Today is my parents’ 47th wedding anniversary. To celebrate I post this piece that my dad wrote some time before he passed away. I remember hearing this sweet story many times growing up and never really appreciated it. Now, I share this wonderful tale with the whole internet in celebration of my mom and dad.
How We Met
There are many unusual stories of how couples meet and became lifelong partners. Some are as romantic as glances from across a crowded room, or a chance encounter at the market, a friend’s party, a blind date, or the girl next door. What sets off events that allow our paths to cross and become connected? Could it be providence or just part of life’s many twists and turns? Well, whatever you might want to believe two youngsters met on the playground with no idea of what life had in mind for them, they were more interested in the next Kick the Can game and all that summer has to offer kids in 1958 mid-America.
It was the summer of 1958, in a small trailer park on a small Air Force Base on the edge of Madison, Wisconsin. These were days before video games, Internet, and HDTV. The first thing a kid did was hit the door to go outside and play. Adventures were in the imagination of those who were there to play. Many hours of building forts, rafts, and exploring the vast reaches of the base.
That summer a girl arrived around late June to stay with her mother at the trailer park. Kids did not spend much time analyzing why she just visited her mother in the summer and did not live with her all the time. All we knew was that she was here that there was another member of the trailer park with which to play games and have fun. Donnie as he was called in that time of his life, met Jeanie for the first time that summer. They became good friends as best as a boy and girl of 11 and 10 could and not receive much rebuff from their peers (of course, there was some teasing from all concerned). Donnie and Jeanie would go to the movies, which cost a quarter but Donnie would always sit in the row just behind Jeanie, it is easier to throw popcorn at her from that vantage point. Then at the end of the summer Jeanie would have to go back to her home with her Dad in Florida. There was always a party, which was great with cake and ice cream.
The summer visits went on for about three years, and the friendship grew, but in 1960 Jeanie’s mother and stepfather were transferred to Alaska. This ended the visits and the two would not meet again until 1965. As it is with most long distance relationships the letter writing slowly diminished to none at all. As the demands of high school and growing up there seemed little time to write. The letters finally stopped and both Donnie and Jeanie went on to their respective high school experiences. Donnie’s dad left for a remote assignment in Greenland for a year and retired from the service and the family moved to Milwaukee.
Then the spring of 1965 a graduation announcement arrived from Barbara Jean Quigley, who was proud to announce her graduation from Lakeview High School, in Winter Garden, Florida, in June of 1965. Well this did stir the memories of Donnie, so he sent Jeanie an orchid for her to wear to her graduation ceremonies. At first Jeanie thought this came from her stepfather who happens to have the same first name. You see Donnie being a high school grad himself signed all his correspondence as Don, for Donnie was his childhood name and the name his mother always called him. When Jeanie realized it was Donnie who sent the flower the correspondence started up again.
Jeanie wanted to spend sometime with her mother after graduation and as all young people wish to do is to leave the little town where she was born and raised and see some other part of the country, so she moved to live with her mother and stepfather in Newburgh, New York. She decided she wanted something else besides what Winter Garden had to offer in 1965.
As the letter writing continued, Don felt a great desire to meet Jeanie again and visit old times, talk about stuff young people talk about and just to see if they had some of the same interests. Well, Don still had strong traditional values even during the 60’s. So, in August of 1965, the week of the Wisconsin State Fair, which Don’s dad worked for, and only lived a few minutes from the fairgrounds, invited Jeanie to come and stay a week with Don at his parent’s home in Wisconsin. Jeanie finally agreed after some negotiations with her mother. Then Don sent her an airline ticket from New York to Milwaukee. This was the first time they had met since the end of the summer of 1960. It was a wonderful experience for both of them that week. It was near the end of this week that Donnie first expressed his love for Jeanie. At the end of the week Jeanie returned to Newburgh, New York, with plenty of things to ponder.
Well, as the curses of world events intruded on any hope of normalcy when Don was informed that it would most likely be the late fall of 1965 when his number would come up and he would most likely be drafted into the US Army. He had already taken is pre-draft physical and was declared fit for duty. Well, Don being a military brat, knew well the difference between the Army and Air Force from which his father had retired. So two choices were most obvious, first, leave for Canada, or enlist in the Air Force and possibly pick career training. The decision was to enlist in the advanced enlistment program so that he could not be drafted in to Army. He was committed to four years of service and was scheduled to report for Basic Military Training in Jan 10, 1966.
Don needed to see Jeanie at least one more time before he left so he flew out to Newburgh, New York. They spent another week together at her mother and stepfather’s home. There among the beautiful fall colors of the West Point area of New York their relationship grew even more. But the week went by so quickly and Don returned to Milwaukee to work until his enlistment date arrived. The letters flowed back and forth and a few phone calls, but this was in the day when long distance services were very expensive and there was no such thing as e-mail.
Off to the war – on January 10th, 1966 Don left Milwaukee for Lackland, Air Force Base to begin his basic training and then to technical school to learn a skill that the Air Force needed. His parents were there to send their son off to the same branch of the military his dad had served for twenty years. It was just before boarding began, that Don’s father gave him a brand new two dollar bill and said, “as long has you have this two dollar bill, you will never be broke.” Don has never been broke, for he still has that same two-dollar bill today.
It was at Chanute, Air Force Base in Illinois during a break in the day’s training events that Don called Jeanie from a phone booth and asked her if she would marry him. The conversation was not very long for the pile of quarters did not last long with those long distance phone calls from pay phones. Jeanie said yes.
The wedding plans were simple and low budget for two kids with both sets of parents with little money for lavish weddings. Donnie and Jeanie were married on July 16, 1966; five days after Don had finished his technical training and four days after his 20th birthday. The reception was held in Don’s parent’s basement, and they spent their honeymoon on the way to Don’s first assignment at MacDill, AFB, Tampa, Florida. They had to find a place to live all in two weeks from the day he left Chanute. All that they owned was packed in a 1963 Corvair and off they went. A boy that was closer to 19 years old than 20 and an 18-year-old girl set out to see what life had to offer.
That was  years, two children, [two] grand[daughters], three dogs, two homes, numerous rentals ago. What happened during this journey is another story, but the fact that it happened and continues is remarkable. So is fate, devine appointments, or just a chance meeting between two people that they find themselves and that they found happiness.