Anyway, when I was a junior at Indiana, my fraternity house received a telephone call asking if there was anybody available to come play the guitar to accompany the pledge class of the Alpha Xi Delta house on campus. To explain, the previous year, the Phi Kappa Tau house (to which I belonged) had sponsored a hootenanny for the campus, so it was reasonable that we might have the wherewithal to assist in this capacity. Anyway, Scott Kunkel (one of my “brothers”) and I dutifully showed up at the appropriate time and place (the AZD house).
Bonnie (who was a sophomore pledge, soon to become “active,” at that point) has always maintained that when we walked through the door, she decided that I was the one she was going to marry. I found that little hard to believe when I was told this (still do), but I wasn’t aware of my doom until a good deal later, in any event. As I remember it, I was unable to accompany the girls’ actual performance (although Scotty did, I think), but I did meet a number of the girls and ended up dating two (possibly three) of them before ever taking Bonnie out. In all fairness, Scotty beat me to the draw on dating Bonnie, but it wasn’t really a big deal at the time. Yes, she was attractive, but there were other fish in the sea…
By the next fall semester, Scotty had not returned to campus and I was dating Bonnie, at least on occasion. I found out later that she dated a fair number of other guys along the way, but I had made no commitment and didn’t until very much towards the end of the year, if then. Bonnie had plans to attend summer school that next summer and I was entering grad school the next fall, after not being able to graduate in May/June as I had expected to (due to an advising problem which everyone involved acknowledged as a stupid rule, but “rules are rules and we can’t change it, etc., blah, blah, blah”).
Anyway, I spent that next summer at IU’s Brown County Playhouse (mostly acting) and taking the last class, or two, I needed as an undergraduate, so I could graduate in August and a couple of grad classes, as well. Bonnie and I didn’t spend a LOT of time together that summer (we were both too busy) but the relationship did take on a more serious nature.
By the time the fall rolled around, I was a member of the Indiana Theatre Company (a company of grad students [taking a limited schedule] who rehearsed in Bloomington and performed there and on one or two night stands at IU’s branch campuses and anyplace else they could sell a performance within a reasonable distance by truck and bus travel over a long weekend). Mostly, we played smaller colleges throughout Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois, but we also made some longer trips over spring break and the like. Commonly, we (at least the tech crew) left Bloomington on Thursday afternoon, the rest of the company travelled on Friday in the bus, we performed on Friday and Saturday nights (sometimes moving in between) and returned home on Sunday. So, as part of the tech staff (I also acted in smallish roles), I could take classes on M & W and T & Th mornings, but I had to miss a class if it was too late in the day on Thursday. It was hard to get the classes I wished within the times available, but it was doable and I survived, actually learning more about (practical) theatre on tour than from any class I ever took.
Bonnie, who had done a couple of summer sessions, was due to graduate at the end of first semester that year and fairly early on it became obvious that it was going to be very difficult for us to maintain our relationship after her graduation, since she would, undoubtedly, return to Park Ridge in the Chicago area (where her folks lived) and I would be in Bloomington with the ITC. As it’s virtually impossible to transfer grad school credit, I was almost certainly going to have to stay in Bloomington for a second year to finish classes and the Master’s thesis schedule was uncertain. At that point in time, MFAs were still VERY rare (almost unheard of, in fact). If I returned to the ITC, it was unlikely that I could do more than finish the class work within the second year, with the thesis yet to go. If I didn’t stay in the ITC, I had no self-evident way to support myself, let alone a wife. All I knew was that life was definitely better because of this relationship, so we took a walk into downtown Bloomington and bought a set of quite inexpensive engagement/wedding rings (with four diamond chips and a garnet as a solitaire – I couldn’t afford a diamond) and considered ourselves engaged.
Being young, in love, and probably as stupid as that usually means (see A Midsummer Night’s Dream, etc.), we decided that we wanted to get married over the Christmas holidays, so we could stay together in Bloomington, being naïve enough to be convinced that Bonnie could get some sort of job to support herself, while I lived off of the “Fellowship” I received for being in the ITC. The big advantage of that, of course, was that a “Fellowship” was not taxable, as I was (technically) an “Artist in Residence” at IU. That didn’t make me rich, but I could survive by myself.
Somehow we convinced our parents that this was the way it was going to be (I am secretly convinced that both sets assumed that Bonnie was pregnant [NOT the case]), but they went along with this desire and provided the appropriate support. (The joke was on them, I guess, as Kate, our eldest, was born seven years later.) Of course, at least in my mind, we were already married by mutual consent and the need for a fancy wedding (in the church Bonnie’s grandfather founded and ran for many years) was mostly a formality of a family-socio-religious nature, which I didn’t consider all that important, but I knew others would, and it wouldn’t hurt anything to make them happy, too.
That may be the actual key to any success we have had in marriage; the recognition that it was a commitment and that a lot of stuff really didn’t matter all that much and there was really no point in making a big deal out of things that didn’t matter. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but I think there’s something to this idea.
