Since Sunday is Mother’s Day, I thought this image from the past would be appropriate. I don’t have a date for this photo, but it was around 1993 as far as I can tell (going by my glasses frame). My favorite memory of her is the night we all went skinny dipping in the neighbor’s pool. It makes me realize that my mom spent most of her life doing what she thought was expected of her instead of doing things she loved. She raised four of us kids. We never wanted for food, shelter, clothing. That takes a lot more moxie than I could have imagined as I grew up. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.
The rehearsal was Thursday night. On Friday, Harry and I had our suitcases packed (he almost made it out of the house without his sister throwing rice into his suitcase). We dropped the car and suitcases off at the apartment of one of my teaching colleagues for safety’s sake.With a LOT of help, we were ready for the big day. I had read that there is always something that goes awry, and I determined to stay calm no matter what.
Saturday morning, I got up early to get my nails and hair done. I picked at some food and in an eternally short moment it was time for my dad to take me to the church. The gown in the car? Check. Engagement ring on my right hand? Check. Harry’s wedding band? Check. Then we took the longest five-minute ride to the church that I can remember.
My bridesmaids helped me dress, and the photographer took the before pictures. Harry was down the hall and when he left the men’s dressing room, his sisters filled his clothes with rice.
The wedding was set for 1 p.m. and it was about half past noon when one of my attendants announced that the flowers had not yet come. Music played. The soloist sang. Still no flowers. My friend made phone calls. Repeatedly. I was breathing and in my happy place. Finally, at five minutes till one, men dressed in T-shirts and cutoffs carried potted plants lumbered down the aisle.
The groom and groomsmen entered the church, and the organist began playing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. The bridesmaids began to sway down the aisle. My sister, my maid of honor went next. Our sweet flower girl and ring bearer followed her. My dad hugged me with tears shimmering in his eyes, and offered me his arm while he pulled some nitroglycerin out of his pocket. I don’t know exactly how he managed to give me away and perform the ceremony afterward. I do know it was a labor of great love.
From the photos, I can see that there were many people there that day. Students from three years had dragged their parents to the wedding. My nephew, who was then five months old, had something to say during the ceremony. One of my students asked his mom out loud if I was married yet. But Harry. How shall I say this? Harry looked like he was about to bust out laughing.
I had opted to have the attendants wearing crowns of baby’s breath. Unfortunately, the baby’s breath was of the unruly and wild sort. When Harry
saw the bridesmaids walking down the aisle, he thought (as would any good Scot) that Birnam Wood was approaching the castle.
Around 2 a.m. on June 27, 1979 I woke up from a sound sleep and sat straight up in my bed. My eyes were wide open and my heart was pounding. In approximately 84 hours I would be standing in church in front of God and everybody to plight my troth. How well did I really know this man with whom I was promising to spend the rest of my days? I was planning to move just HOW many miles across the Atlantic Ocean away from my family and friends? What was I thinking? WAS IT TOO LATE TO CANCEL?????!!!
I sat there for about half an hour or so mulling over my predicament. I remembered my friend who had asked me if I was SURE I wanted to marry Harry. Did she know something I didn’t know? I dismissed her concern since I knew she was not happy in her marriage. My mom always called me Miss Independent. Could Miss Independent become Mrs. Interdependent and handle the marriage yoke made for two? My grandfather told me he never expected me to get married; he thought I was cold and distant. I dismissed that because I had good reason to so be around him.
Then I thought about Harry, and how our friendship had evolved over decades. We’d already gone toe to toe on issues, worked through them, and moved forward. Eventually. He was thoughtful, steady, dependable and kind. Harry liked me as well as loved me. He was a can do kind of guy, and he had a sense of humor. I realized then that if all else failed, our God-given gift of humor would eventually pull us back to sanity. I decided it was a go.
I was, however, still wide awake, and it was heading for 3:30 a.m. So, I gathered up the clothes I would be taking on our honeymoon and went downstairs quietly. I got out the ironing board and iron and pressed everything, then packed my suitcases. I made a to do list, and around 4:30 a.m. I crawled back under the covers and quickly fell asleep.
The other day I told Harry about writing this post. Then, almost 34 years later, he ‘fessed up, too. He said that when he woke up on our wedding day he stood in his bedroom and asked himself, “What was I thinking?” But, he showed up anyway. Because he’s like that.
During the first week of April, 1979, Harry arrived stateside. His parents picked him up at the airport (I was teaching) and he had to listen to them tell him just how sneaky he had been by keeping his interest in me a secret.
Everything was pollinating, adding to the aggravation of jet lag. It was the second round of pollination that year for him; Portugal’s pollen had already come and settled down.
