’t exist and only fools believed such nonsense.  If Cupid’s arrow had pierced my heart sweetly, this arrow hit with such pain, I almost doubled over.  I tried to convince him he was wrong.  He couldn’t throw away a lifetime of faith.  I mounted every argument I could.  (I had after all received an “A” on my paper, “Proof That There Are Angels.”)  He remained firm.  We parted uneasily.

For the next week, I brooded over our encounter.  Could I marry a man who didn’t believe in God? I talked it over with some of the girls who’d known Ed for longer than I had.  Some thought he’d change again someday.  But I wasn’t sure. Others didn’t believe religious differences were important enough to trouble a loving committed relationship.  I, however, felt this went deeper than “religious differences.”  But I yearned to be with Ed.  I loved how I felt when I was with him.  He made me feel like the most special woman who had ever walked the earth.  He was kind, affectionate, passionate, and smart. That should count for more than this question about God.  Shouldn’t it?

But, in the end, it didn’t.  When I thought about having children with a man who would refuse to allow them to live a life of faith, I could not fathom such a future. My claim to Bohemianism fell apart in the face of my rock-solid Catholicism.  I give up not only on a relationship, but on a version of myself.

I called Ed and said I was coming to see him.  The bus ride down to Bloomington seemed like the longest trip of my life.  He was stunned. He begged me to reconsider. But after weeks of arguing with myself, my heart and mind were set.  Only Phillip understood – and that was no consolation.

The trip back I cried the whole way. I had broken two hearts.  I had ruined a beautiful relationship, and maybe for reasons that didn’t make any sense.  My heart still aches when I remember that journey.

Couple letting go of each other's hands
Photo by Brooke Cagle

Some of life’s heartbreaks I chose and had to live with. It didn’t make them any less shattering.

“How I wish to fly with the geese away from dreary November days, the “freeze-up,” and cruel winter. Away from loneliness, isolation, and anxiety bred by blizzards. . . . The geese contaminate us with this strange depression on their southbound flight and cure us with their northbound. In between, we try to tolerate winter, each in his or her own way.”
 Anne LaBastilleWoodswoman I: Living Alone in the Adirondack Wilderness

Take a Break from “Real” Life, Go to College

Woman w backpack
What’s better than Gold?
word "senior"
Photo by Jen Thelodore

“Better than Golden.”  That’s my official designation in the eyes of the St. Mary’s College alumnae office. My fifty-year reunion has come and gone. With all the other members of the noble class of 1964, my alma mater now declares that I am welcome to celebrate every year – not just every five years!

The intriguing twist for me is that I officially belong to the class of 1964, the year, which would mark the end of four years of college study.  The class designation remained unchanged even though I received my B.A. in 1967.

I strongly suspect that this tradition stems from the fact that many young women left college before graduating. As an all-women college, St. Mary’s could not afford to lose the support of its alumnae simply because they didn’t graduate.  Thus, every “Belle,” the nickname for a St. Mary’s girl, remained forever a member of her traditional graduating class no matter when, or even if, she achieved that honor.

Dormitory Bubble
dorm room
Photo by Marcus Loke

Going to college was a bifurcated experience for me. The September following my high school graduation, I moved into a dormitory and began not just another level of academic study, but an interim level of independent living.  No longer under my parents’ thumb, I was nonetheless bound by the strict rules that governed dorm life at a Catholic Women’s college. Rules, which had held sway for decades but would seem laughable to students in ten years, bound every aspect of our life.

Bible w daisies
Photo by Anuja Mary

We signed in and out of our dorms when we left campus. Our lights had to be turned off by ten-thirty every evening. We ate all three meals formal style in the dining hall with each table headed by a nun of the Holy Cross order, which ran the school. Almost our entire course schedule was predetermined. Theology and Philosophy were a part of every student’s curriculum whether they major in Chemistry or Education. Course work was rigorous and difficult.

Where the Boys Are
ND library
Photo by Cong Wong

This rather bleak picture isn’t, of course, the whole story.  We were, after all, twentieth-century American girls, and across the highway was Notre Dame – 6,000 college guys, mixers, football, and parties. We decisively manipulated the rules and carved out enough freedom to take full advantage of this extraordinary opportunity.  Indeed, one of the major reasons so many St. Mary’s women didn’t finish college was they left school to marry a Notre Dame guy when he graduated.

I was among those that left before completing my degree work. Because I had worked thirty hours a week on campus, I wasn’t allowed to carry a full load of courses and couldn’t graduate in 1964.  Nonetheless, I followed Jay to Chicago certain I could earn the remaining credits at Chicago area schools and have them transferred back to St. Mary’s.

So-Called Real Life

In one way, I was right. It could be done.  But it wasn’t easy.  I entered a wholly different mode of “going to college” when I became a “day” rather than a “dorm” student. Every year, thousands of students manage to get to classes, do research, study for exams and gain college credits that lead to degrees while at the same time “carrying on with life.” But, as a scholar who lived four years in a dorm and multiple years as a student outside that protective bubble, I’m willing to put my money on dorm life anytime.

College lecture room
Photo by Mikael Kristenson

One of the first disadvantages I discovered when I switched to being a day student at Roosevelt University was the disappearance of the easy comradery of dorm life. Sleeping, showering, dressing, eating and recreating in the same place with the students who were my classmates solidified our bonds quickly.  This meant friends to share your studies with at times that were convenient to arrange and with people you trusted and whose trust you had earned.

As a day student, I seldom ran into the same student more than once.  We moved quickly from class to class.  They, like me, had other obligations that pulled them off campus after classes were over.  That other world that we all were hurrying off to was our “real” world.

