Looking back at true love's first kissMy wife, Nancy, has a birthday today. If things go as planned (and I’m writing this a couple of days in advance, so the whole world could change between now and when this shows up in The Daily Republic), we’ll be in Chamberlain, celebrating a milestone birthday for Nancy and taking in some of the preliminary festivities for the high-school prom.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
My wife, Nancy, has a birthday today.
If things go as planned (and I’m writing this a couple of days in advance, so the whole world could change between now and when this shows up in The Daily Republic), we’ll be in Chamberlain, celebrating a milestone birthday for Nancy and taking in some of the preliminary festivities for the high-school prom. Granddaughter Jordan is a senior, so that’s a pretty big deal.
The birthday is a pretty big deal, too. I’m not saying which birthday anniversary we’re celebrating here, but on this same date back in 1961, she and I kissed for the first time, and she had just turned Sweet 16. The math-gifted will recognize the significance of this day. Others may struggle with the ciphering.
Me, I’ll try to take a couple of moments to think back to 1961. We’d only started dating the month before. We were a couple of kids, so crazy in love we could hardly look in each other’s eyes without blushing and growing all weak in the knees.
Nancy’s 16th birthday was one of those perfect spring days, sunny with a light breeze, warm but comfortable. I hadn’t seen her much that day. We had a track meet in Winner that took me out of classes in the morning, and we didn’t get back until late afternoon. I gulped some supper, showered quickly, smoothed some butch wax over my crew cut and headed to her house.
I remember the kiss, all these years later. When I remember that evening, the image I have is of two young people, incredibly young, teenagers who thought they had the world figured out. They were on a downhill run to success and happily ever after. Callow is the word that comes to mind. We were untested, naive and immature.
Nancy, and if you’ve not seen her you will have to trust me on this, was a most beautiful girl. Think of Audrey Hepburn in her first movie or two, or Natalie Wood in “Rebel Without a Cause,” and you have Nancy Gust at 16. No wonder I was head over heels. I’ll never know what she saw in me back in high school. I know this: Neither of us back in 1961 had a single wrinkle in our body or a line in our face.
That’s no longer the case, of course. We’ve gone through nearly half a century together. The miles and the years write their stories into the faces and bodies of the people who travel the road and survive the time. That’s the way it is. I wouldn’t change it if I could.
What I see in the (few) lines in my wife’s face on this birthday is the strength it took to make it through five decades with the same person. The journey included alcoholism, cancer, sick kids, and a string of losses — losses of jobs, income, parents, relatives and friends. She has been strong through it all.
I look at her face today, and I see a more beautiful woman than I did when I got home from a track meet in 1961. The callow lad and lass who kissed in the shadows so many years ago have grown older. I don’t see much of those two kids these days. They thought they knew it all. It took a while, but they grew up and realized they had started a trip together without a map or compass, without a clue.
If you had told either of us to take life one day at a time, we’d have laughed. We’ve learned since that the only way to get through a half century is just that — one day at a time.
I hardly know those kids from 1961, but I know the woman whose birthday we’re celebrating.
I’ve probably quoted this passage from William Butler Yeats before. When I read it these days, I think of Nancy. The passage, from “When You Are Old,” goes:
“How many loved your moments of glad grace, and loved your beauty with love false or true. But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face.”