A Night to Remember

As the leaves blow and the wind turns, my thoughts return to a time similar to this, a fall season 54 years ago. From an eternity viewpoint, it was just like today, except for different players: leaves in the street, children playing in piles of leaves, people holding their coats tightly around them as the upcoming winter winds began to practice on their fall coats. Our wedding would be tomorrow night, Thanksgiving eve.

It was a time of magic, a time of wonder, a time of love, a time when nothing was impossible and everything was achievable. My wife was in college and I was in the Air Force; our time together seemed endless and we never thought of growing older, only of being together. The future seemed to be within our grasp, yet we knew nothing of it. We asked nothing, we sought no assurances, we begged no insurance. Each day together was a day of laughter, a day of giggles, a day of discovery of each other and a day to draw closer together.

It was a time of no indebtedness or commitments other than to each other. No home, no car, no phone, no credit card, no bills, no children. I relish that time and would love to relive that fall. Nothing else seemed to matter so long as we were together — and we wouldn’t have understood any of the bigger world anyway.

Within four years we would have a car, a dear son, bills to pay, insurance to understand and careers to consider, but not now. We were married that fall and spent the next year in Hampton, Virginia, while I was stationed at Langley Air Force Base. Penniless were we. But rich also. I recall our biggest and proudest purchase was a 9 x 12 rug, paper thin, to put in our tile-floored apartment living room. Suddenly, we felt wealthy. I recall another occasion where my bride purchased some inexpensive drapes from a discount store to create the illusion of a dining room in our small apartment. We felt so excited that first night at dinner to have a curtain separating our table from the living area. It was a sense of elegance, privacy and intimacy that would otherwise not be present in the apartment. She made that happen.

A special night that first year: I remember a night of memories and dreams. On a dark night, in the midst of a rain shower, my wife and I took a walk through a nearby non-military residential area. As the rain poured off our umbrella, and as we dodged cars and gullies, we envied the lights in the homes we passed: families that were together with no commitment to leave each other, families that were free to pursue their lives, families that had established their roots and careers. Standing there in the cold rain, those houses seemed warm, inviting and providing safe havens, a world far removed from us and a reminder that we had only each other. We longed for that security, yet knew it would not be soon, if ever. That night — that rainy walk — still seems like yesterday. At that time we already knew that our lives would be separated for 18 months while I was stationed in the Mediterranean. We purchased a Mizpah coin to share and, yes, we still have the coin.

But back to that fall of 54 years ago. Thanksgiving eve was the day for our marriage and we had no car to get to or from the church. A major snowfall was in the forecast and we had no means of transportation. We had rented a tiny apartment; a kitchen/dining room/living room, a small bedroom of maybe 12 x 15, and a bathroom where we could not stand erect because the apartment was in an attic. I managed to rent a 2-door 1948 Dodge sedan from a fellow airman to take us from the church to the reception (my wife’s parents’ house) and then back to our apartment. Despite all, we have memory-filled pictures to show how happy we were in our small world; we had the joy of being poor and not knowing it.

Looking back, I am thankful for the memories, but they are just that, memories. We went through those early years succcessfully, but I would not want to ever do that again. Being separated for 18 months was painful; our only means of communication was the postal letter. Today, snow is in the forecast, just as it was that dark, windy night 54 years ago. The calendar has repeated: Thanksgiving eve and snow. Life is good.

In rereading this post, I am wondering why I write this. Generally, reflecting on the past is rarely constructive and usually destructive. Looking back deprives us from looking to the future. Still, I found strength in reliving those memories. Maybe it’s the timing; our anniversary is here and recalling early challenges restores those initial feelings of commitment and hope, revisiting the foundation and initial milestones of a lifetime relationship. Looking back is a process that I enjoy to aid me in finding the decisions made that brought me to today. That is my rudder. And tomorrow we celebrate that Thanksgiving Eve of 54 years ago.