How Helen met Cliff

Today would be the 75th wedding anniversary of my grandparents Cliff and Helen. In the oral history of her life, Helen talked about how she met Cliff:

I was nineteen when I met him. He asked me if I was twenty-one and I said no. He was twenty-seven, so he was an older guy. I met him at a dance ballroom. In Baltimore, at Gwynn Oak Park, they had a ballroom and an orchestra there and it was fancy. I had gone with my girlfriends. About three of us would go to these USO dances and we would never, ever give anyone our phone number, and we would never let anyone take us home.

After I met Cliff, I danced with him quite a few times. He asked me where I lived, and at that time I lived with my girlfriend, her name was Bertha Mae. She had been my next-door neighbor in Elkins and we had been in the senior play together. I met Cliff, I think it was in August, and over that winter we danced in several of the USO dances. He asked, ‘Are you ever going to give me your phone number?’ And I’d say, ‘Nope. We just don’t do that.’ Then, around Christmastime, another fancy place had a dance. It was called the Alcazar. We were there and I saw my girlfriend dancing with Cliff and I thought, ‘Where’d she find him?’ So I danced with him. And after a few more times of this, he said, ‘How am I ever going to get to know you if you don’t give me your phone number?’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘My intentions are honorable.’ [laughs] What do I say then? So I ended up giving my phone number. I didn’t know what to say. So he’d call and we’d go to movies.

It was a very small wedding. Some of his friends in the Army were there. I was taking a huge chance, wasn’t I? He was straightforward. He said just what he thought. He didn’t gloss over a lot of things and pretend they were better. I thought he was a gentleman. And Cliff had a good voice. When dancing, he always sang, ‘cause he knew every song there was.

It seemed like he filled a vacancy in our family. It was the first Christmas without Jake. But that’s when he asked me to marry him. And I said, ‘Oh my goodness, whoa!’ I hadn’t even thought of that, so I said no. But he kept asking me. He wanted to tell my folks and I said no because I knew that they wouldn’t go for that at all. He was at Fort Meade in Maryland and he was being transferred to Nashville, so that’s probably what stepped up this thing. He sent me a ring from Nashville. I was going to go down for a visit in Nashville over Valentine’s Day in February. He kept calling me and finally said, ‘Why don’t you just buy a one-way ticket. Let’s get married.’ So that’s what happened. My mother and dad did not want me to get married. Not at all. But that was the first time I ever did anything that was against their… Well, Cliff just seemed like a nice person. A good person. The Lord was watching out for me, believe me. He was just a gentleman. He had a lot of empathy for people. My mother liked him. My dad never really said anything for a while. It seemed to her, I think, that he sort of took Jake’s place. It seemed like it filled a void there. It just worked. But she thought I was too young. And I know that, I realize that. I was just very fortunate.

2017 in review

NYE2017-windows

This is the view from my New Year’s Eve. Since I can count the number of degrees it is outside on one hand, I decided to stay in this morning to look back at my 2017 calendar and remember the notable events, trips, and people that made up my year. In chronological order:

  1. The Packers beating the Giants and the Cowboys in the playoffs.

  2. Going down to Florida for my cousin’s funeral was the definition of bittersweet: horrible reason for being there, but good opportunity to see family we don’t see very often.

  3. Sold two typewriters for more than I bought them for. It’s a seller’s market out there.

  4. Went to Ann Arbor, MI, for the first time for a baby shower and hung out with far flung friends.

  5. Starting a two-person book club with my friend Josh, where we get together to eat and discuss the book, along with politics, religion, and everything under the sun. I call them our “save the world” sessions because we sort through the miasma of current events and decide on the proper way to fix them. If only D.C. would listen in!

  6. Bar trivia with Jenny and her cousins. Weren’t close to winning, but reminded me I should do bar trivia more.

  7. Had neighbors over for dinner, which reminded me we should have neighbors over for dinner more.

  8. Saw my grandma the day before she died. Though by that time she was unresponsive, the timing was fortuitous.

  9. Long weekend trip to the Twin Cities to visit friends. Hung out with their awesome kids and gallivanted around town.

  10. Hosted a marriage proposal in our apartment by people who used to live in it.

  11. Saw Sandra McCracken at The Union with Jenny, three of my favorite things.

  12. Got quoted in Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, then hosted a discussion about the book at a local potluck.

  13. Went to Durham, NC, for a wedding and loved it.

  14. Continued playing ultimate frisbee Sunday afternoons when I was able, and loving the feeling of a perfectly thrown touchdown.

  15. Got to facilitate two dozen very cute interviews between 3rd graders for a local history project at my library.

  16. Saw the Cubs lose to the Brewers at Wrigley Field on a cold and rainy day. Highlights within that include seeing two of Jenny’s cousins there, and Nick Offerman walking directly past us after singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.