Bonnie’s folks, once they got over the shock of this speedy change in affairs, helped us by purchasing a 10x50’ mobile home with an 8x10’ “roll-out” living room (which did a LOT to break up the “manufactured” sense of the place) with the understanding that we would pay them back as we could. Thus, we had a place to live that seemed adequate, if not luxurious, at least to us who had been living in rental rooms and sorority houses. It wasn’t fancy, but it was ours.
So, when we left to go home for Christmas, I had moved my stuff into the trailer and Bonnie’s boxes of stuff were pretty much dumped inside the door, but it would all be there, ready for us after the big event. There was a lot of the usual “fol-de-rol” one associates with weddings, but it was taken in reasonable stride and, in due course, the time elapsed for the big day. Bonnie and her mother were going crazy, of course, but about all I had to do was keep out of the way, rent a tux and show up at the church on time.
In those days the American Educational Theatre Association (AETA) had its annual conference between Christmas and New Year’s in Chicago every year (or, perhaps, every other year), so I spent the morning and early afternoon of that day at the conference (I have no recollection of the sessions I may have attended), took the subway back to Evanston, got cleaned up, put on my tux and went to get married. I suspect my Mother was a bit surprised by this, but I felt it was the easiest way to avoid the “sitting around all day and getting upset” phenomenon which seems to be associated with weddings.
We had a very nice wedding which was attended by a number of our college age friends and innumerable folks our parents knew (as weddings tend to be), but I can’t say I remember a lot about it, except that Bonnie was annoyed because she had moved the church’s poinsettias out of the way of “her” flowers and somebody moved them back out before she walked down the aisle. We spent that night in a hotel in Evanston (not the “Bridal Suite,” I was too poor). And, we left to go back to Bloomington the next day as I had to work on getting the set for Death of a Salesman built before classes (and rehearsals) resumed shortly after New Year’s.
When we got back to the trailer and I carried her over the threshold, we noticed that it was quite cold and the carpet “squished!” Turns out the furnace had gone out and freezing pipes had flooded the front half of the trailer and (we later discovered) the drain pipe from the kitchen sink (located at the very front of the trailer) was clogged up somehow and so the only working running water was in the bathroom. AND, I had to report to the shop the next morning because the production couldn’t wait. It took several days, but Bonnie managed to deal with plumbing problems, wet carpet, boxes of wet stuff, etc., and didn’t just give up in disgust. Of course, neither of us could afford that, but I’m not convinced that that’s all there was to it. There was this sense of commitment (dedication?), you see. In fact, after that horrendous start, most of the rest of our marriage has actually seemed positively non-troublesome.
I suppose that the early December night that Kate (our oldest daughter) was born at 2:47 AM and the car wouldn’t start when I tried to go home an hour (hour and a half?) later was a bit trying. The 2 ½ mile walk home through a cold, early December morning in 1973 Sylva ending with a hike up King’s Mountain to our apartment wasn’t pleasant, but it was that, or just check into the hospital myself, which didn’t really strike me as possible, although I suppose it was. Anyway, that was/wasn’t the happiest morning of my life. The morning we got a phone call from an OR nurse in Omaha saying that Maggi was going into emergency surgery for a badly infected, impacted tooth which (as it turned out) she almost died of (twice) and required 17 days in the hospital (11, as I remember it, in intensive care) wasn’t great, either, nor was the evening call that Kate had had a stroke at age 35.
Still, overall, after surviving our first week of marriage, these other events (and probably more) never felt insurmountable. The important thing was that we had made a commitment to each other and to the relationship and we were going to make it work. So we did!
So what’s this silliness about “a love letter to my wife?”
It may be most accurate to say that Bonnie made it work more than I did. I was all too often too tied up in my job to really be able to carry my full weight around the house. Okay, that job was our major, even sole means of support, at times, but, between teaching, scenic & lighting design & tech directing, it did interfere with a lot of what makes a home work with some degree of smoothness. I have been pretty good about being the one to cleanup the dishes, when she cooks (a deal we made when we were first married) although that was compromised many times because of my work schedule, etc. And, I’ve tried to carry my fair share of the load, generally, but I’ve always felt that she takes care of me more than the other way around.
In any case, after 50 years, I just feel an obligation to acknowledge how important Bonnie, and our relationship, has been to me. She’s always been there for me in ways I have no idea how to express. We made a promise to each other 50 years ago and, while it may have been tested a bit at times, it’s always been an important part of what I am, and, I think, what we are. She takes care of me when I need that, leaves me alone, when that’s a good thing, indulges my foibles, supports my decisions, keeps the finances straight (she IS the daughter of an accountant) and, in so many ways, just makes my life better. It’s probably mostly because of her that I have been able to survive as happily as I have so far and look forward to some more years ahead. I try to do/be the same for her, of course, but I never feel that I’m completely successful. Still I try…
I wish that everyone can find a life partner who means as much to them and who will help them