A retired English teacher, I reflect on the many facets of my life: retirement, reading, writing, gardening, faith, parenting adult children, grandchildren, loss, grief, healing from grief, surviving the loss of a loved one by suicide, hair loss, alopecia, aging, and living life at the foot of the Rocky mountains.
On this day seventy-five years ago, my husband was born. Yesterday, we celebrated both the occasion of his birth and the man himself. Family and a few friends gathered at our home to eat a light lunch and some cake and ice cream while we shared laughs and stories with each other.
Just before our guests arrived, I placed the numbers 7 and 5 atop an orange chiffon cake, stepped back to see if I had placed them correctly on the cake, and then was struck by the realization that the love of my life, the man I first met when we were both teens, was turning 75!
Earlier in the day, I’d joked that he was just five years from entering his ninth decade.All joking aside, two other thoughts also entered my mind:
1.I’m right behind him in age by just a year and a half.
2.I hoped we both would continue to grow old together as we progress through the decades ahead.
In preparation for the party, I had gathered a few photos and portraits of Jim and placed them around the house. One, a photo taken in his childhood, perhaps when he was about three shows a shy boy not looking at the camera with just a hint of a smile on his face. He looks like he had already become quite a charmer. I know how much he was adored by his older sister, his parents, and his grandparents, all of whom were refugees from Europe. Jim represented all their hopes for the future. I only wish they were all alive today so I could tell them just how much he had fulfilled all their hopes and dreams for the future they envisioned for him. They would be so incredibly proud.
Now, he is surrounded not by his parents and his only sibling, but he has a wonderful legacy of children, step-children, and grandchildren who also adore him.
I saw that same young boy shy smile on his face in his seventy-fifth birthday photo. Yes, the man with the gift of making friends, shaking hands, and making others feel like they belong, is a bit shy. Or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that he does not like attention being paid to him, but he certain is able to command the stage and garner much respect and many accolades whenever he occupies it.
One photo on display yesterday, was the iconic photo of Jim standing by his Chevy when he was about eighteen or nineteen years old.
Yesterday, my cousin reminded me that she remembered him picking me up for a date in that car back in the day when were both teens.
I’ve had the joy of knowing this man since I was a very young girl filled with young girl’s dreams of what love and marriage would be like. I still have a few treasured love letters from those days, and there are the earliest records of our expressions of love for each other recorded in old high school yearbooks.
Voted “Most Ambitious” in his class, the yearbook also noted that he “was twenty-fourth in the class and had applied for a scholarship. He won the scholarship, paid his way through college, worked forty-two years in education, and continues to work to this day. Ambitious? Yes.
To say that I was smitten with this young man when I first met him would be an understatement.The words I wrote to him in his yearbook are words of a young woman experiencing the early days of the very first time of being in love.They were words gushing over the fun I’d had with him at dances, picnics, parties, and “on dates.”I ended the missive I’d written in his yearbook in 1961 with these words:Whatever happens in the future, I’ll never forget you, and I hope we’ll always be as happy as we are now.Ours was a very innocent love, so different from those so many teens have today.
In truth, I had great admiration for Jim from the moment I met him. I was a few years behind him in school, I looked up to him. He was a peer group leader, and quite popular with all the guys and gals alike. He was king of the sock hop which was one of our first dates. (Such things were so important to young girls back in the day.) Beyond that, and more importantly, Jim always treated me with such great respect and kindness. I note that in that high school yearbook, I wrote …thank you for all the thoughtful things you have done for me, no matter how big or how small, they have meant more to me than you will ever know. He won me by his genuine good nature, his humor, his charm, and his great kindness. He set the bar high for any man I might meet after him.
Sadly, I did not marry him first. He did ask me more than once, three times he asked, before I foolishly married someone else when I was just twenty-one years old. When I married the first time, it seemed Jim was destined to become a sweet memory of my youth, a young man of whom I would speak to children and grandchildren if ever they asked about the days of my girlhood. It seemed they might just chance upon his name in my yearbook, or ask about mementos pasted in my scrapbooks, or perhaps they might have even found those long ago written love notes or a photo or two. They would never have the blessing of having him be a part of their lives.
Thankfully, all of that never proved to be true. Thankfully, Providence smiled favorably on us both. In 1991, ten years after I was divorced and not long after Jim was also divorced, we reconnected. It seemed we picked up where we had left off thirty years before. On our first date the second time around, we talked non-stop for six or seven hours catching up on the past thirty years and the lives we had lived before we met again. When he proposed marriage a few months later, I did not turn him down. I had become much wiser in those years between the ages of twenty-one and forty-seven. Good men are hard to find. Thankfully, I had another chance to join my life with this good and kind and dear man. In the corners of my mind and heart, I had always carried a special love for him.
