It was a beautiful argyle sock, but what does one do with one sock? She assured me that she would get to work knitting its mate very soon. That was seventy years ago, and I am still waiting for that second sock. Granted, she has been busy during the last seven decades, but I really liked that sock and held onto it for many years expecting its mate to appear during some birthday celebration.
I have determined however; that hope does not spring eternal when it comes to missing socks, for this perfect example of period haute couture has been lost somewhere along the way. In those days a pair of brightly colored argyle socks in a pair of white bucks (shoes to you youngsters) laid the foundation for the ultimate in sartorial splendor which usually included grey flannel pants, a navy blue “V” neck sweater with a white “T’ shirt visible in the sweater opening, and a crew cut. Maybe it was just that kind of fashion sense that caught her attention all those years ago…
She first accosted me while I was lying in the front yard with my cocker spaniel. She lived just down the street and I had noticed her from time to time, but paid little attention. On this day, which would change my life forever, she was walking her cocker spaniel, and used the old “let the cocker spaniels meet each other” gambit to meet me. It turned out the dogs did not like each other. Later, she would insist that she had noticed that I looked lonely, and that she felt sorry for me. My recollection is that during that time of my life, I enjoyed solitude; and not having reached my sixteenth birthday, I did not feel comfortable around girls.
I must admit she was a cute little thing. Although a bit flat-chested, she had good legs, and some interesting rhythmic movements of her derriere that I found difficult to ignore. She proved to be quite a good conversationalist, and after breaking up the fight between Susie and Cindy (the cocker spaniels) she moved on to get a comprehensive history about me. Since, as with most people, my favorite topic is myself, my shyness soon vanished. After a few more such visits, the dogs were discarded, and I found myself sitting with her in the swing on her front porch eating a piece of coconut cream pie. Her mother was a great pie baker, but I will never know how Barb determined that coconut cream pie was my favorite.
Since I had not been able to find a job that summer, I had much free time and we saw each other nearly every day, went to a movie and even the county fair. In the midst of all these platonic interactions there eventually came a day which would seal my fate forever. Barb mentioned that she was having trouble with her bicycle. I of course, always looking to score points and prove my mechanical prowess, immediately volunteered to look at it. The problem was minor and the repair simple, but then I saw her standing on the second step of the basement stairs with those big brown eyes level with mine, and you guessed it. I kissed her—a bit timidly at first, but I had seen the professional kissers in the movies, and initially attempted to emulate them, but found I didn’t need lessons. From her response, I guessed that I had done a credible job.
For the rest of high school we remained an item. There was a brief hiatus after we had agreed that we needed to experience relationships with other people; however, that only lasted for about 72 hours. She was a year behind me in school so after I spent a year at the local branch of OU she entered nurse’s training. This was not her idea for her dream was to major in art. Barb’s father, ever practical had decided she could never make a living drawing pictures, but more important was that nurses training was only three years long and about one tenth the cost.
Meanwhile, I decided to try pre-med, and was surprised when I gained admission to OSU medical school for my pre-med grades were not that good. My excuse was that I worked a lot as a short order cook, a lab assistant in the physiology lab, and cleaning the cages in the animal lab. The truth was that I did goof off more than I should have, and was not very disciplined when it came to the studying business. I would nearly be undone by that character flaw.
I had received the notice of my admission to medical school during my final semester in pre-med contingent upon my completing the prerequisite courses among which was organic chemistry, not at all my favorite subject. As usual, I had not kept up, pulled an “all nighter” prior to the final exam and overslept. I toyed with the idea of feigning illness to get an excuse from the student health center, but Barb had already brainwashed me with that overdeveloped super ego of hers and taught me that honesty is the best policy. The veracity of that truism was shattered when the prof said I could not take the exam in spite of the fact that I was only 30 minutes late and no one had finished the exam at that point. I received my first “F´ ever, and began a frantic search for a summer course.
Meanwhile, Barb had passed the nursing board exams, and was making the enormous sum of eleven dollars per day doing private duty nursing. She had even purchased a 1947 Chevy in nearly mint condition further endearing her to me. When as the saying goes, “I popped the question,” it was hardly a question for after six years of courtship it was not really surprising.
