Tuesday, April 1, 2008

With This Ring

Specialist Dave was getting out of the Army. I'd met Specialist Dave through Sergeant Dave, yet another trooper who was also stationed at Fort Stewart and who (before joining the Army) had been the roommate of my cousin Bill in Houston. We, the two Daves and I, didn't hang out together that much, but occasionally we'd meet to have a Bible study, eat fried chicken, talk politics ... whatever. Sergeant Dave had been reassigned to Fort Benning about a year earlier, and now Specialist Dave was getting discharged from the Army.

As an E4, Dave wasn't entitled to any reimbursement for his moving expenses. All he was owed upon discharge was a plane ticket home. In fact, as far as the Army officially knew, Dave lived in the barracks and ate in the mess hall. But his true residence was a flea-infested trailer on a dirt road about two miles from the front gate of Fort Stewart (a locale one might describe as suburban Hinesville, except that cosmopolitan Hinesville was also prone to dirt roads, which actually earned their earthen title only on those rare occasions when it wasn't raining).

But as I said, Dave was leaving the service. With a trailer full of yard-sale-worthy furnishings, Dave needed some way to haul his loot back home to Houston. I had my beige '74 Chevy Vega and Dave was desperate. His best option was to deed to the next resident of the single-wide his legless settee, sagging bed, Formica-topped dining table and those lime-green vinyl-covered chairs, and to make a couple of round-the-clock round trips to Houston in my two-door hatchback with me and the rest of his loot.

It was Columbus Day weekend of 1977. Now, as holidays go, Columbus Day ranks well below Thanksgiving and very marginally above Groundhog Day. But in the military all Federal holidays are special - we had a three day weekend. Sometime around sunset on Friday, after Dave and I had crammed into my car all the junk that would fit, we headed out on our 20-hour trek to Houston. Somewhere around 2:00 AM, along one of the two-lane, undivided, kudzu-draped, yet-to-be-completed stretches of Interstate 10, we determined that both of us were too sleepy to drive. I pulled off beside the road. An hour or so later, an Alabama state trooper's amazingly bright flashlight disturbed my slumber. After a word of caution from the authorities, we pressed on-feeling chastened yet refreshed.

Dave had arranged for us to stay at the apartment of a friend (where he was dumping his junk) and there we crashed for a few hours on Saturday afternoon, putting our army-issued air mattresses to good use. Another migrant soldier, named Joe, was also passing through Houston on his way from the Infantry Officer Basic Course (in Fort Benning, Georgia) to San Francisco, and thence Korea. Joe was holed up in this same apartment, but he'd pulled into town a day or so ahead of us, and had chanced to meet a fellow named Max at Bible class the night before. Max, a patriot who had a big heart for warriors like Joe, had invited him over to supper the following night. Joe extended Max's invitation to Dave and me as we were contemplating what to do for supper that Saturday night.

I replied (even though I've never been known for my social skill), "They don't want a bunch of grungy soldiers invading their house."

Joe saw right to the heart of the matter and responded, "But they have a couple of daughters who are about twenty years old."

Seeing the point of etiquette much more clearly, I said, "Well, I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask."

Joe called Max and asked if they'd mind if he brought a couple of his Army buddies along. I could hear Max's boistrous reply clearly, even though I was several feet away from the earpiece of the phone: "Sure! The more the merrier!" When it came time to go, Dave said he didn't feel very well and backed out, so Joe and I headed over to Max and Diane's house, all ready to eat grub and meet babes. We rang the doorbell and Max invited us in. I introduced myself to Max and Diane (and their two teenage boys who may have wandered through, I don't rightly remember), but as we struck up a conversation with this charming couple, I couldn't help but wonder where Joe's promised "girls" were.

Somehow the conversation wandered onto the subject of family. It was then that Joe and I learned that Max and Diane's two daughters were at the Texas A&M - Rice football game. Our disappointment at not meeting the babes was only increased as we slowly figured out that Diane had no clue we were coming for supper. Now, to my credit, even a social retard like me knew that Emily Post frowns on strangers demanding food from a lady who, up until five minute ago, figured you must be Mormon missionaries canvassing the neighborhood. (Well, actually, we'd have never passed for Mormons; we were way too scruffy. I wasn't even wearing socks, having forgotten to bring a spare pair with me from Fort Stewart.)

So Joe and I sat in the living room and pretended to be interested in the lives of this elderly couple (whom I reckoned to be all of forty years old). Then the doorbell rang and Max answered the door to find Bert Lahr's younger brother (a guy named "Skoney" who was apparently an old friend of Max's and had just decided to drop by). So now Joe and I were being "entertained" by three ancient people.

