November 13, 1961

November 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Fifty years ago, on November 13, 1961, my parents eloped. It was a foolish decision–my mother skipped her first semester freshman exams and dropped out of college to marry my dad, who was just starting medical school. They had no money, no place to live, nothing worked out. I don’t even know whose car they drove. It was snowing hard on Jellico mountain, but they would have to cross it to get to Tennessee from Middlesboro, KY, to the state line where they could marry without permission from my grandmother, who was hot on their heels in her red convertible Corvair. I picture her with a stylish chiffon scarf wrapped around her bouffant platinum do, the window cracked to let out the smoke of her brown pall mall, despite the cold. She was a force to reckon with much stronger than any snow storm.

They got there first, my mom in a white wool dress, Jackie O. style, my string bean father in a dark suit and thin tie. The vowed to stick together, even though the Justice of the Peace’s son refused to turn off the Lone Ranger on the black and white TV in his living room. They did stick together, through sickness and in health, and I do not think they have parted yet, even in death.

My dad died December 14, 2010. My mom tried, but couldn’t live without him. She didn’t know how, since she started dating him at 14 and married him at 17. She died ten weeks later, February 28, 2011. At 66, there were physical problems, there was a lot of alcohol, but that was not unusual. I expected her to stay around, to “move on.” I think though, ultimately, she did not know what going on meant. That is not to say that this is a totally romantic story. There were times I wished my parents would just divorce and get it over with, times my four sisters and I grew exasperated with their teenage-style jealousies and fights, times we could not believe that is what love looked like. But it must have looked like love to them.

I wish they were here today to celebrate. It seems like the thing to do, I mean, fifty years? I will try to celebrate for them. And, for the record, now I am glad they were foolish, that they crossed the mountain in the snow, that they said they would, then did. Not just because I am here because of this story, but because I know it is possible to do. Whatever warts their marriage had, they loved each other, and they stayed together; theirs was a marriage vow, a true commitment ceremony. Their hearts were forever foolish and young. Mazel tov, Harry and Sheilagh!


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