Man running
Photo by Andy Beales

When I lived at St. Mary’s, the college was my real life. It was everything and nothing was more important.  Now that I’d left that behind, going to school was only a part of life, one of the many things taking up space in my daily/weekly schedule.  Much more exciting was planning my wedding in the first year and the joy of being married after that.  Much more involving was my work.  As a caseworker for Cook County Department of Child and Family Services, I spent my weekdays trying to help families survive financial and emotional crises.  The urgency of these not only drained my energies, they made my school work seem inconsequential.

Finally, I truly missed the easy access to faculty. It takes times to build a working partnership with a professor who can mentor you through the difficult projects required to earn your degree. It had definitely been easier to get to know my teachers when so many of them shared three meals a day with the students.  That particular perk was unique to a place and time and isn’t necessarily endemic to dorm life.  What is common, however, is that students who have the opportunity to live in the dorms generally are full-time students.  This gives them more chances to seek out advisors and build the relationships that are a cornerstone of successful academic careers.

Since this take on dorm versus day student life comes from my own memories and experiences, I’d very much like to hear from readers what they think.  What are some of the awful things about dorm life?  What are some the advantages of being a day student?

Let me know.

“Wisdom is nothing more than confirmed imagination: just because one did not study for his exam does not mean that he should leave it blank.”
― Criss Jami, Killosophy

 

 

September – The Great Birthday Month

September Babies
Babies in a heart
Photo by Travis Grossen

All sorts of scientific and not-so-scientific studies point out that September is “baby” month in the United States of America. According to the statistics-loving journalist, Matt Stiles, nine out of ten of the most popular birthdates are in September.

Double Digit Magic
Concrete steps marked 7
Photo by Gayatri Malhotra

And mine is one of those. Today I “celebrate” my 77th birthday.  In other words, I have completed seventy-seven years (outside my mother’s womb) on planet Earth. I really like the look and sound of 77. Culturally speaking, 7 is considered by many to be a lucky number.  That makes double 7s twice as lucky.  Thus, I find myself pondering what good fortune might be coming my way this year.

For the coming year, I’ve chosen Love Lessons Learned: The First Five Years as the theme for my blog posts. Within that focus double sevens resonate with double twos. When I turned twenty-two in 1964, a melancholy swept over me, a feeling totally discordant with my perceived life situation.

Why So Melancholy?

A beautiful pear-shaped diamond sparkled on my left ring finger.  Jay and I daily explored potential sites for a wedding reception. I found the perfect bridal gown on sale for $50 in Michigan Avenue’s Blum Vogue. Elegant invitations flew to the four corners of the country asking family and friends to join our celebration.

Couple holding hands
Photo by Tyler Nix

About to take off on love’s great adventure, my 22nd birthday should have found me bursting with joy. Instead, I couldn’t shake the feeling that all the important milestones of my life were over. That is how seriously we take birthdays in our culture.  A day that shows up once a year every year, looking for the most part like any other day,  becomes for us as important as a holiday. And up until that year, I could always look forward to certain birthdays that would mark a significant turning point in my life.

It started when I counted down the days to my fifth birthday, the day I ould go to Kindergarten. Sure, my mom had to walk me there, but just the same, I was going to school with the “big” kids.  I might have been among the youngest of that cohort, but I was decisively not a “baby” anymore!

demitasse cups
Photo by Emma Smith

Five years later came the big One-Zero.  It was so exciting to be a double-digit kid.  That novelty would definitely wear off, but right then it was a big deal.  Because it was such a very special birthday, my grandmother and my mother gave a tea party for ten of my friends, a highly unusual event in our working-class Detroit neighborhood.  Mom set up the living room with card tables and fancy linens.  Grandma Luger, who worked in a gift shop, brought home ten demi-tasse cups in a variety of pastels to grace the tables. Mom bought delicately decorated little cakes from Kaufman’s, the German bakery on Wyoming Avenue.  At the end of this enchanting afternoon, each young guest went home with a teacup of her own.

Sixteen! Who doesn’t yearn for 16? I could hardly wait.  By that time, we were living in suburban Indiana. Getting a license to drive our family car overpowered every other wish in my life.  I don’t remember the party at all.  I just recall the sheer joy of getting behind the enormous wheel of our 1948 tank of a Chevrolet, sliding forward to control the pedals and backing out of our driveway and taking off, ostensibly into the neighborhood, but in reality into the world on my own.

Just before the melancholy twenty-second had been the glorious twenty-first when I gained the twin responsibilities of voting and legal drinking.

John Kennedy
Photo by History in HD

John Kenneday had run for president the year I turned eighteen. It frustrated me that I couldn’t vote for him. Now on September 8, 1963, I resolved to cast my vote for him for his next term, never having the slightest premonition that we would soon lose our dynamic young leader.

A year later turning 22 felt like a non-event.  Although I would be married that year, being twenty-two years old was not a factor in that choice.  I could have married the year before or not for another five years if a life partner had come into my life at a different time.  In a year I’d be 23 and my life would be pretty much unchanged –no new “firsts.”

To my twenty-something brain, life had hit a plateau, one long cycle of “being grown-up.” It sounded like a broken gong, ringing with a dull thud.

At seventy-seven I can look back and laugh at that girl, but I do still understand her.  She couldn’t know what I know – how many adventures lay ahead and how they had nothing to do with birthdays.  But, that was okay. I’m glad I didn’t know the future then. It would be filled with challenges I might have felt inadequate to handle. Fear and anxiety could wait as could joy and triumph. Just as I acknowledge it was a gift that the twenty-two-year-old Jule couldn’t foresee the future,  I sense that truth remains in place.  I’ll know more later.  And that’s as it should be. Lottery balls spinning

Photo by Dylan NolteI’m content to wait and see what fortune has in store for me this lucky 77th year.

The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.       Madeleine L’Engle