Then the miracle happened. The front door burst open and in walked, not two, but four girls. The superfluity of young ladies was due to the fact that the daughters (Joyce and Tina) had gone to the Aggie game with two friends. It was then that we learned that Skoney's visit wasn't such a coincidence. Sometime earlier, Skoney had goaded the girls (who were all rooting for A&M) into a wager. Skoney, taking Rice and 15 points, had bet each of them $5.

Of course, A&M beat Rice by only 14 points. So just as soon as the sweet ladies walked in, Skoney, being the "gentleman" that he is, demanded immediate payment. They handed over Skoney's filthy lucre, and Skoney announced, "I'm gonna get something to eat. Who wants to come with me?" Joe and I (remembering the other point of this visit) immediately volunteered and were naturally even more please that it became a co-ed outing. We (Skoney, Max, the two daughters, Joe and I) squeezed into Skoney's car. As I recall it, Joyce's dad and Skoney were up front and the rest of us crammed into the back seat. I was not the least bit displeased when Max's oldest daughter Joyce offered to sit on my lap.

Someone (probably Joyce's dad) pointed out that Joyce was corresponding with other servicemen. Sensing that this remark was intended to highlight Joyce's fickleness at having offered to share my lap, I remarked, "That's very kind of her. Speaking as one lonely soldier, I wouldn't mind having a pretty girl writing me."

The lovely Joyce replied, "You have to write me first."

I eagerly agreed to the bargain and, upon arriving back at Fort Stewart, I took up the challenge. I crafted the cleverest, funniest letter I could (adventures at the laundramat or something), and within a week I had two letters back. I took that as a good sign, and pulled out all the stops on my wit and charm in my next missive. I got three letters in return. So I redoubled my efforts and started spending all my spare time crafting epistles to Joyce. My next letter was again met with a barrage. I thought: If this young lady's carrying on correspondence with other guys, then she's awfully prolific. I began writing every day, but even at full throttle, I only managed to maintain that one-to-three ratio.

I later learned that my letters were not only a big hit with the lovely Joyce, but with her parents as well. She confessed that my letters weren't like those of other guys who wrote her. She thought mine were so funny that she just had to share them with her parents. Years later Max told me he didn't figure there was anything serious between us because Joyce wasn't at all shy about sharing all my correspondence with them. I made no effort to dispel his belief that I was so cunning that I'd managed to steal his daughter right out from under his nose.

But Joyce wasn't entirely a mail order bride. I did manage trips to Houston for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then on one fateful, brutally cold, late-January trip to visit Joyce in Plainview (near Lubbock) where she was doing sales work, I popped the question.

Well, to be technically correct, Joyce asked me, "Why don't we get married?" and I replied, "Let's talk about it tomorrow." I'm sure Joyce thought I was stalling, but I actually wanted to think about how I could arrange to set up a household before I asked her to marry me. Yes that, and I also really didn't want to someday have to tell my kids, "Your mom asked me to marry her and I said, 'Yes'."

Anyway, the story is: Next day we were at K-Bob's Steak House and I looked at Joyce and asked, "How does April First sound?" (Andy, please note: your notion that I intentionally took your mom to K-Bob's to ask her to marry me so that all she would have to answer was the name of the restaurant, " 'K, Bob!" is pure fabrication. You made that up. I'm not nearly that clever.) At any rate, I asked, "How does April First sound?"

And Joyce replied (not " 'K, Bob!" but), "Sounds good! ... For what?"

"For getting married. Let's get married on April First. See, it's my dad's 60th birthday and, ... I don't know, I just like the idea of getting married on April Fool's Day."

Well, of course, Joyce just loved the idea of marrying me on April Fool's Day - the foolish girl.

April first was a beautiful spring day in Houston, or at least as beautiful as Houston can get (a little too muggy for this El Paso boy, but no one else complained). The azaleas were blooming and Joyce was never prettier. Because the parents of the bride had a scheduling conflict (some trip they were committed to and had to leave that evening) and because Joyce and I were very stubborn about the April first date, the wedding was held at 10:00 AM. Everyone gathered at the bride's parents' home and all was going perfectly as we stood before the preacher (a.k.a. my brother Joel) ready to recite our vows - my bride on my left with her father standing behind and to her left; my trusty best man and brother Roy to my right.

