Carol Jane Remsburg
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL
Human nature makes few of us loners, yet even most of us who are loners find another loner to share our life with. There is some spark that erupts to bring two people together. If it’s true and strong, those two bond and eventually cohabitate with or without the sanctity of religion or society’s rules. People bond, join, and enrich each other. Often, though, that enrichment and sharing is done through true platonic friendship, but this isn’t was this writing is about. It’s about the real, down and dirty deal of marriage.
You might room with your best friend for a time just to share expenses. That friendship will be tested in strange ways, but it’s livable because both parties know that it isn’t forever. You may share the apartment or the house, but you still don’t sleep with them. Once that happens—and once a commitment is made things get strange.
This is a journey of remembrance so you’ll have to bear with me. It’s memory lane time. Through the sometimes rocky road we’ve traveled, I’m still amazed that the thrill is still there and we are both still breathing. Come with me in a time warp.
We met in the usual way, via work. There was one date, then another, only to be followed by a third which was indeed a surprise, but a nice one. The first date was just a movie, though marked on the calendar on March 16th, 1979, the real meeting of the minds was less than two weeks later. It was a brisk, rather frigid late March night. We had no money to go anywhere, but we liked to talk, debate, and exchange ideas. I had enough gas in the old bomb I was driving, so we drove to the beach. It gave us time to talk, and when we got there we wandered towards the water’s edge.
Actually it was freezing, but at the last 50 yards or so, I held out my hand to my more reserved companion and issued a challenge to run with me. To my surprise, he didn’t hesitate. He grabbed my hand and we ran, exhilarated by the cold, the crashing waves, and the clear night sky. When we stopped, breathless, no words were spoken. This gentle, shy man, held me close for the first time and kissed me. Remember this was our third date. I had begun to wonder. I had no need to wonder any longer. The man whose depths I already knew went very deep gave me the 4th of July in the barrens of a bone-chilling March night under the stars.
The courtship progressed in the usual fashion, dull sometimes though spiked with some fabulous disagreements from time to time. Then, finally, came the non-proposal that I knew I’d never get from this “non-marrying” type of fellow—even his mother thought that. That happened in February of 1981. Goodness, by May of 1979, I “knew” he was the one. It had been a long wait, yet with a twist. Due to a work conference, I was out of town and he couldn’t reach me via phone. It worried and upset him. By the time I arrived home, he had worried himself into such a state, he proposed. I had only been gone two days. For me, that interlude of coming home and into his arms was idyllic. His normally so stoic self was gone, his true feelings to the fore. There was no bended knee or romantic soliloquies. It wasn’t necessary. He had run out and bought a small diamond ring on credit. It wasn’t unique or much different than the millions of others out there, but it was mine. He slowly opened the box, while we sat at dining room table of my family’s home and slid it gently onto my finger without words. His eyes said it all. Of course, being the weepy type, I cried.
He picked the date; I picked the place. We’ve always been very democratic that way. Don pulled out the almanac, for what reason I still don’t understand; yet I think he wanted to find a “good” date. He did, it was 9-18-81. It’s a very unique date. It’s 9 squared. Okay, so he’s a little strange, aren’t we all? Me, I picked the place, of course, my hometown, St. Michaels, some 60 miles away. The reception was to be at my parents' home in Salisbury. Talk about your road-trip fiascoes, it was tremendous. His family lived on the western shore, my family here. Everyone was driving and there was my mom leading the way for the wedding guests who had no idea where they were going. It was longer and more debilitating that a huge funeral procession, only with more grousing.
Of course it rained. And, of course, my only pair of panty hose ran, and I had to get Daddy to stop at a convenience store to buy a pair. I had a total of five minutes to put on my “best” face at my grandmother’s house before running off to the church. We got to the church, Daddy and I, with only Father Etherton there.
It was only the three of us there as the rains pounded that grand old grey stone church. I alighted to the balcony which has the best view of everything. It was where I played so often as a child, and where, normally the choir gets attired. Dad left me, and my borrowed wedding gown (hey money was tight—I fit into my sister’s, Melly’s, cast-off gown, so who cares). Then I began to ready myself—only I got stuck. I mean really stuck. I was half-in and half-out of the gown and couldn’t move. So I called for the man I’d called for since birth. “Daddy!” He’s never, ever let me down.
The church, which has great acoustics by the way, echoed resoundingly. Daddy thumped up the stairs to my rescue. Now tell me, how many brides have their fathers dress them for their wedding? Not many, that I’ll tell you. However, it was my best gift. With his perpetual sad eyes, he deftly sorted me out and back into the dress with gentle care. They certainly don’t make them like they used to. He was a gent of the old school.
The second best gift was to watch Father Etherton light the “stately old” candelabras that had been hidden away rather than the new ones. This chore he did himself. It was the “old” service that I’d requested. I tried not to cry as both my sisters, who’d arrived by then beseeched me not to ruin my makeup—in stereo. It was like a view on the top of the world.
