Monday, July 2, 2007

Living on Love

As we ate dinner with my parents last night they started reminiscing about the early days of their marriage. We call them the “good old days” but what that really means is the period during which they didn’t have two nickels to rub together and were living on love. It's funny now, but back then, things were tough. It’s hard to think of your parents as young lovers, but as they laughed and revealed little tidbits I’d never heard, I started seeing them in a different light. I’ve always had a great admiration for the way they’ve nurtured their marriage over the last 44 years. Oh, they bicker and disagree with each other, but I’ve never seen them fight like some couples do. They’ve also overcome the poverty of their childhood, managed to make a good living and raised three successful children. That’s why it’s hard for me to picture them as feisty newlyweds, fighting over things like money.

Last night I was surprised to learn that early in their marriage, in the heat of an argument over the rickety old farmhouse they were living in, my mother threatened to move to an apartment in town if daddy didn’t find them a better place to live. It seems she told him he could go with her or stay right where he was, but she was moving to better digs. She was pregnant with me at the time, so she must have been pretty ticked to make that kind of ultimatum. They were living way out in the country in what was called “The Old Mathis Place”. It had more drafts than a pair of old underwear and no running water. Daddy was fresh out of the Army and making $35 a week at a local garage. My pregnant mother was tired of looking at holes in the floor and dragging tubs of water into the sunshine to warm them up for baths. I guess she had dragged one tub too many when she made her threat. She didn’t make good on her threat, because I was born a short time later and spent my first months of life in that old house.

Daddy had to scrape up several hundred dollars to bring me and Mamma home from the hospital. For as long as I can remember, Zeke has somehow always managed to dig up the money needed for whatever financial crisis that comes along, no matter how broke he is. He was really broke in the summer of 1964, so he sold a B Farmall tractor to raise most of the money for the hospital bill. He was still short $200, so he walked into the First National Bank and asked for a loan….a loan to bring us home. He explained his problem to the bank manager. Without any thought, the manager slid Daddy a form to sign and two $100 bills out of the cash drawer. Our hospital bail was secured, and a lifetime relationship between Daddy and First National was begun. I am humbled by the pride Daddy must have swallowed in order to ask for that loan. I am also pretty amused by the fact that my worth at birth was the price of an old tractor.

Mamma did get her apartment. She and Daddy moved north so Daddy could work at an arsenal and make more money. I have vague memories of that apartment, of riding the train home on the weekends to see family, of eating Hostess fruit pies at the beauty shop with Mamma and of getting snowed in our apartment by a wicked Chicago winter. By the time I turned five, we were packing up and moving back home to our roots with a new baby in tow. A much better job for Daddy led to more prosperity and eventually a brand new home, built from the ground up, to our specifications. Knowing what I know now about life and marriage, I realize those first financially strapped years of marriage must have been pretty tough for Mamma and Daddy. You wouldn't know it by the way they act today. By the way Mamma was laughing last night, I’m pretty sure she's glad she didn't move to town by herself.

Rent for an old farmhouse in 1964: $50 a month

Resale value of a B Farmall tractor in 1964: $250

A 44 year old marriage: Priceless

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