We became man and wife in midlife. Our children were all nearly grown. We still had three children at home. One was his. Two were mine. We faced the challenges of blending families, rebuilding lives that had been rocked financially, professionally, and emotionally by divorce. We worked hard together and found that as a team we functioned well together. We were always on the go. Jim became a high school principal, and I taught high school English. We didn’t have time to age. Being involved with youth kept us young. Age was truly just a number.
The children all married. They began to have children. Our tribe grew by leaps and bounds. They moved miles away from us which meant that vacations were spent traveling to see them all. It seems unbelievable that we now have nineteen grandchildren between us. We have had so much joy with each new addition to the family. Jim has also been there by my side as I buried a child and have grieved the loss of her life. I truly do not know what I would do without this man by my side.
On this very day six years ago, after about six years of semi-retirement, on Jim’s birthday, we moved to our current home and started another new chapter of our lives.
The man I married failed at retirement. So far, he has never successfully achieved full retirement. After returning to academic life as a principal whenever there was a need at a school for an administrator for a short term, Jim decided not to renew any teaching credentials after we moved to Colorado Springs. Soon, he was toying with the idea of working again. He applied for a job at an Apple store and was hired to work part-time. He loves his job of selling computers, iPads, phones, and Apple watches.
Yesterday, at his birthday party, I think the favorite photo I took was of him working on my cousin’s phone. Just as we were to light the candles on his cake, she handed him her phone and said, “My phone isn’t working right. What’s wrong with my camera? Can you fix it so I can take your picture blowing out the candles on your cake?” It is so typical of what happens wherever we go. “Jim will you help me with a problem I’m having with my phone?” Jim, the Apple man fixes all your Apple problems.
When we were teens, I remember that the girls used to list the attributes we were looking for in a boyfriend. We were so naïve. I remember most of us would say that we wanted a “good dancer.” Did we think we would be dancing through life?
Jim & Sally dancing at Homecoming September 1961
Ironically, Jim and I did go on to attend many dances in the future. As a high school principal, we had prom duty for more years than I can remember. We always danced.
So many times when I think back to my youth, for some reason, I clearly remember dancing with him at lunch during high school to the song “Runaround Sue” by Dion. In my mind’s eye I see his charming slight grin, the one I only see when he dances a “fast dance” in the rock and roll style of the early 60’s. I guess we would say we danced the Bop. (Now, that term dates us, as does the style of dancing we still dance when we get a chance.) I see his eyes sparkle in my mind’s eye, and my heart still melts with the memory of it all. I also remember dancing with him at the prom to “Some Enchanted Evening.” It was the theme of the prom his senior year. In my naivete, I thought life with such a guy as Jim would be full of nothing but enchanted evenings.
Jim & Sally Prom Spring 1961
Those guilelessness days have long since passed, yet the charms that Jim possessed mostly spoke to me of his sincerity, honorable character, truthfulness, his forthrightness, and his unpretentious nature. I just didn’t understand that when I was sixteen years old. I knew he earned my love and trust, but I never could have realized how important it was to have a companion with those sorts of characteristics when I was naively saying I wanted a guy who was a good dancer.
Jim & Sally dancing at my cousin’s wedding 2012
Last month, my husband and I danced at his granddaughter’s wedding. A month away from his seventy-fifth birthday, we danced the Bop to one of the old-time hits from the 60’s. We danced a slow song and held each other tightly as we danced to some love song. I no longer care if my partner is a good dance partner. How could I have been so shallow? Thankfully, the partner I have on the dance floor these days is that young man whom first took my hand during the grand procession during his senior prom and led me onto the dance floor to sweep me off my feet on a spring evening fifty-seven years ago.
He is the best partner in life that a woman could ever have. We don’t have a lot of enchanted evenings, nor have we lived an enchanted life, but we have lived a life of sweet companionship filled with all the things that attracted me to him in the first place: laughter, good humor, fun, like-mindedness, kindness, selfless serving, generosity, truthfulness, faithfulness, honesty, and integrity.
This man, the love of my life, becomes dearer to me with each passing day. I snapped this photo of him recently at his granddaughter’s wedding right after he had said to me, “I love you.” In case you can’t tell, I’m still smitten by him.
Happy birthday, my love. Here’s to many, many more years filled with happiness and love.