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

Labor of Love – Seeking Work We Want

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Work

As a nation, the United States of America this weekend celebrates “Labor.”  Ironically, we celebrate work, but taking a day to do just the opposite – relax, take time away from whatever ‘labor’ claims so many of our waking hours.

Man and baby on a dock
Photo by Caleb Jones

While there may be some of you out there who jumped on a career track early in your adult life and ran that engine until it was time to take it back to the roundhouse, I suspect that’s not the usual story.  It certainly wasn’t for me.

In this blog dedicated to exploring Love’s Lessons, pondering “work” brings back vivid memories of facing the tough reality that if Jay and I were committed to our dream of living together, such an arrangement meant the end of parental support.

To say that one cannot live on love alone is a cliché for a reason – it’s a bald truth.  When I left St. Mary’s College to move to Chicago so that I could be married, I left behind food and shelter not just course work and studies. Maybe most importantly, I walked away from my job working in the college dining hall.

Seeking Work

Looking for labor was the stand-out theme of Summer, 1964, for me. Ironically, my four-year stint in the college dining room didn’t at all prepare me to be an actual restaurant waitress nor did I have any ambition to throw myself into a field of endeavor that would certainly prove simply a stop-gap step.

Inside of diner in black and white
Photo by Elizabeth Lies

As far back as I could remember, my life ambition had been to be a journalist. Advancing toward this goal, however, had resembled waves upon the shore, surging and receding. At age thirteen, I submitted a story to Catholic Girl magazine, which was accepted for publication. Early in my freshman year of high school, I interviewed a local journalist, who then became a supportive mentor for the rest of my high school year.  Those years saw me spending hours working for the Munsonian, our high school newspaper.  In my senior year, I served as editor of the Magician, our yearbook.  The 1960 Magician won an All-American Award, one of only four yearbooks to do so that year.

I felt like I was on my way. But then the roadblocks started appearing.  My family finances precluded my attending college except on full scholarship. None of the universities with prestige journalism programs were willing to offer me such an award.  I did receive such a promise from St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame, Indiana.  That determined my college choice.

And here’s where the frying pan hits the fire.  SMC had no journalism program.  In fact, their self-described mission declared that they were not a “career” college.  Rather the school prided itself in educating young women in the liberal arts and sciences. The subtext here reads, “We are preparing young women to be wives for education, professional men.”

It would be three more years before Betty Frieden sparked the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century, but many young women were already banging their heads against glass ceilings without knowing why they felt so battered. I bent under its restrictions and majored in English Writing.

Girl alone in woods
Photo by Andrew Neel

Flash forward to that summer of 1964 – even though I lacked a formal journalism education, I decided to go for a spot in my dream world.  Advertised job openings remained elusive, and I knew no one in Chicago in the industry. I tried sales and gave it up within two weeks – having not earned a single commission. I did a stint of doing telephone surveys and kind of liked it, but it was hourly wage and dead end.  I kept watching the want ads.

Then, miraculously The Wall Street Journal ran an ad for a Chicago area reporter in mid-July.  I applied and they called me in for an interview. Over the moon with excitement, I carefully dressed as professionally as possible, given my wardrobe still remained a collage of leftovers from college.  The interviewer, a young man with a nice smile, asked about my ambitions and seemed impressed by my enthusiasm and experience.  They had liked my writing sample.

Interviewer at desk
Photo by David Veksler

Then the bottom dropped out. “We’d like to offer you the position,” he said, “But I’m wondering what your living situation is.”

At twenty-two, I had never applied for a professional position before and St. Mary’s had no career counseling center. Naively, I explained I had moved to Chicago to be with my finance.  We would be married soon, and I would be supporting us while he continued with law school.

The interviewers smile disappeared. “I’m afraid, then,” he said, “we cannot offer you this job after all.”

My insides had turned to Jell-O, but I managed, “Why. I don’t understand.”

“Well, we don’t pay women enough to support themselves. As a new female reporter your starting salary would be $350 a month.  You couldn’t possibly support two people on that wage.”

I really wanted to argue, but nothing in my experience had given me the vocabulary to refute his argument.  And the finality of his tone let me know that the interview was over.

He stood, reached out his hand, and said, “It’s been very nice meeting you.”

I don’t remember what I said, but I certainly hope I wasn’t polite.

“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it” 
― Buddha

 

Radical Promises

Roses circle hearts entwined

Until the twelfth of never

There is no more radical promise than to say to another human being “I will love you, forever.” Yet, every day, thousands of lovers all over the world make this promise, secretly, at city hall, and in churches. Hundreds of mothers and fathers whisper it as their child is laid in their arms for the first time. Over and over again this promise is made as though it were the simplest thing on earth – and all that time the words remain the most radical ones ever uttered.