I stood there in the balcony to watch all the proceedings. All my grandmother’s friends came, for this was “her” town. My maternal grandfather made his rather shocking entrance, making my soon-to-be mother-in-law pale to the gills and then blush profusely. I only laughed for it was a memory worth cherishing. He was nearing 90, sickly, and had suffered several strokes. His, “What am I doin’ in this Goddamn Church?” echoed throughout the hall. It was pure Fritz and the community, at least, knew him well. Even Father Etherton smothered a smile. Oh, what a day—I howled with laughter. I do believe my pending in-laws began to worry then. Everything had gone wrong, so I knew all had to go right in the future. I’d resigned myself to the promise that if I ended up “married” by the day’s end then all would indeed be wonderful. Nothing else mattered.
I’d seen too many weddings dissolve into a mishmash of having to have things perfect. I’d witnessed shaky, tearful brides, green grooms, and families at each other's throats. This was my day and I was going to have a great time. I didn’t care; everything was going to be funny. That was until I had to descend the stairs. I may have been in a borrowed dress, but I had bought all I could afford in shoes, $35 for a pair of white linen 4” spike pumps. They were killing me in ways I’d still rather not think about. The congregation that knew me wasn't holding their breath because I was such a beautiful bride either. I’m not called Calamity Jane for nothing. There was a 6-2 spread on the bet that I’d tumble down those stairs before even encroaching on the aisle. Meanwhile, Dear Dad held me tightly, for if he hadn’t all those folks wouldn’t have lost their bets. By the time I hit the aisle, the faces in the pews became a fog. I knew it was truly real. My focus was on my groom. I leveled a laser beam on him. We made eye contact and I think it suddenly hit him then. If his dad hadn’t have been his best man, I think he would have buckled right there.
It was a very long aisle. This church is no cathedral, but it’s old and makes its weight felt. These vows were not to be taken lightly. This was the church my mother and father were married in and where she had been the organist in for 14 years long ago. This was the same church my family had attended since before it had been rebuilt from the great fire in the 1700’s, and naturally, my grandmother “owned” it. Not monetarily, but just by her sheer presence. I’d cheerfully fulfilled the promise I’d given my grandmother when I was five years-old that I’d get married in this church. It couldn’t be anywhere else. It just couldn’t, for I wouldn’t feel married.
The words I remember most of the service were, “ I plight thee my troth.” I did. I still do. The “in sickness and in health” part were in there too, but it was all so surreal. I remembered during the ceremony that I became sort of detached from it all. Call it a religious experience or that I was simply too numb with happiness. My coherent mind noted that I’d never before had such an opportunity to notice how handsomely eloquent that Father Etherton spoke. Now, I was only a foot or so away from him. I must have stared at him like some psychotic Moony. When it was over, we escaped, back into the rain for the caravan ride back to my parents’ home for the reception.
Once there and inside, the rain stopped, the sun came out of hiding and shone with a glory. The two families that should have been joyfully united held separate camps. The in-laws in the living room, the partiers in the den, and some actually mingled in the backyard and became acquainted. Don briefly mentioned that I might want to relieve myself of the gown for something less formal, but I wasn’t doing anything close. I can live it up in whalebone if I have to. The gown was part of the scene; I kept it on for a few more hours.
We did the normal toast, cake cutting, and mingling. Things began to thin out around 8ish. By 9 PM only the diehards were still there. We got kicked out at 10 PM. “No fair,” I said. This was my day and I wasn’t ready to “go home.” We got kicked out anyway. Parents can be such a drag. Besides, I think we were slowing their party down.
We arrived home. There wasn’t to be a honeymoon because we hadn’t the funds or the time available. We had all of a day and a half before he had to return to work, and two days for me. I’d gotten everything made “just nice” two days before. Don, who’d been staying there during that time had wrecked it in search of a lost tie. Then, I come to find out my other sister, Betsy, had “cornflaked” my bed. Okay, here it is, 10:30 PM on my wedding night. My house is a disaster. What do I do? I clean it. Don plops down ever so casually to watch a movie that I’ll never forget—THE CANNONBALL RUN. I spent the next 1 ½ hours straightening, washing up the kitchen and bathroom, vacuuming, and cleaning up the cornflake mess in the bedroom. When I finished and hit the showers, I wasn’t in a romantic mood. That did change later, much later. He’s not called Don Juan for nothing.
There have been marriages before and marriages after our union. Come this Friday, the 18th, we’ll have been married 17 years. It’s a landmark that many of today’s couples don’t reach. For us, it was those vows we exchanged and where we did it. To abandon them without just cause would be spitting in the face of God. Don’t mind the religious bend, just take your choice, choose your vow, but don’t disavow it. Bad, very bad karma will get you.
It’s the sharing of secret hopes and dreams along with the toothpaste, towels, and bedcovers. It isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun. It’s financial disagreements, child rearing, and socks that don’t find the hamper. However, when you marry your very best friend who can also make the sun burst for you—and make you laugh, well, that’s the reason we’ll be married until “death do us part.”