For a 35th wedding anniversary, the traditional gift is coral, and the modern gift is jade. Since John and I consider every day we’re together a gift, we decided to skip exchanging presents and instead took a trip to Colorado to celebrate our momentous occasion. Spending five days together in that beautiful state gave us a lot of time to reflect on how this whole journey began.
For two kids getting married on that hot early fall day, September 11, 1981, there would have been no way we could have guessed how the next 35 years would unfold. When I say kids, I’m not kidding. I was 19 and John was 20. We met when I was a 17-year-old senior in high school. We dated nine months, were engaged nine months, and had our first child… three-and-a-half years later.
It’s kind of crazy looking back now because we thought we knew everything at the time but 19 and 20 is pretty young. But things were different back then. There really wasn’t the hook-up culture that we see now — for most of us as teens, the idea of dating was to begin the sorting process to find the person you’d eventually want to spend the rest of your life with.
This was back before the days when the vast majority of kids headed to college right out of high school. I would guess that less than 10 percent of our friends made the decision to further their education at a four-year university. Most people went into a trade after high school graduation.
It wasn’t quite that cut and dried for us. For John, being the 10th youngest of 12 children in his family, he never gave serious consideration to going onto college. Instead, he followed his dad’s footsteps and went into the industry his dad worked in. For me, when I was a senior in high school, my two older brothers were in college and my dad was encouraging me to go onto school and get a degree in engineering (following his passion) because as a woman I could “write my ticket to the world by having a degree in a male-dominated field.”
I was accepted at Marquette University and UW-Madison and enrolled at Wisconsin. My path looked clear until that fateful night, March 8, 1980 (which by chance happened to be five years to the day before our first child was born). It was a Saturday night and I was at a nightclub with my girlfriends (who all were 18, the legal drinking age at the time, I’ll admit I was the one sneaking past the bouncer).
We were sitting in a corner booth at The Regency when in walked a couple of guys, one of whom immediately caught my eye. I’ll admit it — it was John’s good looks that got my attention! My job the rest of the night was to catch his eye when my friends and I hit the floor dancing to the disco tunes.
My plan worked. A slow song came on and John came over to our booth and asked me to dance. We introduced each other and started telling a little about ourselves as we danced. When John mentioned he had 11 brothers and sisters I said, “Awesome, you’re Catholic!”
Well, that slow dance led to many more slow dances over the course of the next few weeks and then on April 19 John asked if he could drive me home. That night, in my dad’s driveway, he asked if I would go on a date with him to see a movie the next night, April 20, 1980.
Of course I said yes. I couldn’t wait to see him the next day and as the time he was supposed to pick me up came and went, he wasn’t there. He did get there eventually. Apparently he had been playing football with his brothers and cousins and went home afterwards to take a shower and catch a quick nap and ended up oversleeping. Not sure how impressed my dad was with this guy when he came to the door but the date was on, we got to the theater before the movie started and halfway through “Die Laughing,” John grabbed my hand in his. From that moment on we were pretty much inseparable.
That was until I left for college in late August. That was a sad day. I threw my suitcase and a record player in my dad’s sedan (that was before the extreme packing that college kids go through in this day and age). I wondered when we’d see each other again.
It turned out, it wasn’t too long. I got Badger season tickets so John came down for one of the first home games. After that we knew we wanted to see each other as much as possible so I either arranged to get a ride home for the weekend or grab a bus home or John would drive down and pick me up or come down to Madison to spend his weekends there.
School was going well, probably because I did more studying than socializing. I was studying chemical engineering but I was beginning to wonder about my major. It didn’t seem like engineering had a lot of flexibility and if John and I were going to get married and have a family someday, I really didn’t see myself devoting 50 to 60 hours to that career every week and missing our kids growing up.
One of those weekends when John was in Madison we went to a mall and picked out an engagement ring. At the end of the semester, several days before Christmas, John picked me up from school and we packed everything I had brought down to Madison into the trunk of his Chevy Nova. It was at that point that we knew I wouldn’t be going back.
On Christmas Eve John picked me up at my dad’s and was driving over to his parent’s house for their celebration and on the way there pulled into the parking lot at a park and stopped the car. He pulled out a box from his pocket and opened it to reveal the ring we had picked out. He asked me if I would marry him. Of course I said yes!
After the holidays I gave notice at UW-Madison that I would not be returning for the next semester of school. I applied for jobs and got a job as a proofreader at Home Mutual Insurance. The next several months went by fast as we planned our wedding. It was fun because several of the girls I worked with were engaged as well so a number of us were in the middle of wedding plans.
September 11 dawned bright and beautiful. It was an unseasonably warm day — nearly 100 degrees. It was warm with my long-sleeved Victorian style wedding gown and for John and his groomsmen in their black tuxedos. The day turned out perfectly and was a beautiful start to our lives together. We were young, definitely didn’t have a lot of money, but with some frugal decisions were able to put on our entire wedding (including the meal for 125, beer, my wedding dress, our rings, hall rental, etc.) for less than $1,500. I still find that pretty amazing.
The future certainly was as bright at the clear blue sky that day. We would have never been able to predict the trials and tribulations we would be faced with over the next three decades but we also wouldn’t have been able to imagine the joy and fun our lives would bring (particularly because of our four children and our three grandchildren).
It’s been quite the adventure! I wouldn’t go back and change a thing! Like they say, what didn’t kill us made us stronger. I can happily say that meeting John 36 years ago was the best day of my life. I must have done something good to have a man like him choose to be my life partner. We are best friends, there is no one on this planet I’d rather spend time with than him. Every day it is such a joy to wake up next to him. I can’t wait to see what the next 35 years brings!