There are many advantages to having an aesthetically endowed wife. Your surroundings will be made more pleasant, you will be dressed appropriately, and you will likely be made more aware of things beautiful in your life. The down side is that you will find it difficult to find pleasing gifts unless you have remarkably good taste which I don’t, and when you produce that diamond ring of which you are so proud you may notice a raised eyebrow and hear her ask: “Is that the only mounting they had?”
We were married on a hot muggy June day. She was beautiful and I was hung over. I had celebrated my last night of freedom with the boys, and she would later say that I “looked terrible”. In those days virginity was highly regarded, and sex before marriage was frowned upon. I suspect this may explain why people married at a younger age then. In addition to conjugal bliss, Barb had promised me a back rub every night. She was proud of her back rubs for she had received many appreciative comments from her patients extolling their virtues. She made good on that promise for about 2 weeks; however since then I have determined that she is behind by approximately 22,243 back rubs.
The rest of that summer was a time of high anxiety. When I called the registrar’s office to check on the status of my transcript no mention was made of its big fat F. I was only told they were awaiting notification that I had completed the organic chemistry requirement. Initially only the University of Virginia offered a summer course in organic chemistry. This presented a problem for I had no way to pay the out of state tuition, let alone the room and board. There was also the relatively minor problem of the delay in enjoyment of that conjugal bliss thing. Besides there was no guarantee that I would still be admitted if I did satisfy the requirement.
At this point the same God who had engineered the cocker spaniel encounter, apparently forgave me for flunking organic, and for my murderous fantasies toward Dr. Tate (the organic chemistry professor), and arranged for the class I needed to be offered at Muskingum College which was only a few miles down the road. Having already taken the course, the second time was a breeze and I aced the sucker.
Med school classes were to begin in two weeks, and I was still not sure whether I had flunked out of medical school before I even got there. When I called to inquire if I were still enrolled, the secretary who was in charge of such things did not seem to know what I was talking about. She responded saying of course I was enrolled. Did I not know they had received the transcript of my chemistry grade. To this day I am convinced that the record of my F had not reached the admissions committee perhaps because of someone’s carelessness. Score one more for God, fate, or whatever you may prefer to call the entity which governs good fortune.
With that we quickly collected what furniture we could from various relatives, found a three room apartment a few blocks from the medical school and its hospital and as the saying goes: “ the rest is history .” And what a history it would become. Barb found a job at the University tuberculosis hospital where she was rapidly promoted to head nurse, and still made time to volunteer at the local planned parenthood clinic (this was prior to Roe vs. Wade). This skinny little chick with the cute butt had morphed into a remarkable woman who had accepted the job of feeding and caring for me. Our finances left no room for frivolity, but she never complained.
She spent all her free time making a comfortable homey environment of our little pad, and tending to all my needs (except for back rubs which were reserved for those lucky dogs in the hospital). I recall her euphoria when we managed to buy a fifty dollar wing chair which we would make payments on for six months. Medical school was difficult for us and internship even worse with me on duty often for thirty six hours and off twelve. Our first child came along during my senior year, and Barb suffered a severe post partum depression during my internship at a time when I was rarely available.
It has been said, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” In our case I believe that very stressful year of internship strengthened the bond between us. I came to appreciate her integrity which was never in question. She not only said honesty was the best policy, she lived it. I recall an incident when we were traveling and she thought the cashier where we had just eaten had given her too much change. She insisted that I turn around and go back that eight or ten miles to return the money. My response was “screw it, if she screwed up it’s not my problem.” She was concerned the waitress might get in trouble if the cash in the register came up short. As you have probably guessed, we went back with me complaining all the way.
I am sure you also have surmised that she is my best friend, one who has supported, defended, and believed in me. Her loyalty is absolute. She genuinely cares about people. Those fortunate enough to call her friend are well aware of that. I have often said that she is the only person I know who gets high on people. When we go to a social function where she has an opportunity to talk with many people, she frequently will have difficulty going to sleep much as if she were freaked out on methamphetamine. On meeting someone new she will get a comprehensive history, and learn all about them and their family. Later she will remember the names of children and grandchildren while I often don’t even recognize that person if I should run into them again. At those cocktail type functions, she is in her element while I try to be inconspicuous. Once you make the cut and become her friend it will be forever, and if you or yours are in trouble you will surely hear from her for compassion is as much a part of her as breathing.
