Betty met her husband when she was eighteen. He was playing the guitar at a party. It was the kind of shindig your grandparents went to. Girls in cotton dresses, rough-handed boys, and sawdust floors.
“He was scrawny as you please,” she said. “Could sing like a bird.”
She had to have him.
When he put the instrument down, she made a beeline for him. He was nervous. He avoided her. It boiled her blood. Betty wasn’t about to let Bean-Pole get away.
During their first conversation, she found that he stammered. Badly.
It was his lifelong affliction. He’d tried joining the military, they rejected him. School was even worse. He could hardly spell his own name. Uttering a sentence was like delivering puppies.
But when he sang, words came easy.
They dated. He sang to her. She helped him learn to read. They studied late nights in his mother’s kitchen, burning cigarettes, reading grade-school textbooks.
He wanted to lose his impediment. For her.
“He went to the preacher for prayer,” she said. “But it didn’t work. He finally gave up. I just told him, it doesn’t matter, John. I’d love you even if you were deaf and dumb.”
Love him she did.
At nineteen, they got married at the Justice of the Peace’s house. It was Christmas Eve night. He had a few days off from the pulp mill. They did what they could.
“He borrowed his brother’s dress suit,” she went on. “It was too big, he was so handsome.”
She wore her nicest dress—white with yellow flowers. Their knees shook when they said their vows. For a gift, he bought her chocolate. As it turned out, she bought him the same thing.
Theirs was an ordinary love. The kind easily missed by the restless. Some folks are so busy looking for nuclear explosions, they miss out on a good campfire.
She says he kissed her often. He was known to surprise her with little gifts. He’d hide them under her pillow, or in the cupboard. He knew how to make her laugh.
They just celebrated their anniversary last Christmas. Their children rented a small banquet hall and threw a real party. They even hired a band.
He was old, but not too far gone. He borrowed a guitar. He played, “You Are My Sunshine.”
He never took his eyes off the lady in the front. His voice wasn’t as steady as it once was. People clapped. Betty cried.
He’s gone now. Not forgotten.
“If you decide to write about John,” she said. “You gotta write the whole thing as a love story, because that’s what we were. We were a love story.”
Sixty-nine years of marriage. I guess you were.