Sometimes you meet people; Wonderful, beautiful people that catch your eye. Something about the way they talk or look at each other makes you smile and think to yourself: ‘There’s a story here…’
I met Dale and Carol at an event hosted at Cedar Campus earlier this year. I was running the photo booth, and they were easily the cutest couple there. They had even been wearing matching sweaters earlier during the retreat, and I had been meaning to ask them about their story. The more I talked with Dale and Carol, the more I wanted to write it down, I wanted to get the whole beautiful story. And so, I did something I normally wouldn’t. I asked the two love birds if they would share their story with me, in their own words. And boy, did they! I give to you the un-edited, in-their-own-words, perfect, wonderful, hilarious story of When Dale Met Carol.
In the fall of 2013 Maryville University offered a class treating motion pictures as literature. Each week the students viewed and discussed a movie selected by a faculty member based on the film’s historical, technical, literary or critical content. The class meetings were opened to the general public and visitors were welcome to participate in the discussions. Carol and I used the class as our “cheap date night”. While discussing the film “When Harry Met Sally”, the moderator singled us out and asked how we met. After that class I realized I had never committed the story to paper so I began the task that evening while my words were still fresh in my memory. The following narrative is essentially my response to that question.
When Dale Met Carol
Carol and I were both born in 1951, so we’re definitely – like the film characters Harry and Sally – of the “baby boom” generation. As of Feb, 2018, we’ve been married (to each other!) for 43-1/2 years. You asked how we came to meet. Our story is definitely a contrast to Harry and Sally’s, and is also rather unusual among members of our generation. Certain elements are much more common now than they were some 40 years ago so perhaps our experience offers insight to the current generation of young adults. Perhaps you will quickly consider my age and expect me to start with something out of a history book, such as a “mail-order bride”. Or how a much-older person in the community arranged for our “proper” introduction.
But actually . . .
. . . . it was in a gate area at Detroit airport where I first laid eyes on her.
It was probably in Junior High School where you learned the standard wisdom about how guys don’t remember dates such as their anniversary, wife’s birthday, Valentine’s Day, July the 4th, or Friday the 13th. Well, I know it was 1973 when we met. . .
. . . . in August . . .
. . . . the 3rd . . .
. . . . Friday afternoon . . .
. . . . about 1:00 or 2:00 o’clock.
That evening we had our first date. At the end of our date I went to kiss her. (We may have first seen each other just a few hours previously, but guys have a reputation we’re supposed to live up to.) I expected, at best, a perfunctory peck out of obligation, but she responded by kissing back. REALLY kissing back. Really, SERIOUSLY kissing back. (The cultural practice that I picked up somewhere said it was acceptable, though not required, for a guy to try for an embrace and kiss at the end of a first date. The girl was free to reject the gesture, or accept it, or deflect it (e.g., by offering a cheek or forehead for the kiss, hugging with her arms held between their bodies, etc). The guy, of course, complied with her preference.) That was on Friday night. On the following Monday morning I woke up in her bed.
Now that I have your undivided attention . . .
The movie characters Harry and Sally first met following a college graduation. In the spring of 1973 I was sitting in my own college graduation. I had gone through four years of university without dates, much less anything like a girlfriend. I watched my friends and classmates receive their diplomas. As many of them stepped down they were met by a wife or girlfriend (or possibly both – the “swinging 60’s” hadn’t really ended yet) who applied displays of affection verging on sexual assault. I thought, “Hey – I must be the ONLY guy here who has never been laid!”.
That was certainly not the most righteous thought I ever had. What’s more, it wasn’t true then, and I don’t think it would be true today. There are valid statistical studies to support that claim, but it would be another 5 or 10 years before I actually comprehended it. Even back then, when I was honest with myself, I knew I didn’t want to simply “get laid”, but I wanted a committed, life-partner relationship whose expression included mutually enjoyable sex.
A few days later I was discussing graduation, future plans, and related topics with a much older married couple who were family friends. Somehow it slipped out that “girls avoided me like the plague” and I was rather frustrated with the situation. A week or two later the wife of that couple passed me a note with the name and address of her niece Carol (she was aware that her contact information was being passed, and she approved) and the suggestion that we should compare college experiences.
Well, there was a distance problem in excess of 600 miles. This all happened well before internet, email, text messages, pocket phones, or skype, and even a 20 minute interstate phone call could eat up over an hour’s take-home pay for a typical student. So we wrote to each other. Sight unseen. Real letters, on real paper. I often included a friendship card, or occasionally some trinket gift. The correspondence frequency increased to several times a week, and the content became more thoughtful and serious. At the time the arrangement seemed clumsy and inconvenient but it let me interact with a real live, female, girl person of the opposite sex without the anxiety of actually being in her presence. In retrospect it was actually a good way for two somewhat quiet-and-shy people to get very well acquainted at a personal level. I don’t think it’s being overly romantic to say that after 3-1/2 months of writing, sight unseen, we knew each other better than if we had been in a standard dating relationship for that time.
Carol’s Aunt Lora hadn’t said so but she thought there was compatibility between us. And she had the maturity, insight and giftedness to accurately make that judgment. She knew me from High School youth group activities, and her niece as a member of a rather close extended family. This wasn’t a casual referral, such as you generally get from peers in your teens or 20’s. Though well intentioned, young adult friends tend to connect you with the first unattached and readily accessible who comes to mind.
