Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Parental Courtship

My parents' anniversary is this week, so I thought I would tell you their story to celebrate.

In 1981, my mom was working in New York City (where she grew up) as an English as a Second Language teacher, teaching college students English and How to Live in America.

There was a young man Mom and her best friend had known in college who was somewhat obsessed with the BFF. He had tried to date her in college, but he was annoying and somewhat creepy. Anyway, he was in town on leave from the Navy for Christmas and wanted to get together with the BFF for a date. BFF finally agreed, on the condition that he bring along a friend for Mom and they make it a double date.

The plan, of course, was for the girls to band together, get a nice free meal from Dude and his surely-just-as-obnoxious friend, then bail together and call it an early night. They set the date for the day after Christmas.

Dude and his friend came to pick the girls up in Friend's car. As Mom was getting in, she noticed some linguistics textbooks in the front seat. She had her Master's in linguistics, so struck up a conversation on the subject with Friend who, it turned out, also had a Master's in linguistics.

According to BFF, that was The End right there. Mom and Friend (who, of course, is actually Dad) spent the whole evening completely engrossed in conversation with each other, abandoning BFF to the mercies of Dude and failing to pick up her increasingly unsubtle distress signals. As BFF put it, "It's a good thing you ended up marrying him, or I'd still be mad at you."

Mom and Dad continued to see each other whenever Dad could get away from his duty station. At some point, they traveled to Michigan together to meet Dad's parents and siblings.

As they were sitting with Dad's parents one evening after dinner, Dad asked, "So, when should we have the wedding?"

"What wedding?" asked Mom. "You haven't asked me to marry me."

"I guess not," Dad said. "I just assumed. Will you marry me?"

Clearly she said yes. They bought rings from a jeweler congregant of Grandpa's (Grandpa is a pastor) and headed back to New York, where Mom proceeded to organize a whirlwind wedding in about a month. BFF and another friend went to the mall and managed to agree on a dress to wear as bridesmaids. They were married in mid-March, 1982, in a ceremony at BFF's church*, and Mom's parents hosted the reception in their Long Island apartment, just two and a half months after Mom and Dad met.

The parents took a quick honeymoon in San Antonio, accompanied by a trip to the Austin area to meet Dad's extended family. When Great-Grandma met Mom, she looked at her and said to Dad, "So, this is that damn Yankee you married." See, to GG, "damnYankee" was all one word and just what you called anyone from north of the Mason-Dixon Line. No one thought this was strange except Mom.

Another fun honeymoon story: While driving across the Texas countryside, Mom suddenly gasped and grabbed Dad's arm. Dad, who thought she had seen a small child run out on the highway or something, panicked. "What is it??"

"Look, Dad--COWS."

Dad looked out the window at the cattle grazing a little way from the highway, as cattle are wont to do in Texas. "No shit, Mom," he said. (Ok, this story loses something when using Mom and Dad instead of their real names....)

"You mean they just let them wander around loose like that?" Mom was shocked. She had never seen an animal other than a dog, cat, or pigeon outside of a zoo. The Central Park Zoo has cows in the Petting Zoo area. That was her only experience with cattle. Dad spent summers on his grandparents' ranch in Texas. Maybe there was some truth to GG's "damnYankee" label....


They returned to NYC, where they packed up their possessions and shipped them off to Dad's next duty station: La Maddalena, a little town on the island of Sardegna in Italy.

They lived on Sardegna for two years, first in a hotel in La Maddalena, then in a house the Navy found them in a nearby town, on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean:

Yeah. Here. This was their first house.
They got to know their neighbors. They became regulars at local restaurants and were invited to dine with the owners. They attended local weddings and festivals celebrating the locals' divine deliverance from some army or another during World War II (I think they were hiding from being conscripted by the Italian/Axis army, not from being invaded by the American/Allied army, but I'm not entirely sure). They adopted a dog and a cat adopted them. They experienced firsthand the mania that accompanied Italy's 1982 World Cup victory. And every leave Dad got, they took off for other parts of Europe: Germany (but only the west part), France, Ireland, England, mainland Italy.

After two years, the Navy moved them back to the States (to California wine country, which I'm pretty sure can only be a disappointing place to live if you're coming from Italy). Two years after that, I was born, and then my brother and then my sister.

Thirty-one years later, the Naval officer and the New York City girl live in Albuquerque--the desert, and a "big city" to Dad but a "small town" to Mom. But it works. And they're happy.

Happy Anniversary, Parental Unit! May you have many more.

*Mom was reared Catholic; Dad's dad is a Lutheran pastor. They decided Mom would become Lutheran rather than Dad becoming Catholic or splitting religions. The BFF also happened to be Lutheran, so they used her church. Then they spent the next two years celebrating Catholic Mass in Italy. Life is funny.

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