Why I’m thankful today

It was Thanksgiving Day fifty years ago.  It’s Thanksgiving Day today.

I’m giving thanks for lugging a trombone around for many of the years of the past half-century.  I’m giving thanks for someone who sees cobwebs where I’d never notice them, for someone who says the yard needs improving when I think mowing is good enough, for someone who forced me to accept broccoli a long time ago, for someone who’s been the reason I’m always glad to walk into the house no matter where in the world I’ve been or what I’ve done.

A long time ago my parents got a letter saying I’d been on a date with a girl named Nancy and saying they might be hearing more about her.  I used to carry her trombone to the Missouri Tiger basketball games because she was in Marching Mizzou, which during basketball season was Sitting at the End of the Court Mizzou.  It took a while for things to get serious, couple of years maybe, but personal gravity eventually worked its miracle.

I used to do a “good music” show on a radio station in Columbia, “Matinee at Midnight,” from midnight to 4 a.m.  It was, in those days, the kind of stuff intended to help fog up the windows of cars parked in secluded spots in the Columbia area. Listeners probably figured something was going on when they started hearing Frank Sinatra sing more frequently than the normal music schedule would suggest:

If I don’t see her each day, I miss her
Gee, what a thrill each time I kiss her
I’ve got a terrible case
On Nancy with the laughin’ face

She takes the winter and makes it summer
But summer could take some lessons from her
Picture a tomboy in lace
That’s Nancy with the laughin’ face

Have you ever heard mission bells ringin’?
Well, she’ll give you the very same glow
When she speaks, you would think it was singin’
Just hear her say hello

I swear to goodness you can’t resist her
Sorry for you, she has no sister
No angel could replace
Nancy with the laughin’ face

Keep Betty Grable, Lamour, and Turner
She makes my heart a charcoal burner
It’s heaven when I embrace
My Nancy with the laughin’ face

I never thought of her as a “tomboy in lace,” and she does have two sisters and the first two lines of the last verse stuff about Grable, Lamour, and Turner doesn’t apply (though they probably did for Frank), but the rest of the song pretty much summed things up.  By the time I discovered this song on one of Sinatra’s albums, I was a gone goose.

We got married on Thanksgiving because a college kid and good friend, Jim Pirner, would be home from MU for the long holiday so I could take off four days from the radio station to get married and honeymoon in romantic St. Louis.   In November.

The Hanson farmhouse on a hill outside Rolla was a pretty busy that day with my parents, Nancy’s sisters, and members of the small wedding party spending Thanksgiving Day before that evening’s event.  That evening we all went to the chapel at the Rolla Presbyterian Church for a modest wedding presided over by the minister there and the minister from our student group at the First Christian Church in Columbia. Nancy wore a white wool suit, which was mentioned in the newspaper write-ups in Rolla and back home (for me) in Sullivan Illinois. I wore a three-piece Montgomery Ward blue suit which got no mention whatever in the newspapers. I think we still have those outfits somewhere but they have shrunk a lot in these five decades.

My mother, who enjoyed wearing formals at Eastern Star ceremonies, was disappointed that we were (as she put it) more interested in getting married than in having a wedding.

I don’t know that we thought much about the future although I did calculate how old we’d be when we had been married fifty years.  Nancy and I have ridden the crest of time’s wave and here we are, exactly as old as I calculated we’d be back in 1967.  We’ve had our adventures along the way—buying our first house, deciding we had to get out of the old pile because the winter heating bills were bigger than the mortgage and the water and electrical problems were far beyond our income level to fix, producing a couple of children who have grown up to be smart and handsome adults with families of their own, rafting the Colorado River into the Grand Canyon and hiking out from the bottom to the top of a hot July 5th, finding and mapping ancient pueblos and cliff dwellings in the Four Corners region,

hiking around at Machu Picchu (it’s in the Andes Mountains behind her in the picture), getting face to face with one of the giant tortoises on a Galapagos Island, walking on a glacier at Skagway, following Lewis and Clark’s trail to the Pacific and the Oregon Trail back home, dealing with a ruptured appendix and a broken ankle.  And we can hardly wait until next Spring when we head to Africa.

