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Friday, 21 November 2008

Falling Apart Together - Part 2

By Old Woman of 20th Century Woman

(Part 1 is here)

I was up a lot last night with a sick cat. Every time I came back to bed, a sleepy man wrapped an arm around me and mumbled something sympathetic. He was really tired because all day long he had been shopping for plumbing bits on the mainland and then crawling around under the house fixing a stopped up kitchen sink and a leak in the hot water intake.

We discovered these disasters on Sunday, a couple of hours before 10 people were coming to dinner, but we managed to muddle through until the next morning.

After fixing the pipes he came out covered with cobwebs and dirt, grumbling that the crawl spaces in houses he built himself were clean and had lights in them. But he had fulfilled his promise to me when we got married — “You’ll never have to call the plumber again.”

This illustrates some of what I began to know when he came to dinner a little over two years ago. I learned that he is sweet-natured, he is calm, and, praise be, he is competent. None of my three other husbands (two college professors and a lawyer) could connect a hammer with a nail, let alone cope with plumbing issues.

On a fine summer evening in late June 2006, he arrived at my door without a bottle of wine because I told him I would provide it. I didn’t trust him to choose the wine. I judged him to be a meat-and-potatoes sort of fellow. Sometimes I like to cook fancy food, but steak and mashed potatoes makes me happy too, and that’s what we had. It was a lovely evening.

A week later he said he thought he should go home to mow the lawn.

Here’s some of what I learned during that week. He had started flying when he was 14. He paid for his flying lessons with money he earned repairing radios. While he was in college, he homesteaded in Fairbanks, Alaska, and made his own airstrip.

In his 40s, he flew solo from Victoria, British Columbia, across the Atlantic to London, England, and back in an air race. In Alaska he flew commercially as a bush pilot. He had taught physics at the University of Alaska and done research on the Aurora Borealis. He owned an electric company, which he ran single handed in Manley, and he started a telephone company there as well.

During that week, I was designated driver for his colonoscopy, although it turned out he didn’t need a designated driver. When the doctor offered him sedation, he remarked that the last time he had done without. The doctor said, “We can do that,” so Jerry walked out of the exam alert and hungry.

My 14-year-old British granddaughter was coming to visit and I thought this was an appropriate time for a break from my new romance, so Jerry went home to mow the lawn. I planned to take my granddaughter to Vancouver to see some Shakespeare plays in tents by the river. My British grandchildren love Shakespeare.

I kept finding reasons to telephone Jerry. In the end, he came to Vancouver with us, but because his hearing is not what it used to be, he had trouble following plot twists and understanding Shakespearian English.

I began to think that falling in love was a possibility, and that marriage might not be out of the question.

What changed my mind? Was it partly some way in which our minds connected? We both had training in science - mine in biology, his in physics, and we thought the same way about the world and how it works. All four of Jerry’s grandparents were Finnish and Finns are noted for thriftiness with words, but despite his Finnish roots we talked for hours. There was a loveable quality about him that I can’t define. What can I say? He is an adorable man. I am always comfortable with him, and he always seems to be so with me.

Jerry has been emotionally drawn to the north all his life. Perhaps it’s those Finnish genes. He grew up in California. In the army he was sent to Fairbanks, Alaska, and soon after he was discharged he went back. He went to the University of Alaska on the GI Bill and later became a researcher at the Geophysics Institute there.

On the side of his island house he had carved in the shingles the shape of a goose. “It’s flying north,” he said wistfully.

I said, “Why don’t we take a trip to Alaska?” He had not been back for many years, but the next thing I knew we had a copy of the Milepost and were packing the van. We drove the Alcan Highway.

Before we left, having known each other for about six weeks, we had decided to get married, but had not decided on a time. I thought my five children would need a lot of convincing. I knew their collective response would be, “Oh God, what’s Mother doing now!” Perhaps next year, I said, since much planning would be involved.

I think it was somewhere in the vicinity of Dawson city that Jerry said, “I wonder what you have to do in Washington to get married. The last time I did it in Alaska it took three days.” I said nothing, but I was thinking.

We stayed in Whitehorse, Yukon, on August 3, 2006. It was Jerry’s 74th birthday. In his youth, Jerry said, if he stopped in Whitehorse he would go out in the evening to watch the bar fights. Today, Whitehorse is a modern, sophisticated town with some of the old flavor nicely preserved in its architecture. We stayed in a comfortable Chinese owned hotel with the decorating oddity that each of the two queen beds in our room had identical paintings hung over them.