Nevertheless, as soon as he possibly could, he borrowed his mother’s car and made a beeline to my house. How glad I was to see him after what seemed an unending year. We had a lot of planning to do with our wedding coming up in approximately three months, but that visit was reserved for sweeter things.
Though Harry had quite easily kept the secret of my Portugal visit the previous year, he let the cat out of the bag when my attendants held a surprise shower at my church. Apparently, he has compartmentalized his secret keeping skills. It was a lovely evening just the same.
The list of things that had to be decided on and dealt with felt like an imposition on our time when all we wanted to do was to make goo-goo eyes at each other! Invitations had to be addressed and mailed out. I had set a number limit before Harry came back, but his family’s list alone had around 250 people on it. Eloping was beginning to look even more attractive.
Marital counseling was another piece of the time pie – my pastor was in charge of that. I asked my dad to officiate at the ceremony. He kind of looked at me the way Abraham might have looked as he got ready to sacrifice Isaac. But he said he would. We asked my pastor to officiate until my dad and mom “gave” me away. To keep Harry’s pastor in the loop, we invited him to pray the benediction at the end of the ceremony. And we began to memorize our vows.
We ordered flowers from the father of one of my students, who was a wholesaler, and enlisted the support of different church folks for decorating the gym. Some families baked quick breads for the reception. Wedding gifts began to arrive. Tuxedos were reserved. Then Harry told me something that I did not want to hear; I was required to attend Missionaries in Training at the mission organization’s headquarters in northern New York state. They had scheduled it for the first week in June. Before school was out. One more thing on the list.
If all mothers-in-law were like my husband’s mother, there would be no mother-in-law jokes. She is kind, thoughtful, a hard worker and honest. I have never heard her say anything bad about another person. But she has skills.
One day, she called me and asked me if I had found a veil yet. I hadn’t. She told me that my sister-in-law to be had offered to let me use hers. After describing it to me, she asked me if I could come down on Friday after dinner and try it on to see if I liked it. Friday afternoons are not exactly prime time for teachers, but I felt I owed her given that her son never let her know he was inviting me to visit him in Portugal until after the fact. I wanted to stay on her good side.
Friday afternoon, therefore, I headed to the outskirts of Philadelphia. I had changed out of my work clothes into my most comfortable, well-worn jeans, an old t-shirt and my sneakers. My hair was a little oily. Did I mentions it was the end of a long school week? No makeup – I didn’t want to risk getting it on the veil.
It was a pleasant spring evening. The sun was setting when I arrived at the home where Harry had grown up. It was what we called a “twin house,” two homes with a common wall between. Mom Price said that she would drive me over to Sally’s apartment, so I got into her car with her.
As she drove, Mom said that she needed to pick up a document at the church on the way to Sally’s house. (She was the treasurer for the Ladies’ Missionary Society.) She stopped in front of the education building and invited me to come with her. I waited while she unlocked the door and followed her in.
The lights came on, and a loud chorus of SURPRISE!!!!!!!!resounded through the building. The place was filled with women. Women who had taught me in Sunday school and women who were future relatives. I was stunned. I never saw it coming. Apparently one of Mom’s skills is keeping a secret.
Christmas was over. The decorations, as always, had come down on January first. My sister’s baby was overdue. She felt clumsy, and desolate. For over nine months, she had nurtured this beloved little life in her own body. But she had agreed to give this child up for adoption to a family. She was told the family could give her baby a good life. Her heart felt first ripped in two and then shredded. She wanted the baby. Someone who would be hers. I don’t know how she got through those days. Some days we waited with her at the edge of her pool of despair as she waited to birth a baby that she would never cuddle. Something just did not feel right.
Two weeks past her “due date” in the middle of the night of Tuesday January 16 into Wednesday January 17, my sister got my mom and dad up to take her to the hospital. Those were the days that I could go back to sleep easily, and being superfluous in this part of the adventure, I went back to bed. Wednesday was a school day.
I was up and dressed for school when my parents returned from the hospital. They told me the baby was a boy who weighed about nine pounds. My sister would be coming home in a couple of days. Alone. When she did come home, there was no way to comfort her. She had handed her son over to the couple who wanted to adopt him. She was dejection on an island of abandoned hope.
But unknown to me, she did have one hope. The baby’s father is a kid magnet. He loved my sister and he loved kids; she knew he would fight for his baby. Pennsylvania adoption law requires a signature from both parents before the adoption can be finalized. The baby, who was born on his father’s birthday had an advocate. A week after my sister walked away from her baby, she was in the lawyer’s office where she picked up her son up to bring him home.