I invite you to explore this concept with me as it has been reflected in my life and to share how you see it manifested in your own. This website is not just a journal.  It’s a conversation, a dialogue. Please do read on, but also let us know how this resonates with your own story.

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Not All Ugly Ducklings Are in Fairy Tales

Love on the Horizon

Vintage classroom
Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton

September 8, 1955 arrived with little fanfare. Sure, now I was officially a “teenager.” Yet, nothing changed.  Dwight Eisenhower was the president and from my uninformed perspective seemed to be presiding over a country of peace and substance.

My parents’ and my grandparents’ stories of the Great Depression, tales told of deprivation, jobs loss, homelessness, and a constant struggle to attain even the basic necessities were the morality plays of my youth. That those experiences prefaced the sacrifices and tragedies of six years of global warfare meant that the children of my era listened to multiple lectures on the good fortune of full lunch boxes and home tables steaming with abundant food. So, we kept our dislike of vegetables to ourselves and cleaned our plates.

Parents reminded us daily how lucky we were to have a roof over our head and a family car to take on actual vacations.  No complaining allowed when crowded into the backseat with no air-conditioning and several siblings.

Wearing actual store-bought clothing was also high on the list of blessings for which we had to be grateful – and that was actually a rare opportunity. Big families made hand-me-downs pretty common.  I gloated in being the “biggest” – oldest of all the cousins in the family – there was no one to hand down to me.

The one glitch in these secure lives were the regular school drills in which we practiced crouching beneath our desks in case of an enemy bombing. Our true sense of security came, however, from living in Detroit, Michigan. We felt far away from the range of Russian bombers. If anything, we worried more about invasions from Mars.

But I was about to experience three turning points much more unsettling than mere Martian landings.

First, my acne began to clear up, to gradually fade away without leaving any scars. Not only did my skin clear up, but I slimmed down.  I didn’t actually lose any weight, but I grew several inches without gaining a single pound.

Following this physical transformation came a social one. I was elected President of Mary’s Sodality, a school organization to which all the girls from grades five through eight belonged. We met regularly to say the Rosary and dedicate our lives to the service of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  There had been no campaign for the presidency of the group. It was strictly a write-in vote. I had no idea that so many girls in school even knew me, let alone thought of me as a model of the good Catholic girl.

With the presidency came a very special privilege. I would crown the statue of Mary with roses at the end of the May, the month dedicated to the Virgin.  For that occasion, my mother tailored her wedding dress so that it fit me. Feeling gloriously beautiful as I marched solemnly down the aisle behind a double row of choir boys, I glowed with anticipation. At the foot of the ladder, I faltered, but swallowed hard, tentatively put one foot on a step and tripped into the veiling covering the ladder. Altar boys grabbed me from either side. I put my shoulders back, pulled up the wedding dress’s long skirt and cautiously made my way to the top. Balancing myself against the cold marble statue with my left hand, I practically threw the flower crown at Mary’s head with my right. Done. I literally slid back down.

The third major event of that year set my whole life on a different course. My father asked all the kids to remain at the dinner table after dessert one night in April. This was unprecedented since ordinarily I would have been expected to immediately start clearing plates and doing the dishes. Dad announced that we were going to be moving.  In June as soon as I graduated from the eighth grade, he was accepting a job in Indiana.

The idea of leaving Detroit and starting life in a new state elated me. I had tried that year to enter the Adrian Dominican Postulancy, thinking I wanted to become a religious sister.  Deemed not ready for this decision by the nuns and broken-hearted by the rejection, I saw my dreams wash away and leave an empty shore.

Indiana sounded somehow adventurous, a clean break. Almost everyone in my Detroit neighborhood was Catholic, I’d be moving to a small city with only one Catholic church and no Catholic high school.  I would attend, instead, a public school for the first time.

Okay, I decided. “Good-bye, good little Catholic girl. Time to go looking for love.”

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No I Haven’t Given Up Blogging

Simply Took a Technical Break

It has been most gratifying that many friends and family members asked me, “Why aren’t you blogging anymore? I really liked your stories.”

So, I happily announce that I never intended to disappear from cyberspace for quite such a prolonged period of time.  I simply wanted to hone up on my creative technical skills to bring you a livelier experience.

Rainbow over Waverly

And … the learning curve has arced much higher and farther than I expected.

The good news is I’ve developed some new exciting goals and renamed my new website with the intention of offering a more “hybrid” experience to my faithful readers.  I’ll continue to blog about “Love’s Life Lessons,” but will also be offering permanent links to my other creative writing efforts.

The new site will offer links to short stories, chapters of novels I’m working on, and short-short relationship guides.

The most significant new focus of the site will be building community among the readers through online group programs and live interactive discussions about love and committed relationships of all kinds.

So stay tuned, the best is yet to come.

Much love,

Jule

I’m back! Check it out.

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