The young couple was excited to get their apartment ready, after all, the wedding was six days away. There wasn’t a lot to move in, because honestly they didn’t have much in the way of furniture. It didn’t matter though because material things were just not that important at this stage of their life. He was 19, she was 18, and they had made the biggest decision they would ever make in their lifetime. As they puttered around the apartment, she began to feel uncomfortable. Her stomach was hurting and finally enough to cause her to lie down on the new mattress that was still covered in plastic. As she lay there, it started to get worse and she asked him to take her home. Probably some virus or something she ate they thought. When she arrived home, her mom was waiting. She took her temperature, feeling her forehead like real moms do and settled her in her bed. It wasn’t long before the pain became unbearable. It turned out the frightened young man’s mom had a friend whose husband was a doctor. She called him and he had them come to the ER right away. In her head all she could think was the wedding was just six days away.
Arriving at the ER, she was quickly checked in, quick for those days, and the doctor was waiting. Within minutes it was revealed that she had appendicitis and it was close to rupturing. As he broke the news to the 18 year old bride to be, the tears flowed and her only words were “but the cake is already ordered”. Pretty unimportant in the situation she was in, but it was what came to mind. Within a short time, she was taken to the OR for a good old fashioned appendectomy.
Waking up hours later, trying to focus, she noticed pigs on her wall alongside a picture of a tiger. To add insult to injury, she was in Pediatrics, because as I mentioned, she was 18 years old. The next few hours were rough, but eventually things got better. Now what to do about the wedding. The doctor’s advice was to rest and go forward with the plans, now 5 days away.
The young girl was determined to be discharged that day. It was now Wednesday and the wedding was still on. She took the hospital bed bath and dressed in her own clothes, placed herself strategically in the chair beside her bed and plastered a smile on her face. Free at last, she returned home at a slow pace, but home nonetheless. What now? The wedding was three days away.
First order of business was to get the marriage license at City Hall downtown. Since she couldn’t do steps, this seemed impossible. There were steps in and out and plenty of them. Walking was still painful and she felt defeated. In one of his first tasks as the couple fought to figure this out, the young man went inside, told his story, and the clerk came to the car and filled out the paperwork sitting beside her in the front seat. Many thank you’s later, they headed home.
The next challenge was to get her waist length hair washed and dried so off to the beauty parlor they went. It was now one day away and still so much to do.
Saturday came and after many tears at the rehearsal dinner and many more that night, the couple walked down the aisle of the local church, and it was there they said “I do”.
Today is our 47th anniversary. It is indeed a culmination of an incredible journey. As you can see, the challenges started in the beginning, but the thing that struck me most while writing this is that no matter what cards we were dealt, we never gave up. Most challenges in a new marriage involve getting to know each other, finances, deciding which way to hang the toilet paper roll and how to balance the holidays with family. We had those and many more. I was finishing my second year at Westhampton College and wanted desperately to attend Nursing School. It was a dream I had my entire life. So, with Ricks help, support from my mom and some loans, I started Johnston-Willis School of Nursing in the fall of 1974.
Rick worked at Philip Morris and I went to school. He supported me in every way. Graduating in 1977, I fulfilled that dream and embarked on a career that I dearly loved then and to present day. Rick worked in Sales most of his early days and as most can attest to, “he could sell ice to an Eskimo”, but something was missing. In 1995, with my blessing, and support of both our families, he opened a BarBQue restaurant in Powhatan. The rest is history, but my point in sharing our life is this.
We met when I was 15 years old and over the next 50 years we had good times and we had tough times. We created a family and we lost family. We lost a daughter in the prime of her life, but we were also blessed with grandchildren and wonderful friends, We had successes and we had failures. We had sickness and we had health and we certainly had richer times and poorer times. Through it all, we persevered and grew and supported each other. I have been grieving for a long, long time now and I have accepted that grief is now part of who I am, but that is not a bad thing. I have experienced true love and I use that like a backpack to carry my grief. It’s sort of a Yin Yang thing with the balance of good and bad.
So tomorrow I am thinning the hedge of the maze. I’m letting light shine in and on my life. Yes I have lost, but I have gained too, in immeasurable ways, from the day I met that football player in the number 26 jersey to the day I had to say goodbye. Nothing will ever take away what we built together, nothing will ever take away the love we shared and nothing will ever be the same, but with my loving and supportive family and friends I’ll figure out how to start this new chapter, because my book is yet to be finished.