One of my favorite family stories is how Mom and Dad met and fell in love.
When Mom was nineteen, Grandma sent her to the Polish Young People’s club to find a husband. She did not want to go. She grumbled to herself the whole way on the streetcar.
The entire experience was overwhelming to Mom: “All those people there were first generation Polish immigrants. They spoke Polish so fast. I couldn’t keep up!”
There was one man there, however, who was a second-generation Polish-American — Dad! Dad knew (somehow!) that Mom’s dad was a Russellite too, and he asked to walk her home. She agreed. But when the evening was over, she took one look at that very tall actor (!!) with a red mustache and ran away.
Dad was not discouraged that easily. And they began their courtship.
They dated eight years and were engaged for the last five. Mom was always afraid to tell her mom that she was actually marrying a non-Catholic: “I thought it would kill her!” So she was waiting for her mom to die before she got married.
Now if you were to hear Dad telling this story, at this point he’d pause the story and say to my mom, “Then you walked up the hill with Chester!” I still don’t entirely understand what that means. It’s not a euphemism for anything — I know that much. It’s a private joke between them. So then Mom rolls her eyes and shakes her head and sighs and laughs. I always thought I’d understand this better as I grew up. But I still don’t get it.
Dad was the Master of Ceremonies for every event, the life of every party. And my mom was the opposite. Look at that picture! There are so many questions that this nerdy daughter has for her even-more-nerdy (or so I thought) parents when I see that snapshot, but I usually just settle for, “Dad! Why aren’t you sitting next to MOM?” Mom always shrugs along with a “Who can know?”
She remembers going to a New Year’s Eve party where Dad was the MC. “There I sat in the audience ALONE! The only one! On NEW YEARS’ EVE!”
When they clearly had fallen in love, Mom was relieved to finally have a permanent dance partner that she enjoyed being near. She told Dad, “I’ve always wanted a man I could look up to.” And Dad quipped in a somewhat thespian but perfectly romantic way, “‘Twere better if we could see eye-to-eye!”
Mom describes Dad arriving for a date wearing his “Henry-Come-A-Courtin'” sweater (That alone is a story. Grandma knitted her son a dozen of these really awful looking vests. They were just plain ribbing from top to bottom. Awful. Scratchy wool. Dad STILL HAS TWO OF THEM! They are over 70 years old! One in Cass Tech colors, one in a wholly practical grey.) covered in cement. He had been helping his dad lay a foundation all day, and he arrived for a night on the town in all his construction glory!
Finally, after five years of engagement, Dad said, “That’s it! We need to get married! July 13. Or else!” Mom bit the bullet and told her mother. Grandma said, “Wait a week and we’ll throw you a shower.”
So on July 20, 1957 Mom the unconfirmed Catholic and Dad the argumentative Russellite married at the Justice of the Peace. My cousin Laurie was the only attendant, and they returned to Grandma’s house on Lyford to have a white sheet cake, boiled ham, rye bread, swiss cheese, a jar of pickles, and a jar of mustard.
And this is the time in the story-telling when Mom ends with, “See? I didn’t have a big and fancy wedding. But you know, I’m still as married as anybody else!”