This is a rather long blog post, so let me remind you that on June 13, I will be presenting Month 2 of the Lateral Link Rainmaker Series. I will show you how to prepare a business plan that works.
Today is an important day for me and for Nancy. 49 years ago today Nancy and I got married. You can do the math. It was June 6, 1970.
Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, once famously said:
“A Wedding is an event, a marriage is an achievement.”
I recently read that the face of marriage is changing and the risk of divorce is higher than ever before, so I have not been surprised when in my work with young lawyers I’m asked:
“Cordell, you and Nancy have been married 49 years this year, what is your secret to a long and happy marriage?
The first time I was asked, I thought:
“Great question. I hadn’t really thought about it.”
Now, I tell lawyers, there really isn’t one secret, but in our case, our crazy, out of the norm, weird courtship, wedding and honeymoon, and adjusting to married life made us appreciate each other in ways other couples might miss. We learned to not judge each other, but rather to accept that each of us was giving 100% of our capacity to give.
If you’re curious, let me tell you the story. I doubt you know anyone who started off like we did.
We formally met for the first time when I was a groomsman at the wedding of my high school best friend and my high school girl friend. I say formally because we really met when I worked for the park district and umpired girl’s softball games and Nancy was the star 12-year-old player in the ponytail league. I noticed that even at that young age, she was all-in on whatever she was trying to accomplish.
When I saw her at the wedding, it was love at first sight. If you were to think of a photograph you have seen from that era, you would be able to picture her. Her hair was long and reached to her waist and she wore the shortest miniskirts you could buy at the time. She was a Chicago suburbs version of a Haight Asbury, summer of love, flower child.
Immediately after the wedding, we started dating. Sounds normal so far, right? You’re likely thinking we went out to dinner, took in movies, sat at home in the evening and watched some TV together.
Our summer dating was nothing like that. We both worked on the graveyard shift from midnight to 8 AM, earning money for college and law school. We never had a date in the evening. Our dates consisted of breakfast, bowling at a place open 24 hours and driving downtown to Lake Michigan to sit on the beach. Since neither of us ever got used to being awake all night and sleeping during the day, we were like zombies when we were together. We did a lot of sleeping together, as that term was originally intended.
At the end of the summer, after our whirlwind courtship and to the shock of our parents, we got engaged. As soon as we were engaged I headed off to law school in Virginia and Nancy stayed in the Chicago area for her second year of college. During our engagement, we only saw each other during the Christmas Holiday season and spring break.
When my law firm semester ended in early June, I, along with three classmates who were in our wedding party took off in my VW Beetle bound for Chicago. We arrived on June 5, just in time for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.
On that Saturday, Nancy and I were married. After most weddings, there is a reception and the newly married couple goes on their way somewhere for a nice honeymoon.
That wasn’t the way it worked for us. Since I had to be back in class on Monday, our honeymoon consisted of staying in a no-tell motel at one of the Ohio Turnpike exits and our first dinner as a married couple was at the truck stop next door.
Our First Year
When most couples return from their honeymoon, they settle in at a new apartment and start making their life together. By now, you likely know that was not exactly how it worked for us.
We lived with my grandmother, my 100 plus-year-old great-grandmother, and a law school classmate, whose bedroom was five feet away from ours. We were an interesting household, to say the least. Picture what it was like for us being newly married with virtually no privacy.
Nancy and I both went to school, leaving at about 6 in the morning. After class, I worked at the Virginia State Penitentiary from 2-10 PM, during which I learned two things.
- I never wanted to become a criminal lawyer
- Not one of the convicts admitted he had committed the crime.
By the time I got back to my grandmother’s house, at 10:30, I was exhausted.
First Christmas on Our Own
When I finished law school, passed the bar exam, I received orders from the USAF to report to Norton AFB, in San Bernardino, CA, on December 6. So, in December of 1971, 18 months after we were married, Nancy and I finally had an opportunity to take what we described at the time as our honeymoon when we left Virginia in our VW beetle with no air conditioning for sunny Southern California.
As we crossed the country, I couldn’t get the Simon and Garfunkel song: “America.” Out of my head.
It begins with:
Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And we walked off to look for America
We treated our trip like a honeymoon and a great adventure. We spent time along the way in small towns and big cities. We saw fields, streams, and mountains. Each morning when we started we had no idea where we would spend that night. To quote a line from another Simon and Garfunkel song:
Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the moment last.
Nancy and I arrived in San Bernardino, California in early December, and we secured a wonderful two-bedroom apartment, the first place of our own. It’s hard to put in words how excited we were. I started work, and Nancy started her study, at the University of California, Riverside, her fourth college. Later, she would become the first college graduate in her family when she received her degree from Wright State University.
Because we had just arrived, we only knew the few Air Force people with whom I was working. And, even though we would be alone on Christmas, we were excited about it.
We spent a lot of time planning. If Facebook had been around that Christmas, our friends would have seen photos of us playing tennis in the morning and skiing at Big Bear in the afternoon. They would have seen photos on New Year’s day from the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena.
But, the most interesting Facebook photos would have been taken on Christmas Eve. That night Nancy served a special dinner for me and I gave her what I believed was the greatest Christmas gift ever. Neither gesture went exactly as planned and we still laugh about it.
A week earlier I bought Nancy a brown knit dress at a local store. I confess I was a pretty naïve husband to think I could pick out a dress for Nancy. But, the young woman who helped me said it was very California, whatever that meant. and was the style for the year.
When Nancy tried it on, I thought she looked fantastic. She wore the dress to church and said all the right things about it, but over time I noticed she never wore it a second time. When I finally asked why she told me that it cupped her hips.
I’m sure other women would understand, but I wasn’t exactly sure what the problem was. I thought that’s what made it attractive. If you can picture Jaylo in any clinging outfit, or if you know the Shakira song “Hips Don’t Lie, that’s how Nancy looked in the brown dress.
Nancy also had a special treat for me. I had been introduced to “real” Mexican food at Lucy’s, a wonderful restaurant still in business at the same location. In early December, I was introduced to Chile Rellenos that were part of a special combination plate that cost $1.75 at the time and $8.75 today. In California, Chile Rellenos are deep fried, different from the way they are cooked in Texas.
Hearing me rave about the dish, Nancy bought a Mexican Cookbook and surprised me on Christmas Eve with Chile Rellenos. When I looked at the plate, I knew there was something wrong. There were 12 of Chile Rellenos on the plate, 11 more than I had ever eaten at Lucy’s. They were small chiles, unlike the Anaheim chiles in Lucy’s dish.
When I took my first bite, it was hotter than anything I had ever eaten at the time. Instead of using Anaheim chiles, Nancy had used jalapeño peppers and had left the seeds in. Since that time, I wondered if Nancy had inadvertently invented Jalapeño Poppers.
In the last 49 years, I have never given Nancy another dress, and she has become a Chile Relleno aficionado, making them both the California way and the Texas way. We’ve learned a lot, moved a lot and now live in Prosper, Texas.