After 3-1/2 months it happened that Carol was flying to Detroit, passing through on her way to a family event. That’s how I came to be at Detroit airport, picking up a girl I had never met. (Carol’s Aunt Lora was standing at my elbow when we first saw each other, but within seconds her presence – whether for support, buffering, or prompting – was obviously not required.) That evening we attended a summer concert (a Gershwin review, as I recall) and this proper Christian girl actually kissed on the first date! It was a kiss between people who had just met each other a few hours previous; it was also a kiss between people who were already well acquainted as friends and were already very much “in like” with each other.
The next evening (Saturday), after her family event, I made a call and learned that she would be leaving from Detroit on Monday morning, but how she would get from her parents’ home to the airport wasn’t certain. The distance was about 125 miles . . . .
So on Sunday afternoon I drove two hours to Carol’s home. We spent the evening with her parents and family. The old farmhouse lacked the luxury of a guest bedroom so that night Carol slept with one of her sisters in another room, and relinquished her own bedroom to me. That’s why I was in her bed on Monday morning, less than three days after we met. I’m sorry to disappoint those who had other ideas – Carol wasn’t in there with me. It would be 376 days, until we experienced the emotional intensity of first-time sex between two virgins on our wedding night.
A few weeks later her summer job ended, I was in grad school, and our separation decreased to about 200 miles. We started spending weekends together. In fact, most of our dating over the next year was done as houseguests of each other’s family. We didn’t see each other only after preparing for a date. We saw each other at the breakfast table – with our families in church – washing dishes – doing household shopping – helping her dad milk cows. More significantly we learned a lot about each other by seeing each other’s interactions (both serious and not-so-serious) with parents, siblings, and friends. Likewise the friends and family were evaluating us as a couple. Perhaps the most important result was that we saw our relationship as part of a much larger network of family, community, and history. This contrasted to a common attitude held by couples among our peers that “We love each other, and you and me are all that really matter”.
I think those were significant factors in the rate at which our relationship developed and matured. In August 1974 – two weeks after the one year anniversary of our first in-person meeting – and that first-date kiss – we kissed at the altar in our wedding service.
(And, for those who are disappointed that we didn’t land in bed together on the weekend we met, when we woke up the morning after our wedding, we WERE in bed together!)
Addendum: I am amazed at how some of these event details are still vivid in my memory decades later. I didn’t mention the incident with her purse at the start of our first date, which led to the first time we held hands . . . and probably gave me the courage to even try for that first kiss. It may help my memory that she finds some of these details embarrassing. (For example, I understand her NEXT husband will NOT tell people that he woke up in her bed on the third day after first meeting her.)
In contrast I find it disappointing and frustrating that I recall very little about our actual wedding service. We wrote out, with our pastor’s review and approval, our own original wedding vows. They were essentially quite traditional and certainly not great literature, but still personal and meaningful to us. We faced each other, held hands, and recited them during our service. Several people mentioned that moment as being very moving and romantic. I expected we would remember those vows forever, but in fact I can only give you a vague outline of what I said, and we’ve looked at them only a few times since then.
The part of our service that I DO recall – vividly – is the conclusion. Standing at the front of the sanctuary, the pastor had us turn around and face our friends and relatives in the congregation. Then he introduced us – for the very first time – as “Mr and Mrs Dale Chisholm”. That certainly felt VERY significant . . . . Then we had the congregation stand and sing the short “Doxology” with us. (You may know the song as “Old 100”:
“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below ”
Hearing those words about God’s blessings – as I stood there beside Carol, a wonderful blessing from God – was perhaps the most joyous and thrilling moment of my life. The traditional country-church sanctuary where we held our service is still there, though seldom used, having been supplanted by a newer building in the “20th century machine shed” architectural style. When we visit Carol’s parents we often find ourselves worshipping or attending some other event in that church building. On occasion I will dislodge her from chatting with friends and family and lead her to the spot at the front of the old sanctuary, where we stood when we were first introduced as husband and wife. Then I face her, sing Doxology and get another kiss. (Hey, it may have been 39 years ago, but the preacher DID say I could kiss her there!) She is STILL an incredible blessing!
This little tradition is also a great way to embarrass our kids. You can imagine their conversation:
“I don’t see mom and dad here. Where did they go?”.
“I think they’re over in the old church building, doing . . . you know.”
“Oh – that mushy stuff.”
Addendum 2: Carol’s mother died of Alzheimer’s disease. Her funeral service was held in the old sanctuary of that church where Carol and I were married. In fact, my mother-in-law’s casket was placed in exactly the same location where Carol and I were introduced as husband and wife, the place that I considered special to our union. Sitting in the funeral service it bothered me a little that this special place would now be forever linked in my mind to two contrasting memories. However, there’s a sense in which it DOES complete a sacred circle: we are blessed by God, to be a blessing, and glorify Him by passing the blessing. Berna was blessed with a daughter, whom she helped mold into the blessing that is my wife, who will glorify God through our children and descendents. As I had started to unconsciously learn, four decades ago, our marriage and relationship is about more than Carol and me.
I want to thank Dale and Carol for sharing their story with me, and for being so open, honest, and willing to share it here on the blog. Some love stories are too wonderful to ignore.