Dateline: 18 December 2005
Reception at the Old Grange Hall
Our typewriters were plugged into outlets along the wall. As Providence would again have it, my cord ran directly under Marlene’s desk and plugged into the wall outlet beside her. On the first day of class, she moved her feet, inadvertently snagged the cord, and disconnected my power.
After figuring out what had happened, I tapped her on the shoulder and explained the problem. She apologized for her clumsiness, re-plugged the cord, and gave me the sweetest smile I’ve ever known. It would happen again, several times in the days that followed, and Marlene admits now that it wasn’t always an accident when she unplugged my typewriter like that.
We developed a friendship in school that consisted of small talk, passing hellos in the hallways, and little waves across the cafeteria study hall where she would sit with her girlfriends. Thirty years later I can still recall how my heart skipped when Marlene showed attention in me and flashed that intoxicating smile of hers.
Summer vacation came and we did not see or talk to each other, except once, when I was waiting in the car for my Mother at the bank in Moravia. Marlene happened to ride her bicycle by and I yelled to her. She circled around and we talked for awhile. On her bike, with a summer tan and a healthy glow and the sweet smile, she looked so fit and fresh and beautiful. She was a fair maiden and I was smitten. There was an unmistakable chemistry between us. I informed her that I had recently gotten my driver’s license.
When my mom came out of the bank, I introduced her to Marlene. Never would my mother have imagined that, 27 years later, this young girl on the bicycle would so lovingly and faithfully help care for her as she lay slowly dying of cancer.
On the first day of our senior year of school, as soon as I saw Marlene, I told her I had permission to use my dad’s car and I asked if she wanted to “do something” the next weekend. She said yes. It was to be a first date of the kind for both of us.
I picked Marlene up at her house after noon on Saturday. The day was pleasant, warm, and sunny. I met her mother and then we headed out. We went to Bentley’s Knob. Not many people know about Bentley’s Knob. I knew about it because it was near my house and I had been there a couple of times on church hay rides. To get to the Knob you have to drive a few miles down dirt roads into Bear Swamp State Forest. Then you park the car and hike across some fields. The knob is an overlook that provides an incredible view down the length of Skaneateles Lake, which is the deepest and cleanest and coldest of New York’s eleven Finger Lakes. On a good day, you can almost see the other end, sixteen miles away. The land rises from both sides of the lake and it is a pastoral panorama of farms and fields and forests.
Marlene’s ancestors on her mother’s side were among the original settlers of this region. Her father’s family farmed the land hereabouts for several generations and he had made his living as a dairy farmer. So Marlene was a native and a country girl. She loved the outdoors, and I did too. We were comfortable in each other’s company and had a wonderful time together that day. After our hike we drove to the city of Auburn where we had dinner at McDonalds. Then we went to see a new movie by the name of JAWS.
Both of us now have the fondest memories of that first date. It was innocent and wholesome and magical. We dated for the next five years. Both of us now wish that we had not dated. We wish that we had a courtship instead. Having dated and then, later in life, learned about courtship, we can see that courtship is a far better way for young people to establish a healthy relationship. It also happens to be biblical. But courtship was not something we or our parents knew anything about. And if it were ever mentioned, I’m sure we would not have been very receptive. We were, after all, products of our environment, which was government schooling and the entire social culture that surrounds that.
Nevertheless, we were Christians and we knew the difference between right and wrong and we sincerely desired to do the right thing in our dating relationship. As a result, God was gracious to us. Our dating years were a good experience, an incredible lesson in delayed gratification, and an important foundation for the future. Looking back, we survived dating but, as Douglas Wilson says on the subject of dating, there are people who survive plane crashes too, some without a scratch.
After high school, a few years of college, and periods of separation from each other (absence did indeed make our hearts grow fonder), we returned to Moravia. Marlene got a job working for a local doctor in town and I got a job doing carpentry work. Each of us lived at home with our parents. The time was right for taking the next step in our relationship.