On the way home, my brand new nephew paid a visit to his great grandmother. She held him, loved on him, blessed him and prayed over him. Then, my sister brought him home. And he was beautiful.
My dad and I had a Christmas tradition. One Saturday in December we got into the car and drove to Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey to Christmas shop for my mom. It began one year when Mom wanted a new pair of Sunday-Go-to-Meetin’ shoes. He always had a difficult time discerning if the shoes he found would be both acceptable and fit Mom’s foot. As fate would have it, after my feet stopped growing, they were the same size as Mom’s feet. As time went on, it became our once-a-year Father-Daughter outing. This year, 1978, we were both filled with raw emotions and apprehension. In many ways, it was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
Our first stop was always a coffee shop where we fortified ourselves with caffeine and carbs. This year, we lingered over our coffee. Dad was wearing his puppy eyes, and I was thinking that no matter how good of a man Harry was, Daddy would always be the first man I had loved; no one could take his place. We perused mom’s Christmas list – which was nearly the same from year to year – and set off to fulfill Mom’s wishes.
The shoe store was first. We found some shoes, and I tried them for fit. The pair we chose made mom smile from ear to ear on Christmas day. We picked out a matching hand bag for her while we were there. Next we looked for some stocking stuffers for her: a pair of non-pierced slide on earrings, socks and a head scarf. Dad had planned on a bigger Christmas for Mom, but it didn’t happen that year. Mid afternoon, an Orange Julius completed our last magical mall Christmas tour. On the way home, Dad started the obligatory negotiations to encourage me to wrap Mom’s presents, and as I did every year, I pretended I didn’t want to – but of course I did.
Christmas Day was subdued compared with the hilarity we usually enjoyed. In addition to the money mystery, we were grieving that our yet unborn family member, would not be joining us for any other holidays. His destiny had been decided while he waited to see the light of day. Then there was an undercurrent of the pain of loss for the baby and for my move to Portugal in the next year.
My sister kept trying to find a comfortable way to sit – the baby was due within a week or so. My dad sat in his chair in the corner and sighed heavily when he looked at me. I sat on the bottom step clutching my favorite gift: a boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. (I still have them; you can tell by looking how much they have been loved down through the years.)
It was a waiting time for all of us.
Have you ever been in an uncertain waiting time? Can you describe how it felt?
The suitcases from my trip were unpacked; the clothes washed and put away, and it was time to think about my incoming fourth grade class at the Christian school where I taught. I spent about a week in my classroom organizing and planning. This class was smaller than the previous year’s group. I was soon to learn, though, that what this crowd lacked in numbers, more than a few of them made up for it in misdirected energy. It was the only class that never got a field study trip. There were just some in the class I could not trust to follow instructions.
One afternoon I was on the way to my car when a former boyfriend accosted me in the church parking lot. We had dated when I was in college, but we broke up after a year or so. About a month before I left for Portugal, he asked me if we could hang out sometimes, just as friends. He had, he said, no expectations beyond that. So we had spent a day at Hershey Park before I flew over the ocean. I had not really announced to anyone what I was doing over the summer. I believe I mentioned to him I was going to visit Harry in Portugal. This encounter, though, he wanted me to consider seeing him with the goal of eventually getting married. Yikes! There really is no easy way to let someone down gently in a situation like that, though I tried my best. I told him about my trip, and that Harry had asked me to marry him. I showed him my ring. And I am drawing a curtain of charity over the rest of this scene.
My mom and dad were still flummoxed by the phone call from Harry when he asked for my dad’s permission to marry me. Mom reacted the way she always did. She bottled it all up inside and said little. Dad was kind of quiet, too. Whenever I crossed through the living room, he was sitting in his recliner in the corner throwing sad puppy eyes at me. I don’t think it ever occurred to them that I would move six time zones away when I got married. I guess they forgot when I was considering going to Bangladesh to teach.
Harry’s family didn’t even know that I had gone to Portugal until I flew home. Harry eventually called them and let them know. They invited me to come visit, and I gladly went to see them. They were still kind of upset that I hadn’t said anything before I left. I had actually tried in my introverted way to start up a conversation with one of the family members before I went, but was misunderstood. Of course, they were sad that they had missed an opportunity to send something to him in my luggage. It never crossed my mind that they’d do that or I might have been more assertive in my approach. I would have been glad to do that for them. The first visit felt a bit awkward to me, but my father-in-law to be broke the ice by telling me I had no idea what I was getting into. (He was right.) …to be continued.
(If you missed any of the Portugal posts, and want to follow along, you will find them under the topic, Portugal.)