Although she has shorted me on socks and back rubs, she has made up for that by supplying me with four children who are (as in the words of Garrison Keillor) all above average. I am sure that none would report they ever lacked for love from her.
She has always been especially fond of babies, the helpless age when they needed her most. She enjoyed being a full time mother until the kids were all sufficiently grown so she could scratch that creative itch which had bedeviled her all those years. She opened her dream store where she could surround herself with beautiful things. Many of her customers were in awe of her good taste, and some asked her to help decorate their homes and businesses.
Lest you think all has been sweetness and light in our marriage, let me assure you we fight viciously and often. We have managed to avoid filing any domestic violence charges, although it does require a good deal of self-control on my part. For you see she is very stubborn while I am quite compliant. She thinks she is always right while I know that it is I who is always right.
In spite of that, we have shared a bucket of tears and thousands of laughs. We have been there for each other when most in need. Together we have survived the loss of our first born child, the loss of our parents and many other relatives, cancer, and all of the changes that aging brings. She is as much a part of me as one of my limbs. Our love transcends affection, is comforting, and without compulsion. This remarkable woman has been my valentine for 70 years. I plan to keep her in that capacity as long as I can.
From eshrink’s editor and daughter: I thought I would add my own thoughts about my dad’s valentine of seven decades. Below is an excerpt from the card I gave her a few years ago on her birthday. From my perspective, the longevity of my parent’s marriage isn’t about romance or fairy tales. My parents argued, but I learned in therapy the value of what they taught me: they always made up, they never called each other names, they talked about how behaviors made them feel. My parents are incredible teachers in how to love without condition.
I love how you always have surrounded us with
beauty—I didn’t appreciate it when I was younger,
but looking back I have such fond memories of
beautiful centerpieces, holiday dinners, and I
appreciate the ambience you created in all of our
homes that made me feel loved and special.
I love how interested you are in other people—their
experiences—good and bad—and how you manage
to always connect and empathize with them.
I love the generosity and thoughtfulness you
illustrate on a daily basis—always preparing special
gi! s for people, giving people in your lives not just
things, but your time, to make them feel loved and
appreciated. And not just for family, for people
in your life, like Kathleen, Judy, the girl who used
to cut our hair from Dresden. But I especially
appreciate the generosity and love you show your
I love the way you always jumped in and gave me
a path whenever I even hinted I was interested in
something—modeling, tennis, piano, horseback
riding—you were always enthusiastic and supportive.
You made sure I had the tools (and the many
lessons) to pursue my interests instead of projecting
your interests onto me. It made me feel secure to be
my own person.
I love that you always insisted on family portraits for
Christmas and usually Easter.
I love how you made me feel good about being
“different” with that wild red hair, pale skin and
freckles during the age of straight, silky, long blonde
hair and golden brown tans (the 70s).
I love how you embraced “family planning” to make
sure I was born in the most beautiful month of the
I love how you always welcomed my friends and
made them feel included in our family.
I love that you took the time, energy, and resources
to plan our annual family vacations that created such
wonderful memories I hold dear.
I love that you are always “you” …what you see is
what you get. (Probably why my friends always felt
so included at our house…no pretentiousness or
phoniness at the Smith house…we let it all hang out)
I love how you have always embraced “lifelong
learning”…watching you read all the books about
antiques and collectibles, going to auctions, learning
about decorating, taking classes at OUZ, starting
your business in your 40s, volunteering at Parents
Anonymous, and just always learning from other
people during each encounter.
I love that you were so open and honest about your
experiences in life—instead of being bitter about the
bad things, it always seemed you tried to use those
experiences to make me understand why you were
doing what you were doing or why you wanted better
for us (wanting to go to art school, the SIDs baby that
died when you were a nurse, the depression you fought,
your mom not letting you learn to cook). It gave me a
good perspective on how to process stu” I can’t control,
the ability to learn from my mistakes, and taught me
how to see things from other people’s perspectives.
I hated it when you and dad argued, but I learned in
therapy the incredible value your openness gave me…
because I always got to see you make up and come
to some type of resolution (such an important gi! to
realize that confrontation is sometimes necessary for
greater understanding, intimacy, and communication).
Happy Birthday Mom. I love you!