Here’s another example of how special our lives together are.  We often have driven across Kansas, and do it at least a couple of times a year now that our son lives with his family in Longmont, Colorado, a half-hour north of Denver.   Neither of us minds driving across Kansas.  We swap off every couple of hours which keeps things from being monotonous.  But we’ve decided there must be a mutual genetic disposition toward Kansas.  One side of Nancy’s family has farmed near Larned for more than a hundred years—there are even buffalo wallow in the pastures.  Both sides of my family were from northern Kansas, near Beloit and both of our families were living out there before the Indians were gone.

When navigation systems became options for automobiles, I told dealers I didn’t need one because I had one sitting in the passenger seat with a map in her lap.  We have navigation systems in our cars now.  But Nancy still has a map.  Even on I-70 going across Kansas when getting lost is not an option.  She’s kept me on course in more ways than one and not always on trips.

Seven or eight years ago Nancy heard a city concert band was being formed for people who used to enjoy being in a band in high school or college.  So I’m still carrying her trombone and she is having a good time playing in a band again.  And it’s a good band.

No, it has not just sped by.  It’s been fifty years.  This is our 18,264th day since we put gold rings on each other’s third fingers, left hands (counting leap days).  When we think of all the times we’ve lived through, all the things we’ve done, all the places we’ve been, the children we’ve seen become great grownups, we know that fifty years has been, well, fifty years—a not insignificant length of time.

We don’t mind being as old as we are—although it does give us pause to realize our daughter and our son are plunging toward middle age, which signifies that we must be old, whatever that means.

There have been a lot of those 18,000-some nights when one of my last thoughts has been a little prayer of thanks that we are ending the day beside each other, as we have been beside each other for these fifty years.

Some of you who check in on these entries know how blessed I have been. A girl named Nancy who spent the first 13 years of her life on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and thinks cold weather is pretty good and Missouri Augusts are insufferable has stayed married to an Illinois boy who loved baling hay on the hottest days of summer and despises winter (although not so much since retirement means staying out of it a lot of the time) for half a century.

Before our household went from two to four, we had season tickets for a few years to the American Theatre in St. Louis, a place now gone but a place where we saw the touring companies of Broadway plays.  One of our favorites was, and is, I Do! I Do! The musical was based on Jan deHartog’s play, The Fourposter. Tom Jones wrote the book and lyrics and Harvey Schmidt wrote the music. We sat in the fifth row to watch the original cast members—Mary Martin and Robert Preston—portray a fifty-year marriage.

Broadway musicals had hit songs that made the popular music charts in those days.  Ed Ames hit the Billboard charts with the song Robert Preston sang:

Sometimes in the morning when shadows are deep
I lie here beside you just watching you sleep
And sometimes I whisper what I’m thinking of
My cup runneth over with love

Sometimes in the evening when you do not see
I study the small things you do constantly
I memorize moments that I’m fondest of
My cup runneth over with love

In only a moment we both will be old
We won’t even notice the world turning cold
And so, in these moments with sunlight above
My cup runneth over with love
My cup runneth over with love
With love

Toward the end of the play the characters, Michael and Agnes, look back on their marriage and then look ahead in a tune called “Roll Up the Ribbons.”

Michael-Roll up the ribbons, fold up the papers
Stow all these things away!
This day is done, and another is on its way.
Agnes-Pack up the present; look to the future.
One thing I know is true.
The best day of all is the day that is on its way.
Both-Waiting for you.
The best day of all is the day that is on its way.
Agnes-Waiting for you.
Michael-Waiting for you.
Both-Waiting for you.

So here we are, two Thanksgivings half a century apart.

Forget the Thanksgiving Pilgrim stories.  Nancy and I have lived our own story for fifty years now and it has been good.  And I cannot tell you how thankful I am that I will wake up next to her on the day that is on its way knowing that my cup still runneth over.

Now, if I can get her attention, I’d like a little more gravy.

 

 

 

 

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