My Mom, My Dad, Sloppy Seconds, a Gorilla, and a Lesson on Love

The concrete details of my parents’ romance are, in a word, problematic.  Or perhaps troubling is a better descriptor.  These words make their love sound so much more harsh than it is though. Really, the point I am trying to make is that they did everything wrong yet ended up with something that remains my definition of right.  Their love is what I idolize and hope for myself, even though the way they went about finding it will always be a prime source of ribbing when it comes to my poor mother.

Really, all of the relationships in Dolores’ family seem ill-advised, yet somehow they all work.  She has six brothers and sisters, five of which got married.  None of those marriages ended in divorce even though all of the weddings transpired before the couple was 25 years old and, in most instances the time it took to meet, fall in love, get engaged, and get married was less than a year.  Yet, somehow, they all found happiness, or perhaps they just figured out the secret to making it work.

My parents met at a college dance where my mom was, quite literally, my dad’s Plan B.  He knew my mom’s sister, my Aunt Loretta, from school and made his way across the dance floor to ask her to dance. However, before he could reach her, someone else beat him to the punch.  Rather than turn around awkwardly, my dad, in an attempt to save face, asked my mom to dance instead.

It sounds so cute when you tell it, but when I think of myself in my mom’s shoes, I think about how my friends and I would react.  “Oh? Your first option didn’t pan out, so I should be flattered your attention can now turn to me? Thanks, but no thanks.”  I tend to refuse to get involved with guys my good friends have been involved with specifically because we are socially conditioned to believe that feeling of being second best will only end in heartache.

Yet, as I get older, I find myself increasingly willing to give someone another shot or try not to take it too personally if it takes them a little while to come around to me as a love interest because they may be preoccupied with someone else.  In my head, I think of a young Glenn Welman who didn’t mean anything shady by settling for Dolores when he set out for Loretta, he was just a young kid who didn’t want to look stupid in front of a couple of pretty girls.

My mom certainly didn’t take it to heart, for, as she tells it, by the end of that night, she had told my dad she loved him.  To quote Sassy Gay Friend, “Slow down, Crazy. Slow down.”

In a certain light, it reeks of desperation, but in my head, it is a testament to the fact my parents were destined to be together.  While society may always have me worried and concerned I am saying too much or being too affectionate or overbearing, I could probably use a good dose of Dolores in how I speak my feelings.  I clam up to the point where no one really knows how I feel about anything, thinking this is the low maintenance approach to relationships. Just don’t talk about your feelings and enjoy your time together. Keep it simple, you know?

Dolores’ bluntness was pretty simple in its own way too though.  She was straight to the point. No time to mess around with a guy who wasn’t on board with a relationship, she had places to go and people to see after all. And she found a guy who was on board, even though he didn’t do a great job of showing it on their next date.

Date number two was a trip to the Memphis Zoo.  My mom was quite impressed that her beau showed up with a fancy camera, just one of many gadgets my dad adopted far earlier than the rest of America over the years.  However, she thought a lot less of that camera by the end of the day.  My dad took exactly one photo on the trip.  Was it of his darling new lady love? Nope. It was of a gorilla. 

Dolores tried not to read too hard into her social standing that the gorilla seemed more photogenic to my dad than she did, but it did hurt her feelings just a bit.  That small hiccup was really the only bump in the road for them though.  Within six months, they were engaged, though even that they managed to bungle.  My dad and mom didn’t get married because my dad asked her to, oh no.  They got engaged because she brought him home to Missouri to meet her family one weekend.  While they were there, the small town gossips saw Dolores at church with a strange young man and did the next logical step: report in the local paper the following Monday that the two were engaged.

Rather than have my mom deal with the shame of being inaccurately married off by the local Glennonville, MO paper, my dad basically just shrugged and said, “Okay, why not?”

Within nine months, they were walking down the aisle.  Even their wedding attire defines bad romantic decisions, as my dad honest to God opted for the ruffled powder blue tuxedo that took the world by storm in the early 70s.  My mom’s dress was nice, though it should be noted that not only did she sew her own wedding dress from scratch, she also sewed all the bridesmaid dresses and managed to find time to make her mother an outfit as well.  Considering the planning for this wedding took all of five seconds, one has to wonder when my mom found time to sleep between prepping for her nuptials and sewing an entire department store’s worth of clothing. 

That is my parents’ story of how they fell in love and got married in June of 1972, when my dad was just 23 years old and my mom only 21.  Over the 20 years they were married, there were some struggles and compromises, such as my mom’s insistence Dad stop smoking a pipe or the numerous moves around the country as IBM transferred my dad from city to city.  Yet, from those years, I really only hear happy stories.  I hear about the camping trips when they lived in Colorado.  I hear about their first stone house in Lexington and sewing curtains for their first home together. 

From my own recollection, I can remember the moments where my mom underwent surgery and my dad was there to help her through it.  Moreover, I watched as my dad suffered through cancer while my mom stood by his side to the very end.  Through it all, there was never bickering or problems, the only thing I can remember at all is two people in love, supporting one another.

When I ask my mom how they did it, she can’t really offer any explanation, though she will often tell me where I am going wrong in her mind.  “You’re always so concerned about being able to talk with the guy you date. Why do you like talking so much?”

I will admit that she and Dad were never chatty. In fact, the adoption agency almost didn’t let them have kids because they were worried they might be too introverted.  Just being around each other made them happy.  They didn’t need to talk all the time to prove they got along.  I, on the other hand, feel the need to talk all the time to prove just about anything.  I have yet to find that person who I have no trouble saying nothing around.

I haven’t found that person, and when I think about my parents’ love story, the love story I think of as the ideal, I do have to question if, at 30, I have really figured out how to be in love at all.  For, Dolores and Glenn seemed to be doing it all wrong, yet they found something so right.  They broke all the rules, they rushed too quickly into things, and, from what I can tell, the discussions about their feelings were few and far between.

Nonetheless, it was a love that burned so brightly that, even 22 years after my dad passed away, my mom still makes no effort to meet someone else.  She has now been without her husband longer than she was with him, but she still wears her wedding ring every day.  Sometimes she thinks about finding companionship, but as she tells it, if she knows she will never find anyone who comes close to my dad, what is the point of looking?

When my search for the right person tries my patience, I think of my mother, a woman who has easily put up with 22 years alone because of how good 20 years with the love of her life were, I try to bite my lip, take my blows and soldier on.  When I think about my parents’ love story, I often start to mull about the sadder side of their tale, not to mention mull over why I seem to not have this whole dating thing figured out yet.  If you are so young and find such happiness so easily and so early, does it hurt that much more when you lose it?  If you’ve never really had to be alone, is it that much harder?

Then I try to look on the bright side. Perhaps I am just getting my time alone out of the way early so I can really relish the time together like they did.  My years alone are being served now so I can appreciate the ones with my person that much more.  At the end of the day, I keep an open mind and hope that, perhaps in the most unexpected of circumstances, an awkward, well-meaning young man might stumble into my life.  And, while he may initially think my sister or a primate might be more interesting than I am, eventually he will let me be his everything on our own terms, even if they seem absolutely crazy to everyone else.

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