Friday, April 6, 2012

70 Years Ago Today...

Seventy years ago today, my parents got married. It was a Monday, at 2:30 in the afternoon. (Why they chose to get married on a Monday is a mystery to me; maybe it wasn't that uncommon back then, or maybe the church was tied up every weekend with all the couples who were rushing to get married before the husbands were sent overseas to fight.)

My father was nearly 30, and my mother had just turned 22. Both had graduated from the University of Maine, but they were several years apart and hadn't met there. In fact, although they were both Maine natives, they met, in the summer of 1941, in Connecticut, where my father was working as a metallurgical engineer and my mother was working for the Aetna Life Insurance Company (and living at the "Y" with several other girls from Maine).

From all accounts, it was a whirlwind romance; my mother told me once that my father produced an engagement ring on a Labor Day weekend trip home to Maine, barely two months after they had met. "I said, 'Oh, no, Bill, it's too soon,'" she told me, "and I made him keep the ring until Christmas."

They were married just a little more than three months later, in Bangor, where my mother had grown up, and where her father still lived. For their honeymoon, they traveled to Littleton, New Hampshire, in the White Mountains (yes, in early April!), where they stayed at the historic Thayer's Inn, built nearly a century before.

They snowshoed up the trail to the Flume gorge and took pictures (none of which I am able to find at the moment, but here's a photo of the same place, 70 years later, at approximately the same time of the year, taken recently by my friend Ryan).

On their way back from New Hampshire, they stopped in Bethel to see my father's mother and grandmother, who ran a small restaurant (Farwell & Wight's) together. They strapped on their snowshoes again and hiked up a mountain, to the old Farwell homestead (which the women had abandoned nearly two decades earlier, after both lost their husbands the same year, to move to town and go into business together). There, they liberated an old spool bed, already an antique, which was first theirs, then eventually became my sister's, then my niece's, and is now in the guest room at camp.

They moved into a tiny, boxlike house in Newington, Connecticut, then, after the kids started coming--four of them in the next seven years--a bigger house with a bigger yard (and a sidewalk running all around it--a racetrack for my brothers' bikes). Eventually they moved to Westfield, New Jersey for my father's job.

From my mother's accounts of those years, I think she loved being a young wife, raising her family in a place filled with other young families, baking up a storm ("a pie, a cake, or a batch of cookies, every day"), coffee-klatsching with the other neighborhood wives ("we'd all get together and call in our grocery order, and they'd deliver it to wherever we were having coffee that morning"), taking camping trips in a leaky tent with all the kids and the family's cocker spaniel.

Then in the mid-1950s, itching to get back to Maine for at least part of the year, they bought a lot on North Pond in Woodstock and started to build a camp, and that quickly became a major focus of their lives. My parents always knew that one day they would retire together "to a house on a hill in Bethel," and spending their summers on nearby North Pond was a step in the right direction.

My mother was married for just over 16 years, and was a widow for nearly 46. (I never knew my father, who died a week shy of his 46th birthday, and more than eight months before I was born.) She wore her rings until the day she died, and I believe she always considered herself still my father's wife. The day after my mother retired, in June of 1982, she left Connecticut for Maine, there to stay for the rest of her life (except for her trips to Alaska and Colorado and England and Scotland and France and Germany and Australia...). She started a journal that day with these words: "June 22, 1982--Your 70th birthday, Bill, and a very good day to close out my Milford life and get ready to carry out our dream of retirement on a hill in Bethel!"