This is a valentine story.
Once, many moons ago — and we are talking a bunch of moons — I was editor of our high school’s newspaper. One of the paper’s responsibilities, beyond publishing an occasional issue, was the annual Sweetheart Ball held each February around Valentine’s Day.
What staging a dance had to do with journalism, I never quite figured out. There is still a lot I don’t understand about the news business, but that’s a story for another day.
One thing I did know was that I needed a date for the event and had no steady girlfriend. Nothing to do but invite one of my good buddies to go with me. She was a dependable friend who was a good listener and even helped me with my homework on occasion. She was very bright, quiet and even a bit shy. And me? I was 6 feet of gawkiness, complete with a burr haircut and ears that would make Dumbo jealous. A power couple we were not.
I don’t remember much about that evening, but we must have had a good time because we began to date occasionally. No big deal. Still just good friends. She even continued to help me with my homework by keeping my Spanish notebook for me along with hers, until mine got an “A” and hers got a “B.” That pretty much stuck a fork in that.
There are more dates until by our senior year we find ourselves going steady. She makes the National Honor Society and is voted “most dignified” by her high school classmates. I don’t do anything except graduate.
In one of the cruelties of those times, I head off for college totally unprepared and unqualified for the experience. She goes to work as a secretary, as young women of that time were expected to do, prior to getting married and having a family.
Speaking of getting married, after a few years I am pretty sure I want to marry this woman. Having finally gotten my head on straight, I was in my junior year of college and had landed the plum of Christmas season jobs, delivering mail. Only problem was I broke my hand badly three weeks before I was to start. I bluffed my way through my final interview by hiding my cast with my coat. But when I showed up for work, an obviously displeased postmaster declared if I missed completing my daily routes on time (this was in the days before mail trucks), I would be let go.
So, I ran. Literally. I ran from house to house with mail stuffed in my cast and a postal bag full of Christmas cards and Life Magazines on my shoulder. My feet were a bloody mess.
Each night my mother soaked them and applied salves and balms and off I went the next day. It was an agonizing two weeks, but I was able to save up enough money to buy an engagement ring and present it, appropriately on Valentine’s Day. We were married four months later.
Dutifully married, I begin my scramble up the corporate ladder. She concentrates on her responsibilities of raising our son and daughter. Still shy, she dreads the cocktail parties, banquets and conferences that are an obligatory part of my career. A fawning corporate wife sucking up to the boss is not in her DNA.
Over the years, she becomes more self-assured and confident and a great partner as I make a few more rungs up the ladder. While I am proud of how she has blossomed, still something is missing: College. With two kids in college, it is time for Momma to go.
She does. And succeeds. After 25 years away from the school books, she gets a nursing degree, becomes a registered nurse and enjoys her own career at Delta Air Lines. No more walking in my shadow.
Now, here we are at the December of our lives. It has been quite a trip. Disagreements. Apologies. Bills to pay. Car pools. PTA meetings. Ballgames. Two wonderful children and their mates. Grandchildren. Great-grandchildren. Great experiences. Great friends. The stultifying tragedy of losing a grandson. Surviving serious illnesses and aching joints.
Today, there is the occasional need for a walking cane. A husband who can’t seem to retire. A sometime fuzzy memory. But we’ve made it. Together.
This is my valentine story. It began with a high school prom a long time ago. It endures to this day. Love has no end.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/opinion. Contact him by email or at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; via his website; or his Facebook page.