When my husband asked me to marry him thirty-two years ago, I’d have said yes right away, if I hadn’t missed the proposal.
That Christmas afternoon, I was downstairs, watching TV in my bathrobe, happy for a day off work. The gifting was over, I’d helped Mom get the turkey in the oven, and I was well and properly sated from our big holiday breakfast.
“Bets!” Mom yelled from the top of the stairs, “You should get dressed!”
“Why?” I asked her.
“Your brothers are coming!”
My brothers were not a good reason to vacate my cozy spot by the fire. I could have cared less if my brothers thought I had fallen to ruin.
A little while later, I heard a commotion by the front door, a very quiet commotion. Now a “quiet commotion” may seem like an oxymoron but it’s the only way I can describe it. The doorbell rang, my mother walked rapidly from the kitchen across the entry hall slate floor, and there was a quick squeak of greeting followed immediately by silence. Usually you’d hear greetings exchanged and conversation. The soundproofing between floors wasn’t great and my mother was by no means quiet.
The door at the top of the stairs opened and someone proceeded down the steps, the third from the bottom squeaking as always (left hand side, a dead give away if you were trying to sneak in or out). I leaned to the side of the recliner so I could see who was arriving.
My boyfriend, Todd, was smiling at me from the foot of the stairs. My heart performed a little pirouette and I jumped out of the chair and into his arms. He was supposed to be to be at his folks’ house in Sacramento.
We’d been dating for thirteen months, the last four long distance, while I tried to get a foothold in my chosen career by taking the second opportunity to come my way, an advertising agency in Los Angeles. The first I’d been offered after sending out seventy-five resumes: a plum job in the marketing department of a regional food manufacturer. In New Orleans. Todd had comforted me on the beach in Tahoe while I cried, weighing my decision. Taking that job would most likely lead to the end of “us.” It was just too far — too expensive — to sustain a long-distance relationship.
Commuting to see each other between Los Angeles and Sacramento had proven hard enough. We reserved cheap midnight seats from LAX to Oakland on Trans World Airlines. Back in the day, you could snag cheap seats without paying for them in advance. But even at fifty dollars or so a trip, we could only afford to see each other every three weeks or so.
Just seeing Todd thrilled me. Seeing him for Christmas was even better.
After dinner was over and we’d spent hours talking, it was finally time for bed. Mom directed Todd to sleep in my brother Dean’s former room below the kitchen. My room was on the far side of the recreation room. After long, luxurious kisses goodnight, I followed the house rules and retired to my own bedroom. On my pillow was a final gift, along with an envelope.
I opened the small square package to find a picture of the two of us taken a few weeks prior. We sat smiling beneath Todd’s mother’s flower pots on her front porch. The envelope turned out to contain airline tickets for two to Hawaii.
I ran back to his room and jumped on the bed, thanking him with kisses. We were going to Hawaii!
“Well?” Todd asked.
“Well, will you?”
“Will I what?”
“Did you read the back of the picture?”
The blank look on my face was his answer. “Go read the back! And look at the tickets!”
I returned to my room and flipped over the picture. There, on the back, was a proposal. For marriage. And the tickets were made out for Mr. and Mrs. Todd Stone.
My heart thundered. I was thrilled and terrified. This was not my plan. I was a product of the late 70s, when women were told they could have it all. I was fully subscribed to the idea that I would pursue my career full tilt and not have children until I was 35. First I would live my life. Marrying Todd would mean leaving my job and moving to Sacramento. I couldn’t see being a long-distance newlywed.
If I said “not yet” to Todd, I knew he would understand but the moment would be lost, deflated.
I returned to his room, where he waited impatiently. I said yes. We stayed up for hours, taking it in, talking (and not talking). We were engaged. Just like that. The planner’s plan foiled, a new life born.
But that’s not the end of the story. The next scene is what I thought of when I first awakened this morning.
That December 26 was my parents’ fortieth anniversary. Just before dinner that evening, Todd and I asked my mother and father to join us in the dining room. They stopped their preparations for a small cocktail gathering of friends — Mom was finishing some “pupus” and Dad was setting up the bar, fishing liquor bottles out of the small hutch that served as his liquor cabinet.
They broke into smiles when they saw my grandmother’s gold rimmed slipper champagne glasses. “We wanted to toast your anniversary,” Todd began. He popped the cork and filled our glasses. Tiny bubbles danced upward.
All four of us lifted our glasses in unison. Todd interrupted, “And I wanted to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”
That had been part of our discussion in the early morning hours. Should he “ask for my hand” or announce our engagement? We followed tradition.
Forty years before, Mom and Dad had found a minister to marry them the day after Christmas, while Dad was given twelve hours leave for that purpose. It was nineteen days after Pearl Harbor. More attacks on American soil were expected. A submarine could sail right up the Potomoc and attack the nation’s capital. Granting leave for purposes of getting married was not part of the drill in Quantico.
Getting married wasn’t part of Dad’s plan, either.
After Pearl Harbor, Mom had cabled Dad that she was taking the next train east, to be married. Knowing the mortality rate of Marine Corps second lieutenants in war, he didn’t want her to be widowed and therefore had avoided settling on marriage, but it didn’t surprise him that she had ignored his objections and declared victory.
Today is a triple anniversary. Today would have been Mom and Dad’s sixty-second anniversary. Today marks the thirty-second anniversary of my engagement. And today is the first December 26 when neither Mom nor Dad are here to mark the date.
None of those anniversaries are forgotten.