My freshman year went fast, Jim and I continued to date and soon were known as “a couple”… He spent time at my house, and I spent some time at his, meeting and getting to know each other’s families.
He became the son my Dad never had….. when he came to pick me up, it was nothing for Dad to suggest they take the dogs out coon hunting, or get a job done around our place that Dad needed help with.… I was left at home, usually mad at both of them for ruining my evening…. Jim and my Dad became very close over the years….
His dad & mother ran an oil field trucking company… moving to our town about the same time as my folks did in order to take advantage of the boom. They were hard working people, a conservative family that came from German roots. Jim’s dad was the youngest of 5 boys, he loved to cook and had his favorite dishes he always prepared. He was a good cook but very slow, and everyone always teased him that they didn’t know if it was really good or just that everyone was so hungry before he got it on the table. The family was not allowed to do anything on Sundays until Jim’s dad called dinner and they had all eaten together…. I was welcomed into the family and they all seemed to like me.
I did not see a lot of Jim the summer between my freshman & sophomore year because he had to work on the trucks… leaving early in the mornings and usually returning home late at night…. He was a “swamper”, the helper who did the dirty work for the driver….. We would see each other when we could, but it was hit and miss….
Jim’s mother was a wonderful woman, Jim’s sister, the oldest child in their family was one year older than Jim, then they had Jim, then they waited 10 years and had three more…. There was a 9 year old girl, a 7 year old boy, and a 3 year old boy….
The beginning of my sophomore year, and Jim’s senior year in 1958-59, brought an immediate crisis. His mother became terribly sick, was at home for 3 days, taken to the hospital, and a few days after that she died on September 16th. The diagnosis was Meningitis, they believe she had been bitten by an infected mosquito. I remember hearing Jim’s name called to report to the office where he was told over the phone to go home. I learned why at the lunch hour.
The entire community was shocked… Jim’s dad was totally devastated. I was at a loss at that time as to what I could do to help. Finally my Mom suggested I call him. It was near evening the day after she passed, and his older sister told me he had not been out of his room since they first got the news. She was worried about him, but she would tell him it was me and see if he would at least talk to me. He did come out to the phone, and after I told him how sorry I was, I ask if there was anything I could do to help, he told me no, not at that time, but he would see me later. Mom and I went to the funeral.
Plans were made in their family that “grandma Lucy”, his mother’s mother would move in to the house to take care of the 3 little ones…. She came immediately. Jim went back to school and we had a date that following Friday night. It was a double date, a friend drove and we “parked” that night outside of town on an old lease road as we usually did. As we were laying in the back seat of our friends car, Jim broke down and silently sobbed in my arms… I could only hold him, be there for him, and try to ease his broken heart.
That also started the routine of Jim going home every day for lunch… The little 3 year old always walked to the end of the alley to meet him and we were told the little guy had a terrible day if Jim didn’t show up… That was only a small example of how drastically their lives were changed by his Mother’s sudden death. It also brought changes to my life.
Jim told the story at our 50th anniversary party…. He would call me for a date, I would ask what we were going to do and he would reply, “Well we’re going to babysit”. A large percentage of our dates were spent at his house with the 3 little ones, sometimes taking them places so grandma could have some time alone, or if she needed to get away we would stay at the house with them… We have always had little kids around us!… Even after we were married, they would come to our house to stay much of the time.
As with any death, life went on….. It had to. The shattered hearts never heal, but it makes the pieces tougher in order to endure the pain. In tribute to her, she has never been forgotten and her strength lives on in her children, their lives and those they have touched.
That year, we had all of the normal “fights”, breaking up and dating others, that one would expect. However; we always seemed to end up back together…. In February of my Junior year without my knowledge, he visited with my parents to get permission to give me an engagement ring. They said yes, but that I HAD to finish high school and graduate. He promised them that would happen. In February of 1959 the night before Valentines day, he replaced his senior ring that I wore, with a diamond. We were just east of town on the highway between our town and where his aunt and uncle lived to go visit them. He pulled off on the shoulder of the road and pulled it out of a box and gave it to me in the front seat of the old Chevy. Immediately I said “yes”, then ask him to take me back home so I could show the folks…. We celebrated with them, then left to go back to his aunt and uncles….
The rest of the 1959 school year drug by as did the summer .….. He graduated from high school that year and went to work full time on the trucks. I had absolutely no interest in school; we spent every hour we could together. With the beginning of the 1960-61 school year, I just couldn’t wait for it to end, get into my senior year, grab my diploma and run. Jim and I spent as much time as we could together with our eyes and hearts focused on my graduation day so we could get married as soon as possible. All we had to do was make it through was time and a few other obstacles. Looming over us was the “Korean war” and Jim’s draft eligibility.. As I turned 16, he turned 18 and carried an active card. I had just gotten my drivers license that year. Of course because we were so young, we had to fight for what we knew in our hearts was right. It felt like everyone we knew was against us.
Early Spring of 1961 we found an old house to rent, consisting of a living room, bedroom, small kitchen with a table at the end for eating, and a built on back porch with room for a washing machine & bathroom. Everything we needed for a cost of $25 a month…. Our landlord’s name was Mr. Godffery and every time it snowed he came over and shoveled the sidewalks.
Jim was making $1.25 an hour. The house was totally covered in loud, flowered wallpaper, which we both hated, so we got permission from the landlord to tear it all off and paint. We and several of our friends met there for a few weekends to steam, soak, rip, tear, sand and paint… Shortly before the wedding, it was finally ready to move in to.
I look back now and think “poor Mom”….. She had relatives come for my graduation, a wedding shower, and the wedding, all to prepare for… Helen Arnold made my wedding dress, who was the wife of “Web” a coon hunting buddy of Dad’s and co-worker. Mom and I had picked out the material and pattern for her.
I’m sure amongst it all was a certain relief to be getting Mom & Dad’s home back to themselves and getting on with their lives without any kids and the activity & stress I caused. Lord knows I had given them enough to this point.
All events went off with no major complications….. At age 17 I became a married woman on June 4th, 1961, just three weeks after my high school graduation. Jim was 20 years old, saying goodbye to the creek, the truck became my new life.