Before going out for Jerry’s birthday dinner we had a celebratory glass of wine. I said, “I wonder if it still takes only three days.”

So it was decided. This would solve all the problems of arguments with children and unwanted advice from friends. I could do what I liked, no matter how crazy and risky, though I never had any sense that what I was planning was anything but completely sound. Jerry’s character so combines authenticity, honesty and caution and he always makes me feel safe.

We stayed in Fairbanks long enough to begin the paper work to get married. Actually, it turned out to be three working days and with the complication of getting Jerry’s friend, Bea, appointed to perform the ceremony, it took a week. So we signed the papers and went to Manley Hot Springs, Jerry‘s Alaska home, 150 miles west on a gravel road.

The forms were simple, but they required some specific information, to wit: the dates of all previous marriages, the dates of divorce, and the names of spouses. I was able to pull up marriage dates and names, but the dates of divorce were lost in the mist time. The young woman who was helping us said reassuringly, “Oh, don’t worry, we never check anything. I couldn’t remember the date of my divorce either.”

Jerry’s problem, however, was worse than mine. He had been married twice, the first time in his 20s and for only two years, and he couldn’t remember either the date of his marriage or his first wife’s last name, let alone the divorce date. Again, she assured him that there was no checking. (The name, of course, came to him later.)

We were married in Manley. We stayed in a cabin without indoor plumbing, so we had a bath in the hot springs before the wedding.

Bea officiated in her pretty yard and the guests were old friends of Jerry’s. I didn’t know any of them. It was, for me, a brief few days of life without a complicating past.

I knew I would soon have to go home to face the children and others, but I could put it off a little longer because Jerry had booked the Alaska ferry from Haines to Prince Rupert. Those days became our honeymoon — the only one I ever had.

[Everyone age 50 and older is invited to submit stories for publication at The Elder Storytelling Place. Information and instructions on how to do that are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Is there a part three? You tell a good tale...

What a wonderful story! I'd love to see a photo of the house built on a trailer.
But I laughed about the Finns being quiet. I just had three Finnish women here (my MIL, who lives with us, is Finnish) and they never shut up! It is an amazing, mysterious language with those multiple vowel sounds and long long words.
Is there more?
And it makes me even more appreciative that my Swedish/Finnish husband can build or fix anything including the houses, plumbing, wiring, cars or computers. He has saved us a fortune over the years. Yes he can fly a plane or sail a boat too.

I loved this story! Your story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

I HOPE there's a part 3!! Thanks for sharing your details, which make for a good story!

Enjoyed your story very much, and I too am looking for the third installment.
On my brother-in-laws 60th birthday he was his father's best man at his wedding. Ever since the old man's wife had died three years before, he had been actively seeking a wife. His bride had turned him down twice before she said "yes." It was said of the old couple that they lit up a room with their happiness. His wife only regrets turning him down twice before they were wed.

Oh, how I enjoyed reading your story.

I sincerely loved it and look forward to Chapter Three.....

What a great story! It flows so well. Have you sold the film rights yet?! I confronted my rage on turning 70 last December with yoga, watercolor painting, writing, Italian, and hiking - all these things plus reading things like 'Falling Apart Together' are helping to make me feel younger. The older I get, the more optimistic I am becoming. Dissertations on the Kondratieff Wave notwithstanding! (I appologize if you found the comment I submitted to your blog annoying!)
Sandy

Were I 25 I never would have gotten to part 2. Too boring. Were I 45 I would have said it was a cute story. At 60+ I was in the theater watching a classic. Like Sandy, I was wondering if you'd sold the movie rights yet.

So glad there is a site like this for stories like yours.

What an interesting story about fascinating people. I really enjoyed reading it. Do tell us how your children and friends reacted to your "elopement."

I am so sorry to see no Part 3. I am new to this, and I really enjoyed your writing. I am 54 and married for 36 years to a wonderful, very mechanically talented man, and I cannot imagine what life would be like without him. I've been married to him since I was 18 and he 19. It is good to hear about people who find companionship later in life. It gives me hope that if something were to happen to either one of us, the other may be able to find some enjoyment at some point in the future. Please write Part 3. Thank you, Sandy

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