Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to the late 80’s or early 90’s when I was a teenager in Nebraska. Not because I want to live those days again (heavens, no!), but because I want to see what she was like and how I treated her. I can’t recall ever meeting Alice, but somehow through summer camps, youth rallies, and Super Sundays we were familiar. It’s weird to say that I can’t recall meeting my future wife, but it’s true.
It’s as if we’ve always known each other.
I went home for the summer of 1994 somewhat reluctantly, having whined to my friends at OSU that I wouldn’t have a date the entire break. I was headed to the Bellevue Church of Christ in Nebraska to be their Youth Intern, and figured my social life would be on hold until the fall semester back in Stillwater. There were too many youth events to organize and plan, as well as preaching several Sundays throughout the summer to cover for their minister who would be traveling a lot.
Sadly, I can’t even recall re-meeting Alice. She was just there. The youth would go out for ice cream and she would be there. The youth would go see a movie and she would be there. Because both of her brothers were still a part of the group, she remained a part as well. There weren’t many others our age anyway.
It’s hard to say when we actually started dating. Two events come to mind. The first was one of those evenings the teen group went to a movie. Someone took great pains to work it out that we would sit next to each other. Jeanette Estaniqui gets the blame for that one. The second event was at a McDonalds eating ice cream. We had finished taking teens home and only the two of us remained. Linda Windham takes credit for this encounter, claiming that she took some of the other teens home specifically so that we would end up alone. At some point I tied a straw wrapper around her finger as a ring. She still has it to this day. I don’t remember which finger I put the straw on, but it must have been the correct one…
Looking back, that seems a little too forward of me for a first or second date, doesn’t it?
We kept things under wraps for a while, but eventually someone from the church caught us walking through the mall holding hands. After that, everyone knew. I should have preached a sermon on gossip... Some of those precious folks at church had us married (in their minds) within a week.
Others weren’t so happy. At the end of that summer, one of the teens wrote a scathing review of my work, complaining that I had not been hired to be a “new-found boyfriend and part-time preacher”. The truth was that she didn’t like me simply because I hadn’t taken the teens on a canoe trip that summer. Regardless, the two things she hated about me played a major part in shaping who and where I am today. God had more important things cooking than canoe trips.
We dated long distance for a year and a half. Some day I hope to go back through all of those letters and cards that are now stored in shoe boxes. They could make for some interesting reading. Although they were tough times, I wouldn’t trade them for anything now. All of those phone calls (with their corresponding phone bills) and letters cemented our love. We had no choice but to go beyond a skin-deep relationship.
We would call every other night, alternating whose turn it was to foot the bill. Some calls lasted 30 minutes, others lasted 2 hours. One of us would travel to see the other about every other weekend. Usually that worked out so that we each made the 7 hour drive (14 hours round trip) once a month. We would get to town late on Friday night and have to leave on Sunday afternoon. Those were hard goodbyes.
The mailman was anticipated each day, hoping to see that familiar handwriting on an envelope. I’m sure Alice wrote to me much more than I did to her, but I think she’d agree I did an admirable job for a guy. Especially considering how long it takes me to write.
On a Friday night in February, 1996, it was my night to call. Little did Alice know that I had driven to Nebraska that day and borrowed a cell phone from an adult friend (a very LARGE cell phone I might add…they were only for rich folks in those days, and people my age certainly didn’t have one). I parked a block away, walked to her house in the freezing Nebraska temperatures, and hid in the bushes. I coordinated with her Mom so that she would leave the house at a certain time and in the process would let me sneak into the basement. (Yes, her Mom was an accomplice) From there, I placed my call. Again, for some of you younger folks reading I must remind you that there was no such thing as caller ID back then, so I was safe as long as she didn’t come down to the basement.
I could barely talk, I was so excited, but I wanted the conversation to go on for a while before giving it away. I’m sure there were some awkward moments, but eventually I steered the conversation to thoughts about our future. Then I popped the question. She cried, perhaps in joy, or perhaps thinking I was ruining the moment by proposing from 450 miles away over a stupid telephone. In reality, I was walking up the stairs to her bedroom. I’m getting chills just remembering the moment. There were a lot of tears, and at some point I think she may have said yes, or at least nodded her head.
If not, then she’s played along well for 10 years, hasn’t she?
I graduated in December of 1996, and on January 18, 1997, a cold, but not too cold evening in Nebraska, we made our vows. We vowed to stay together in sickness and health, good times and bad, in abundance and in poverty. We vowed to be together until one of us had to lay the other in the arms of Jesus.
Those are strong words, not to be taken lightly.
Strangely enough, a day or two before the wedding we realized that the script would never have us actually say the words “I do”. Yes, we would say our vows, but there was never a question asked that would require that response. We chose not to change anything. I guess that was our nod towards being non-traditional. Most couples don’t wait this long to have children, either…
So, today marks 10 years as husband and wife. The “betters” have been many. The “worses” few. She is as beautiful today as she was the day we married. Actually, more so. And we are as happy today as we have ever been in our lives.
I couldn’t ask for anything more. Even if I did, it would be like whining for a canoe trip.
Alice, thanks for 10 wonderful years. You are better than I deserve.
Here’s to the next 10, starting now.