At that time Joel had been out of Seminary maybe two years and he was pastoring a small church south of Houston in which funerals were much more frequent than weddings. At any rate, ours was the first wedding he'd ever officiated. I do believe he was more nervous than we were. As I stood gazing at my bride, Joel stood stiffly, eyes fixed on his "script". He'd carefully prepared a manuscript to guide us through the service, thus assuring that nothing could go wrong. With a few words on the sanctity of marriage and a short prayer, we were fast approaching that part of the wedding where Joyce and I get our cameos. Then Joyce blew it.

As Joel spoke of the example of Christ and the Church, Joyce looked straight at me with panick in those beautiful eyes and whispered, "The ring!"

I knew the drill - that was the best man's job. With Joel still droning on, I leaned toward Roy and softly asked, "You got the ring?"

Buckwheat stared back and then tried to give Joel the time-out signal. Joel was not to be distracted from his liturgy.

Now, I have to interject a little background information here. You see, Joyce already had the ring. We'd merely forgotten to make sure we handed it to Roy before the service began. The reason Joyce had whispered, "The ring!" was that she'd just remembered that she'd placed it on the dresser in her bedroom. I had no clue where the ring was, and I wasn't thinking very quickly or I'd have realized there was no way Roy would have any clue where we'd hidden it either. But with that said, I must also tell you that the look of panic on Roy's face was priceless.

Max (father of the bride standing to our left rear) had been observing this drama, and at just the right moment he intervened. While Joyce and I exchanged our vows, Max pulled off his wedding ring and handed it to Roy who seemed very thankful.

When Joel asked: "What token do you give in pledge that you will faithfully perform these vows?" Roy passed him Max's wedding ring.

Still not glancing up from the script, Joel held Max's ring up for everyone to see and solemnly intoned: "May this ring henceforth be the pure and changeless symbol of your pure and changeless love." Then he handed the plumbing fixture to me. I got tickled.

Joel commanded, "Bob, repeat after me, 'I give this ring...'."

"I give THIS? ring ..."

"... as an unending pledge of my love and devotion…"

"... as an unending pledge of my love and devotion {snicker}…"

"... until death shall separate us."

"... until death {snicker} shall separate us {snort}."

Joyce, only slightly less composed than I, somewhat less than solemnly pledged to wear her father's beveled-edged ring as an unending symbol of her unending love and devotion until death parted us. The only way she could have kept that promise to wear that honker of a ring was to slip it onto two of her fingers.

Joel then prayed and closed with the pronouncement: "What therefore God hath joined together let not man put asunder" and we erupted in laughter.

Eyeing me hard, Joel asked in a tone that seemed to threaten to refuse to sign our marriage license, "You did take your vows seriously, didn't you?"

"Well yeah, kind of ..."

So here we are now, thirty years later. I reckon we were serious enough.


joyce said...

And thanks to blogging, I have been given back the gift of enjoying your writing after thirty years. What fun ! You look like the most happy fellow in both pictures. My favorite part of the wedding pictures is your hand on my waist in almost every shot--like you had gotten a good deal, and you were not about to let go. Little did you know you were about to pull away from the best wedding and reception on four bald tires...pulling the U-Haul trailer with all my things...but, we can save that story for another day.

Bob said...

Let's just say, those four bald tires were a pretty good April Fool's prank. You got me! But best of all, I got you.

Ky Woman said...

What a beautiful story.....

and I tend to agree with the missus about your gift of writing.

Happy Anniversary! May you be blessed with another 30 years of bliss.

supergurl said...

wow, awesome.

this is a wonderful, wonderful post. and of course, happy anniversary. and you two are both so beautiful, it's good to see your pics. very nice.

LadyBugCrossing said...

Aww... what a great story. Happy Anniversary.
Mr. and I are up to 19 years in Dec. and wouldn't trade a minute of it.

Roses said...

I saw your wedding photo and thought, "OMG! You married Drew Barrymore!"

Happy Anniversary, you couple of cuties, you!

Chicka said...


Beautiful. I can't wait to hear more stories.

Mrs. Who said...

Best durn story I've read in the blogosphere for awhile. Thank you for sharing.

Now I need to find a hankie. My allergies are acting up again, making my eyes water. yeah.

Bob said...

Y'all might have noticed there's a bit of a difference between the before and after shots. As you can see, the old girl's just about scorch all the hair off with those hot kisses of hers.

GUYK said...

Great post. Happy Anniversary!

jennifer said...

Oh SWEET!!!! That is a lovely story and thank you for sharing it. Y'all are my favorite couple in Blogland!!!!


buffi said...

You crazy kids! You are an inspiration to me!