In the obscurity of the recesses of my mind there lies a tiny little memory. Today, I push away the cobwebs and attempt to relive that moment for the two people who have given life to my sister and me. In all the vast splendor of the fourth grade version of me, I would come to discover how our family came to be.
It was an assignment that I knew was coming. Having a sister one grade ahead of me in school, I knew there was no getting around it. It was the very first autobiography on my life that included all the excitement of chickenpox, favorite stuffed animals and the occasional skinned knee. However, the hardest part of the assignment was conducting an interview with my parents on how they met. The simple thought from my 10 year old brain was “Oh joy.”
My plan when I started out would be to go straight to the source. You know; the guy that asked the girl for her hand in marriage. This was going to be a cinch! I would be done in no time flat and I would be able to watch the ball game with my dad. Quickly, my cinch was dashed by a bombshell I didn’t see coming. The infamous words rang from the guy’s lips. “Go ask your mother.” Perhaps I shouldn’t have asked during the Indians season opener.
Defeated in my only master plan I trekked up the stairs to the kitchen where my mother was doing bills. In our modest split level kitchen, seated at the captains style table Mom was working on the family budget. The ever present fear that this may not be the best time to ask any questions I decided that I would ease into the conversation, once again proving I was nowhere near the brain caliber of my parents.
“Yeeeessssss?” My mother said with a slight tone of curiosity to it.
“I have a project for school.” I mumbled
“And that would be?” While her fingers flew across the calculator adding up the various expenses, the feeling of uneasiness swept over me. After all this was the woman who gave me a bill for services rendered when I tried to ask for an allowance the year before. Being anywhere near her and her calculator wasn’t going to endear me no matter what questions I asked. However, I thought wrong. “I am waiting Elizabeth.”
“How did you and Dad meet?” If there had been an old time country auctioneer in the room I would have given him a serious run for his money, with how fast I was speaking.
The sudden absence of sound in the kitchen was deafening as my mother’s hand paused over the modern abacus and looked up with her giant brown eyes. Then a flash of a smile came across her face before she spoke. “Autobiography time, huh?” I nodded glumly. “Well that’s an easy one.” She said.
“It is?” Whew! I thought in relief. That soon would change when I heard the answer I was sure no other child with the exception of my sister had ever heard.
“Boy Scout Camp!” my mom said not even batting an eye.
I was stunned. Boy Scout Camp, how in the world do you meet the love of your life at Boy Scout Camp? I thought. Somewhere written across my face my mother must have noticed the beyond shock expression. “Mom” I whined. “You’re a girl and girls are not allowed at Boy Scout Camp. This isn’t funny. I’ll just ask Angela she did this project last year.” I stomped off to find my sister who would clear up this mess for me.
Again trekking up another flight of steps I went into our shared room and jumped on her bed.
“Go away I’m reading.” She growled.
“Tiger Beat magazine is not reading.” I yawned at her, quoting our father who never cared for teenage gossip rags.
“It is, if there are words on the page, what do you want?” She was now well hidden behind her magazine.
“Mom said she and Dad met at Boy Scout Camp.” I was now looking over the top of the prepubescent rag directly at her.
“Didn’t believe her? Well guess what? They did.” She held the magazine closer to her face and I was left to go back down stairs and face my mother.
“Why didn’t I listen to this story last year?” was the only thought that raced through my mind.
I peeked around the corner and almost as if she knew I was coming she pushed the chair out for me to sit in. “Oh, so glad you came back.” Her sarcastic tone did not fall on deaf ears.
“Sorry, how was I supposed to know you really met at Boy Scout Camp?” I was squirming in my chair, desperately trying to avoid eye contact.
“First get your feet off the chair. Sit up straight and finally please listen.” I tend to believe to this day that the last part of listening was more pleading then a demand.
If curiosity had killed the cat then I was now really facing death because my interest was bubbling over. Her graceful hands smoothed out her navy and white shirt as she repositioned herself to begin the journey of events that gave way to meeting Dad.
I assumed the listening position by resting my elbows on the table and placing my face in my hands. My flannel blue and black plaid shirt was unbuttoned at the cuffs and Mom as she spoke politely reached over and buttoned each. “I met your father in June of ’61. Your godfather, my cousin, was attending a Boy Scout Camporee to kick off the summer and the camping season. Your Aunt Caroline wanted to go for a ride in my new Chevy Impala convertible and not really having any specific destination to go to we decided to check up on her son (my future godfather) Jerry.” Her eyes flashed a brilliant glow and a wry smile crossed her lips.
“You see your Aunt wanted me to meet a different Camp Counselor but it was your father that grabbed my attention. One look and I knew I was going to marry him. We had the chance to talk and he asked if he could call me and as you can see we have been together ever since.” She winked at me proud that she kept the story short and my attention. As predictable as the sun rises in the morning she once again straightened out my shirt and softly ran her fingers through my long brown mane to try to ensure that every hair was in place.
She further added “Keep a smile on your face and you never know what doors will open for you. I found your dad all because I smiled at him.” I raised an eyebrow partly because I was 10 and boys still had kooties and the other part was I was expecting a much longer story.
“That’s it?” I asked not being able to hide my disappointment.
“How do you figure that is it?” She said dryly. “You asked how we met, not how our story has been unfolding each day since. Bethy, a relationship starts with the first hello, nothing more nothing less. When two people find each other in the world the first moments merely make it clear if you want to see this person again. Over the summer your father and I found out that we never wanted to be apart.” She gave me a hug and sent me off to write down what I had just learned about her and Dad.
That was 37 years ago and on March 3, 2012 my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Through the many joys and laughter, heartaches and losses, the many hellos they said to friends and family and the goodbyes that they have endured over the years. To me, it always appeared they handled everything as one.
I think how true to this day what my mother said about a smile and I know that many times even when they didn’t feel like smiling they did so we wouldn’t worry. Each has had their brushes with ill health and saw each other through it. Each have enjoyed success in their careers and celebrated. What stands out to me that even if the accomplishments or disappointments were achieved as individuals, it just never felt that way growing up, it always felt that they rejoiced and grieved as one.
No marriage is perfect but over time if given the chance, it can evolve by taking two separate flames freshly ignited reaching across the seas and gathering up on the shores, with a force so powerful that the two souls skyrocketing over the horizon fuse together to create a brilliantly lit beacon in the stillness of the night, signifying their union.
As we sat in the church waiting for the Mass that was in my parents honor to start, a simple message from God appeared to let us know he too was excited about the service. There, making his way to the front pew just across from my parents in all the spectacle of his uniform taking a seat next to his dad, was a Boy Scout.
Fifty years ago two amazing people repeated this promise: I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love and honor you all the days of my life.