Sunday, January 30, 2011

Not Exactly What Anyone Was Expecting

My dad and Mike met in Kindergarten in Clarksville, Tennessee.  They became fast friends, grew up together and stayed “best friends” throughout their lives.  While in high school, my dad dated every girl that would go out with him.  He was also voted Biggest Flirt and has his picture in the yearbook to prove it.  He dated a mutual friend, Linda, and her mother sent a hatpin with her on the date so if he got out of hand, Linda could poke him.  That relationship didn’t last long.  He ended up engaged to their friend Jill and Linda became engaged to Dad’s friend Mike.  Then Dad went away to college in another state.

During Dad’s freshman year, he met Annette in drama class and they were in several plays together.  A little bit of heat developed and they fell in love and eloped.  Lives changed, Jill was hurt, his friends questioned his decision but they all accepted and grew to love this stranger named Annette and things moved forward.
I came along quickly, followed by my brother, and they struggled to stay in school and support themselves.  Eventually Dad joined ROTC because the small payment he received paid for married student housing and allowed them to remain in school.  As a result, Dad had to go into the army upon graduation.  Besides marrying my mom, it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Our little family traveled with the army and grew to include my sister and much later, another sister. Whenever returning to Clarksville to visit our grandparents, we always visited with Mike and Linda, Jill and her husband Phil and when they were in town, Reda and her husband Phil who was also in the army.  They had all been friends for years and they felt like family.  Kids were born and we Ellis and Cunningham kidsall got to know each other and became friends.  Mike and Linda and their 3 kids visited us wherever we moved and we have lots of fun stories about each other and things that have happened over the years.  You know, those stories that no one else really gets but you think are hilarious.  The photo at left is of a long ago visit and left to right is my brother Chip, Linda’s oldest daughter Michelle, my middle sister Mickey, Linda’s twins Mickey and Merci, and me.  My youngest sister Andie was not born yet.

In 2004, Mike got cancer and passed away.  Within a year, Mom died of cancer.  My dad lost his best friend and his life-long love in a year’s time.  Linda and Dad supported each other with what each of them was going through.  Dad began dating quickly.  He really could never be alone.  He reunited with a friend named Mary from grade school who had lost her husband a few years before and they have been dating since 2005.  This was a struggle for me and my siblings.  My dad adored my mom more than anything in this world.  It was hard to see him with someone else.  But he needed to be with someone.  So we were polite and supportive.  Well, most of us, most of the time.  The old friends accepted Mary into their group and everything went on as normal.  I got to know Mary, she was a nice person and really cared about my dad.  It was still weird.

About 2 years ago, Dad arrived at my house for Christmas before everyone else and we just hung out and talked.  The conversation turned to his relationship with Mary.  He said she was pushing to get married.  He said he would never get married again.  I asked why.  He said “I loved your mother more than anything in this world and I was devastated when she died.  At my age, you have to really love someone to watch them die.”  We talked about the reasons he did not want to marry anyone.  So he wasn’t getting married.  I have to admit I was a little relieved.

Last night, my phone rang.  It was Dad.  He asked what I was doing.  I said watching TV.  He said “I’m getting married.”  I could hear laughter in the background so I refrained from reminding him that he said he was never going to marry Mary.  I simply told him congratulations.  Dad said “Don’t you want to know who I’m getting married to?”  I told him I assumed it was Mary.  He told me to hold on and I could talk to her.  I didn’t really want to but I said “Ok”.  I heard laughter.  I recognized the laughter.  A voice came on the phone.  It was Linda!  Ahhhhhh, this was a joke.  They were punking me.  I told her they were crazy, still thinking this was a joke.  Linda said “Well we may be crazy but we are getting married.”

I was stunned.  She began talking.  I tried to process it all.  She shared that this could never have happened 5 years ago.  That things had just changed between them a couple of months ago.  They really knew about 3 or 4 weeks ago that things were different but Dad had to tell Mary.  He did that yesterday.  They were calling all the kids.

I started to cry.  I couldn’t figure out how I felt, if I was happy or sad.  I felt bad for Mary but this just felt right.  I told them I was excited.  I told them they would probably kill each other.  Linda agreed that might have been true at one time but said they would be ok now.  She said almost the same thing my dad had said those few years before.  “At our age, you have to really have to love someone to be willing to watch them die.”  We talked a little more then I congratulated them as they got off the phone to call my siblings and share the news.

My phone rang quickly.  First my aunt.  Then my sister.  Then my other sister.  We did a three way call.  Finally my brother called.  We were all shocked.  We still weren’t sure this wasn’t really a joke. But we were all ultimately happy even though we were confused.  We grew up with Linda’s kids.  We have a history together.  We all agreed Mom would have been surprised too but would also think this was a good idea.

I guess that’s really what love is . . . to love someone so much that you are willing to watch them die.  To love them so much that you are willing to go through the bad stuff because the good stuff is so good.

I wish that for all of us.
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Wanda said...

What a marvelous story. Tere you told it so well. Life is much more interesting that fiction! Thanks for sharing your dad's love journey. Blessing on him and Linda.

Tere said...

Thanks Wanda. And thanks for the blessing too.

Ruth D~ said...

This is an amazing tale, Tere. A love story... I'm happy for your Dad. And you for being so accepting as to let it happen without a fuss.