It was just shy of 60 years ago on an ordinary Monday in June; when this boy was asked to give a ride to this girl. Neighbors on Cook Street who had yet to meet, the boy’s father Michael made the offer as a neighborly thing to do for the teenage daughter of Alice, the widow who lived next door. A ride to an after school function. A quick stop for his eldest son, the only one with a driver’s license and a car that he knew. A few minutes of a college boy’s time. Nothing out of his way. You see, people did these small kindnesses for each other then. Simpler days.
The boy groaned at the thought. What would he say to a silly little high school girl? The girl was thinking only about getting to the function she was to attend, the friends waiting. Until she took her seat in that car beside him. They talked, awkward at first. They laughed, and before they knew it the ride had come to an end. Those few minutes had changed everything for the whip-smart college boy who dreamed of freedom and travel and the startlingly pretty blue-eyed girl who had always been too smart and outspoken for her own good. She was unlike any other girl he’d ever known.
He was smitten. She broke up with her high school athlete boyfriend that afternoon. Her friends were aghast, but she knew what she wanted and she never looked back.
Once their families found out the two were actively and seriously courting, all manner of obstacles were put in place to separate them. They were never alone. Each family had reason to oppose the match that had come out of nowhere. The boy’s future had been set by his parents and aunt long ago, and it did not include a wife. Even he hadn’t planned on that. The girl’s widowed mother didn’t like the age difference, and was not at all pleased at the prospect of the last of her children married, leaving her to face her days alone.
It didn’t matter. Somehow the quiet, book reading boy who’d been bitten by the travel bug and the unrepentant, gregarious and tough-as-nails girl were a match. They knew it themselves long before anyone else recognized it.
When attempts to separate them didn’t work, a set of chaperones were assigned. These were different times after all, a full decade before the sexual revolution and women’s liberation came along. These were the days when a 15-year-old high school girl really was totally safe in the company of a 21-year-old college boy with intentions of marrying her, even when they did slip off for time alone. Everyone around them watched (and commented on) what people did back then, there were few secrets.
Imagine that, without social media.
Four years passed while the boy finished college and joined the service but not a war. An officer, he taught classes during the week and made the long drive home every Friday, not to see his parents, brother or beloved aunt; but to see the girl. Even for a little bit… a few hours. All the while the girl lived with her mother and finished high school. If she dreamt of more, she knew enough by now to hide her ambitions to keep from being called “uppity”. Educated women were not the norm in her world; so she graduated and got a job instead.
On October 1, 1960 the boy and the girl were married at the neighborhood church in the sight of God and their reluctantly accepting families. Two children, six grandchildren and many years of happiness came out of the union that was officially begun on that day. union. The girl was good to the boy’s mother, father, aunt and brother in a way they could never have foreseen when Michael offered that ride. Her mother, who wept at her own loss on the weeding day, came quickly to love her son-in-law, who welcomed her into his home, settled her into her own beautiful apartment inside his mother’s home. He was as good to her as any son could be.
Fifty-four years passed. The boy and the girl built a beautiful home that was the setting for many family gatherings — cookouts in the summer, Christmas parties in the winter — over the years. They took trips and yearly vacations at Lake Winnipesaukee. He built a sailboat from a kit and founded small businesses at the kitchen table. She was a wholehearted supporter, a working mother before everyone was, a college graduate with honors, following a passion for nursing she’d had all her life thanks to the smarts the boy insisted she had and a lot of family support. The girl who had opportunity withheld in her early life enjoyed it in full measure later on, thanks to the boy.
They built careers, won respect and gave a magical childhood to two children, raised them well and saw them educated and married. They saw each of six grandchildren, three boys and three girls, come into this world and grow to love them, filled with glee at any chance to see Nana and Papa. They saw traditions continue, memories kept alive and (hopefully) knew the true satisfaction of a job well done. Lives well lived.
When the girl got sick with a demon of a disease, the boy did everything he could to care for her. He was at her side every step of that awful journey, a living example of the vow taken so long ago, “In sickness and in health.” Sick as she was, she did the same for him as age took hold and he fought for his own health.
When she lost the battle at last, he was holding her hand and weeping at her bedside. He knew in those first awful moments what he has known to the marrow of his bone on every day since. The girl was a part of him. One half of a whole. He’d lived more of his years on this earth with her than without her. He would never, ever get used to that. The rest of his days will feel empty without her.
For you see, she really was the only girl for him. Always will be.