I formally asked Marlene to marry me in the spring of 1980. I recall the moment well because she was picking peas in her father’s garden. It was a pea patch proposal. I did not give her a diamond engagement ring. I was not flush with money and we were both intent on saving for the future. A November wedding was planned.
In the summer, we found a three-room apartment upstairs in an old house on Congress Street in Moravia. The rent was $155 a month. Marlene made curtains for the windows. To outfit the rooms, we went to auctions, bought old furniture and refinished it. I moved in to my temporary bachelor pad.
Marlene’s parents were married in a Reformed church but they had become Methodists, so we were married in the Methodist Church in Moravia. We had two sessions of marriage counseling with the minister. He stressed to us that marriage is a holy thing, ordained by God, and that when we took our vows, we would be entering into a holy covenant before God and with God. He told us that a covenant relationship is a lifetime commitment. The minister gave us good counsel.
Two high school friends stood with me on my wedding day. Art and Bill and I shared a lot of memories. Among the best of those memories was the one week we backpacked together on the Appalacian Trail, deep into the mountains of southern Vermont. Marlene’s childhood friend, Maureen, and a college friend, Peggy, were her bridesmaids. My little sister was the flower girl. The ceremony went off without a hitch.
Our wedding reception was outside town, at the Grange hall on Jugg Street. The big, white, clapboard building is old and plain, inside and out, but it served the purpose. Marlene and her girlfriends decorated the inside and the Grange ladies made a good meal, though I don’t remember much of it. There were no ice sculptures, limos, professional photographers, or anything like that. But we did have a live band and I, a man who does not dance, awkwardly managed my way through a few slow tunes with my new wife.
The reception went well, but there was one close call. Bill, my best man, came out of the men’s room and had neglected to zip up his fly. My grandmother noticed right off and waved me over to let me know. Bill was, of course, embarrassed but not nearly as much as he would have been a short while later when, with the whole room looking on, he stood to toast the bride and groom.
Our wedding day was clear and cool but snow was in the forecast. So, what better place to honeymoon than northern Maine? I wanted to show Marlene the land where my family’s roots went deep. I wanted her to meet my grandmother Philbrick, who was not able to make it to our wedding. What I remember most about that trip was getting within a few miles of my grandmother’s place and one of my tires went flat. It was a jet-black night on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere and the snow was coming “down” sideways. I had a flashlight and managed to get the tire changed but it was not easy (things like that stick in a guy’s memory forever).
Nevertheless, we were finally married, and we loved each other, and we had our whole life together ahead of us, and it was a beautiful thing.
Twenty five years have now passed since Marlene and I were married and it is still a beautiful thing. We have had our ups and downs in that time, but the ups have far outnumbered the downs. Our love for each other has matured and deepened. The greatest expression of our love has been our three boys, each such an incredible blessing (and responsibility).
Our spiritual faith in the God of our salvation, the One we entered into the marriage covenant before and with, has grown stronger. He has worked in our hearts and continues to do so. We are wiser. We are more humble. We are more mindful of and thankful for His mercy and grace than ever before in our lives.
I do not know what the next 25 years will bring. I know what I would like them to bring. I would like my children to grow in faith and wisdom. I would like each to embrace Biblical agrarianism and find a life’s work that is not tied to the ungodly industrial culture or, at least, not tied too tightly. I would like my three boys to find godly wives, women who desire to serve the Lord by being mothers and helpmeets to their husbands, wives like my Marlene. I would like my boys to be men of God, warriors for Jesus Christ, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in their lives and exercising godly leadership in their homes. I would like, by the grace of God, for my sons and their wives to bring forth and raise godly seed for His glory... many godly seed! I would like to one day be able to afford land, woods and fields, that I and my children and my grandchildren can live on and care for and love as God’s stewards. I would like to grow old with the wife of my youth, in health, and be an influence for righteousness in the lives of our grandchildren and, in so doing, be an influence for righteousness in the lives of the generations that follow. This is what I would like. It is my earnest prayer.
Me and Marlene in 1980