  17. Went to my first local ward meeting, in a post-election effort to become more civically engaged.

  18. Had a quick and haphazard solo recording session of some of my songs. Won’t be able to use most of it, but it reminded me of the agony and ecstasy of recording.

  19. Took several quick trips to Jenny’s family cottage in Michigan, including over Independence Day weekend.

  20. Celebrated two years of marriage to my bride, who supports my weird hobbies and makes me want to be a better person.

  21. Went to ALA 2017 in Chicago. Seeing the Librarian of Congress was a highlight.

  22. Called or hung out with several friends, new and old, to catch up and get to know each other, all of which I appreciate.

  23. Drove to Toronto for a family wedding. The 8-hour drive wasn’t so great, but being there for the first time was.

  24. Convened with family in Cape May, NJ, for a reunion of sorts, then caravanned to Elkins, WV, for grandma’s memorial service. Saw lots of extended family for the first time and got to hang with my cousins’ kids, who grow too fast.

  25. Played golf for the first time in at least 15 years in Elkins the morning of the memorial. Grateful for my cousin’s husband’s caddying and encouragement the whole rushed 9. Sank one sweet putt and had one great approach shot, otherwise: A for effort.

  26. My sister visited to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field. We were planning to just listen from outside the ballpark as I did years ago with a friend for Paul McCartney, but on a whim we checked the box office for tickets and decided to jump on them as an early birthday present to me. Awesome show.

  27. Saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, California Typewriter, and Columbus at the Music Box.

  28. Hosted several friends and family overnight on our pullout couch-bed, having each of them leave a note in our guest book.

  29. Went to college homecoming for the first time since graduating, and got an alumni discount on a t-shirt as a reward.

  30. Got an advance copy of Tom Hanks’ typewriter book, which I reviewed, then photographed with one of my typers, which got on the news. Then got a letter from the man himself.

  31. Met up with friends in Asheville, NC, which was gorgeous and fun.

  32. Wrote a post a day for #Novemblog2017 instead of trying and failing to write a novel I wouldn’t enjoy doing anyway. Some favorites: This is my alarm clockWant to Read (∞): on becoming a good reader, Google Past, and In praise of wedding reception air drumming.

  33. Got invited to a Friendsgiving and tried to build a gingerbread house with a kid who was super stoked about it.

  34. Welcomed long-awaited nephew Olin Charles into the world, and began taking pictures of him immediately.

  35. Got some books, a Merriam-Webster t-shirt, a banjo capo, and other fun little things for Christmas.

  36. Encountered lots of great books, movies, and music, and wrote more entries in Cool Civil War Names and Refer Madness.

2017: Not Bad!

Great Olin’s Raven!

The first baby in my family has arrived. Behold Olin Charles:

olin

I’ve made fun of my wife for all the pictures and video she takes of her sister’s kids.

I get it now.

Inherit the Words

I was helping my parents clear out their bookshelves in advance of their living room being painted and in the process stumbled upon some interesting artifacts. Among the books, family photo albums, and LPs that had stuck around unplayed for decades, I spotted a small University of Wisconsin notebook. I opened it to find in my mom’s handwriting a list of interesting words and their definitions she started in college:

My mom’s late father also kept a list of new and interesting words he encountered in Time magazine and other reading. I couldn’t help but laugh because I do the same thing, only my list is digital. There are even several words in common between her list and mine. There’s clearly a juiced-up lexicographical chromosome in the gene pool.

I took the notebook home with me because I want to transcribe my word list into it and start adding new ones to keep the tradition alive. Now I wish I’d started my list of words on paper, because I think the order in which I discovered them would be more interesting than an alphabetical list.

The Weight Of History

We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.   —Shirley Abbott

Today, as on every veterans’ themed day, I thought of my grandfather. A lieutenant in Patton’s Third Army in World War II, he earned a Bronze Star for bravery. It is now on display at my parents’ house, encased with the citation letter and his other decorations and badges. He later served under Hoover in the FBI, stationed in Superior, WI, because he could speak Finnish.

It’s funny how something small like that – being able to speak a foreign language – can affect the future so drastically. Had he not been assigned to northern Wisconsin, my grandparents would have never built the cabin on the lake I cherished visiting as a kid. And if we go Back to the Future Part II alternate-reality on this, maybe I would not have even been born. It’s a scary thought.

But that’s why I’m so grateful to my grandpa and all of those in my family line who lived as they lived, for better and for worse. We cannot escape history, as Lincoln said seven score and ten years ago. Everything our family was and is, we are too. This thought may disturb some, but for me it’s a blessing. I consider myself fortunate to have a grandfather from whom I most assuredly inherited my love of history, desire to learn new words, and my penchant for crossword puzzles and squinting.

So more than a simple thank-you for military service, let’s take days like Memorial Day to remember our ancestral heritage and cherish all that our progenitors gave us.