Note to Readers: Step 3 of a 3-Step Plan to Thrive in the Time of Trump will be published next week.
Today I am grateful for my parents. I am grateful to them for a ton of reasons, including one big one: without them I wouldn’t be here – and writing this post.
Sixty-nine years ago, on December 22, 1947, Elizabeth and William, Betty and Bill informally, although I never remember my mother calling my father anything but William, marry in a pretty Lutheran Church on a pretty street, appropriately named Church Street in Frederick, Maryland. A pretty little town, Frederick is, and the home of Francis Scott Key, who wrote our hard-to-sing national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner: “Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?”
Frederick is home too to Barbara Frietchie. Who is Barbara Frietchie you may ask? A good question for those of us who didn’t grow up in Maryland and study her in junior high history class. During the Civil War, Frietchie, an old lady by then with gray hair, waves the Union flag in the middle of the street to antagonize the confederate troops. In 1863, John Greenleaf Whittier immortalizes her in a poem, titled, yup you guessed it, Barbara Frietchie, with these words:
“Shoot if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag, she said”
The story about 95-year-old Barbara Frietchie may or may not be true (and almost certainly was embellished), but it is true that my parents get hitched, attended by five groomsmen, a best man, a maid of honor, two bridesmaids, and a darling flower girl, who will grow up to be a lot of things including my favorite aunt. But, she’s still four on this day and wears a dazzling smile that captures both her cuteness and self-confidence, and a strong will that will come in handy when her father dies from a heart attack in a little over five years.
My 49-year-old grandfather leaves behind a passel of children and my grandmother, who has never even written a check, so the story goes. They married as teenagers and she is now a widow after thirty-three years of marriage. She is bereft but steely strong too and resilient. She takes in borders to make ends meet and keep the five-bedroom, red-brick house that my grandfather built, a block from picturesque Culler Lake, where I feed the ducks when I am four years old.
Shocked by her father’s premature death, my mother miscarries the brother or sister who would have joined my parent’s firstborn, my older brother, Billy. But, life goes on as life goes on and sometime that summer my mother conceives again, and I am born 3 days before what would have been my grandfather’s 51st birthday.
But this is a happy day for my parents, my mother resplendent in a high-necked satin gown and a long train fanning out in front of her with dramatic flair. My father stands with posture worth admiring and a head full of hair, also worth admiring, which he will start losing in just a few years.
After a few days of honeymooning in D.C., the young couple boards a train to New York City, where a blizzard has dumped more than 26 inches of snow on Central Park. My father marvels that traffic is at a standstill and that they can walk through Times Square vehicle-free, before they dine at Toffenetti’s, the “cathedral of all restaurants,” where “glamour sparkles forever,” at the corner of Broadway and 43rd. They stay in New York City until they run out of money, which didn’t take long even back then.
I’ll call my father later to mark the day and we’ll talk for a few minutes about my mother who is dead now. I wonder if he remembers when she stopped remembering their anniversary. There is so much to hate about Alzheimer’s Disease. She was mostly mute those last few years before she died. Although, she would nudge my father in the nursing home, from time to time in a random way, and say, “You’re a good guy.”
Reader Invitation: Got any anniversary anecdotes – either your own or those of your parents? Love to hear anything you’d like to share. You can expect to see your comments and my reply posted on the site within 24 hours.
Reference for Toffenetti’s: http://nycvintage.blogspot.com/2011/05/nyc-image-toffenetti-restaurant-famous.html