Building a family together with the one you love is not all peaches and cream. Life can be tough, and marriage takes real commitment, hard work and a touch of humor.
My dear wife Ann was very efficient and energetic. As I admitted to her on more than one occasion, she could outwork me any day of the week. I was amazed by her ability to get things done and keep the household running smoothly. She also knew how to manage four (and then five) very active boys. She had to be loving but tough, and all our sons were somewhat in awe of her. To illustrate that fact, I relate the following:
As do many parents, Ann or I would read the children stories at nap time and bed time. Each of the boys had his favorite tales, and they had heard them so often that they had the text memorized. They would correct you if you left out a word. One of Sandy Jr’s favorite stories was Little Black Sambo. This version took place in India, and at one point in the story Sambo’s family was threatened by some ferocious tigers. Sandy Jr was not concerned that anything like this could happen to our own family. He insisted that his Mom was “too tough” for tigers.
Ann and I got out by ourselves from time to time but not nearly enough. Because of the family budget, we could not afford expensive or frequent outings, and more often than not we opted for a trip to an inexpensive drive-in theater with our sons. In those days, most drive-ins had family friendly fare. We would put the boys in our back seat and drive to a nearby drive-in, usually getting there while it was still daylight and securing a place for our car on the first row. The children would play on the swings, etc. just under the big screen. As darkness fell they would retreat to our car and take up positions on blankets that we spread on the ground immediately in front of the automobile. It was a fun time for the whole family! We saw many great films at those old drive-in theaters.
Even on these outings Ann was always on duty, and the constant stress of cooking, washing, folding clothes, etc., as she took care of her husband and sons was almost more than a person could bear — even a woman too tough for tigers. Adding to her difficulty was the onset of a severe and chronic case of sinusitis. Our boys also had their health issues. Although generally healthy, there were the usual spate of accidents, and they frequently brought various infectious diseases home from school. These bouts of illness, hers or theirs, were very hard on Ann, especially when I had to work long hours because of the Cuban missile crisis or some other cold war related problem.
Another challenge for Ann was a sudden change in her metabolism accompanied by a slow but gradual increase in body fat. This began in the early 1960s shortly after the birth of our fourth son. No matter how tightly she limited her caloric intake, she began to gain weight. In attempting to deal with this problem we soon discovered that the average medical doctor knows very little about nutrition and weight gain. They saw excessive eating as her problem, and their usual advice to Ann was for her to use her muscles to push herself away from the dinner table. But that wasn’t the issue! Ann was never a big eater, and her eating habits and caloric intake certainly had not changed in the 1960s. One physician, a supposed local expert in the field of weight control, prescribed medications, and his treatment put Ann in the hospital.
Ann survived that experience, but her workload and the accompanying stress continued to grow through the mid-1960s. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what to do about it. We had no family nearby, our close friends had their own problems, and we couldn’t afford help on a regular basis. Running our busy household demanded every moment of one’s time, and on those rare occasions when I remained at home and took over my wife’s chores I was thoroughly exhausted by day’s end.
I clearly remember coming home from work one evening and finding Ann sitting on the living room floor folding clothes. Unlike its normal neatness, the house was in a bit of a mess and there were no signs of our supper meal being prepared. “What have you been doing today?” I asked. Her quick response was to suggest I take a trip to a rather unpleasant place.
As I think about that incident, it reminds me of a story I recently read about a man coming home from work and finding bikes and toys scattered all over the front yard and driveway and sand dumped from the sandbox onto the front lawn. Entering the house, he finds eggs and flour spread over the kitchen floor and his youngest child crawling around in dirty diapers. The other children are missing. Fearing the worst, he calls out for his wife and bounds up the stairs. Entering the bedroom, he discovers his wife sitting up in bed and reading a book. “Honey,” he says, “what’s wrong?” She looks at him over the top of her book and explains. “You know when you come home from work and ask me what have I been doing today? Well, today I didn’t do it.”
There were good times, and there were hard times, but through it all Ann and I never stopped loving each other; and somehow we managed to demonstrate that love in countless ways.
Frequently, during moments of joy, Ann would say, “Praise the Lord!”
In periods of struggle or frustration, she would say, “Praise the Lord, anyway.”
We had sixty-three wonderful years together.