(Sept, 2015) Sixty years. On the finite scale of trips around the sun, that span of time is measurable with precision; but put it in your brain, where memories live, and all semblances of precision and logic disappear. A particular incident may be remembered as clearly as if it had
happened this morning… or it may blur back in time as far as the Old Testament. For example, take the announcement that came out in the paper the next day. For all I remember, it might have said:
"And it came to pass that on the 20th day of the Month of Augustus, in the Year of Our Lord 1955, when the Green Corn Moon was but three days into its cycle, the clans of the Hixens, Cimiawskis, Merediths and Browns did converge upon the Presbyterian Church in the coal-mining hamlet of Jordan in the state of West Virginia. And there, when the temperature
had reached the appointed level of 100 degrees, Betty Jean Hixen and William Meredith, in the presence of their clans and attendants and assorted onlookers, did present themselves to stand before the Reverend Edgar Towne. And there they recited the vows of Holy Matrimony, as rehearsed and directed, and were pronounced Man and Wife until death shall them part."
The only things I remember with certainty are that it was hot, and she was beautiful. Her father, unaccustomed to formalities but not intimidated by them, walked her down the aisle, grabbed my hand, and put hers into it with a firmness that implied, "There. That’s done. Now see what you can do with her." The rest is a blur; I can name things that must
have happened, but the only clear pictures that remain now are the ones in our photo album.
There was, of course, a history before that day. We met five years earlier, on the school bus. I think it was coincidental, but I’ve never been sure; I was late getting on one day, and the only empty seat was beside her. I had noticed her before… how could I not? …but she was a Freshman, I was a Senior, and we lived in different worlds. I don’t remember
being aware of it, but over the next several weeks, somehow that seat always seemed to be available. A few months later, she invited me to her 14th birthday party… and from then on, the details become indistinct in my memory.
Our first date happened a few weeks later. Dating was a new experience; I was on a very limited budget, and was not sure whether I was expected to provide any extra entertainment besides the movie we were to see. I felt I was on thin ice when the evening started; but it was too late to back out, so I picked her up in my Dad’s car, we went to the movie
and then came home, and she seemed satisfied. Apparently she also had been brought up on limited budgets; she seemed happy with the evening and did not expect more. I was so relieved that I kissed her. I imagine it was done awkwardly, but I’m not sure… I don’t remember anything else… I guess I must have gone home then….
We continued dating for the next four years, while I finished college; she finished High School, and started a two-year secretarial program at the local Business College. I think we both felt that we were on a one-way track that led directly toward marriage; we were both happy with that idea, but beyond that our reactions were very different. I tended to
worry about long-range details and try to plan how life would be. She seemed to think things like that would take care of themselves; she was more concerned with immediate problems, like finding a wedding dress that was both attractive and on sale. I assumed I would get a job as a High School science teacher; but then a new Biology Professor told me I should go to Graduate
School. When I protested that I couldn’t afford it, he told me I could get a graduate assistantship at West Virginia University which would actually pay me to get a Master’s degree.
I was amazed. It seemed that her approach worked; all the problems I had worried about had gone away, so we began making wedding plans. I intended to get a summer job; but then we found that the program at WVU required two summer courses. We set the wedding date for the weekend after the second class finished; but we found I had misread the calendar, and
there would be another week of school after our wedding. We had already sent out the invitations, so it was too late to change the date. To make things worse, I found that an exam in Physiology was scheduled for the Monday after the wedding. I went to Dr. Charles Norman, and asked if I might take his exam later. He smiled gently and said he understood how such things happen;
but this was Graduate School, and it was part of the training that we must learn to do our work on time, even when minor inconveniences like weddings intervene. He assured me that I could do it, and things would turn out OK, and he wished me well. I left his office in a state of panic; but it turned out that he was correct. It was an important lesson that I never forgot, and he
became a good friend as well as a mentor as a result.
All of that may explain why my memory of the wedding itself is so spotty. We went back to her parents’ house from the church. The house and yard were full of people, eating, drinking, and laughing; she went inside with five aunts and several school friends to change, and someone lured me around to the back of the house so I wouldn’t see them decorating
the car. The afternoon was swelteringly hot, and seemed to drag on for hours, but finally she came out. There was another interminable delay while they took pictures; then, finally, we drove off toward Morgantown, trailing streamers and tin cans behind us. We got to our apartment, and discovered that it was hot there too; so we sat down and looked at each other until we figured
out what to do next.
We got up the next morning a bit later than I had planned, and drove to Blackwater Falls for a honeymoon picnic. It was about 70 miles, but on West Virginia roads that took over two hours. We got there about noon, and tried to build a fire to roast some hot-dogs; but there was very little dry wood to be found. Finally a small, smoky blaze developed. We
told each other that we really did prefer rare wieners, and there was a can of baked beans to go with them. Thus fortified, we walked to the falls, and took some pictures; and then we went back to Morgantown. I had intended to review a bit for the physiology exam that evening, but I didn’t get around to it… after all, there are some things about physiology that you can’t learn
Nothing much happened after that. She finished Business College; our daughter was born; I got my degree and we moved to Emmitsburg, where I taught for the next 41 years. We lived in college housing for the first 10 years; two more kids came along, and she did the work of raising them while I earned a Ph. D. at College Park. Then we bought a house in
town, and when all of the kids were in school she found gainful employment, first at Sperry’s Ford garage and then as a Teacher’s Aide. Time speeded up; the kids went to college, then got married, and grandchildren began to appear. The kids sent us back to Blackwater Falls for a 40th Anniversary, and then it soon was time to retire. I traded my 60-hour work weeks for golf; she
contented herself with cooking, baking and canning which led toward an annual harvest of blue ribbons at the Thurmont Community Show. A 50th Anniversary was celebrated at the college with about 150 of our closest friends. And then time began to divide; the world speeded up, but we slowed down. And now, here we are.
Sometimes I think back about all the time I spent worrying and planning how life was going to go, and I remember Shakespeare’s words. More often than not, what I planned and worried about didn’t happen; and if someone could have looked into the seeds of time and told me how things were really going to work out, I wouldn’t have believed them. Yet life has
been good. And when I see her each morning, she is still beautiful.
Read other articles by Bill Meredith