Tuesday, October 20, 2009

She's got really pretty eyes, too...

Lynda and I did not have the most conventional of courtships.  We knew each other as children in western New York, the result of Union Carbide briefly transferring her father from south Texas to Buffalo, three years of worry about frozen pipes and salt-corroded wheel wells before his grateful return to the endless, frost-free possibilities of Houston.  We met again in 1984, when we were both students at BYU, and dated, briefly, before she decided to transfer to Houston Baptist University to finish her degree, a move she insists was decided on weeks before our first date, though I have my doubts.

After that, we did not see each other for sixteen months, from December 1984 to April 1986, sixteen months of letters and phone calls.  We got engaged over the phone.  My roommates were convinced that "Lynda" was my pet name for the time and temperature recording, that the whole courtship by telephone was a sad, pathetic ruse.

There is something romantic about a long-distance romance.  It was like a Russian novel, the brave and noble young hero exiled to Siberia, the plucky, bright-eyed and achingly beautiful young heroine determined to Wait For Him, her loyalty unshakable, even in the face of famine, Winter, and the soulless cruelties of the Tsar's minions. Except I wasn't in Siberia, I was in Provo.  Actually, Provo is a lot like Siberia, only with Samoan fast food joints and an absence of onion domes.  But I digress.

The only thing that we could share during those sixteen months was the thoughts in our heads.  This was a decade before anyone had heard of emails, so it was all handwritten letters and phone calls, just us, unfiltered by distractions and friends' opinions and the sweet hypnotism of physical contact.  What I learned in those sixteen months was that this person, with the beautiful, clear penmanship and a voice that had the perfect mix of Texas lilt and the tiniest hint of a lisp, a voice that I could listen to forever, was funny and smart and interesting and challenging and made me want to be a better person.  So I asked her to marry me, and she said yes, and we eventually did just that.  It remains the wisest decision of my life.

I have always been convinced that our marriage was something that went beyond us.  Of course it is the means of bringing our children into the world, and having children together binds everything, your DNA, your relationships with siblings and parents, the uncreated conscience of your race, everything.  

Our marriage seemed to demand something extra from us. From the very beginning, ours felt like the joining of two family histories, our union blending all the unions that preceded us, two primary colors combining to form a new shade, red and blue becoming violet.  Why would we have known each other in Buffalo?  Why would we have found each other in Provo?  At the risk of going all Circle of Our Love here (the Mormon readers will wince knowingly at this cultural reference; the non-Mormon readers should feel grateful that they don't know what I'm talking about.  Seriously, 1970's musicals written specifically for a Mormon audience are bleak stuff, indeed), there are strange yin-and-yang coincidences -- my great-great-great grandfather was a Tory who participated in anti-American war crimes, hers marched in the New Hampshire Militia under the leadership of General Horatio Gates; my family joined the Mormons and quit, her family joined the Mormons at the same time, and became one of the first families to settle Salt Lake Valley; her family started in the northeast and moved west; my family started in the northeast and never went much father than New York --  it seemed there was something really important about our being together.

We celebrated our 22nd anniversary by spending a day in Austin, the not-as-weird-as-it-thinks-it-is capital of Texas.  Austin is plenty weird, especially for a state that prides itself on its pickup trucks, its big as a dinner plate belt buckles, and on the truly mind boggling variety of ways we can turn chunks of animal flesh and spices into slow smoked sausage. Hippies abound. There is an independent bookstore AND a supremely cool record shop. People ride bikes as their primary means of transportation.  Undergraduate vegetarians justify the odd trip to Lockhart for a heaping plate of Kreutz Market brisket with earnest Daily Texan essays about embracing the "Buddhist concept of The Middle Path."  It's weird enough by Texas standards, but weird writ small, nonthreatening and cute, like a frisky chihuahua standing under a "BEWARE OF ATTACK DOG!" sign.  In other places, the weird is more like a half-starved Rottweiler, crazy-eyed and mouth foaming and yearning to rip and tear at soft tissue, places like the Tenderloin in San Francisco, where I saw so much scary weirdness in so short an amount of time, I was convinced I had arrived at The End of The World.

So we went to Austin, and indulged our personal lapdogs of weird.  We ate at a charming, impeccably painted and spotlessly clean lunch trailer for Vietnamese sandwiches and chrysanthemum tea.  We rode rented bikes around Town Lake.  We listened to a tasteful little jazz combo, The Jitterbug Vipers.  And we went to beautiful Paramount Theater for a late-night revival of the John Ford classic "Drums Along The Mohawk".

We sat in the balcony of this ornate, enormous old movie house, and watched Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert in all their Technicolor glory, scratching a living out of the Mohawk Valley wilderness.  This was Ford's first color film, and he used the the technology for all it was worth: the colors explode on the screen, green greens and red reds and blue skies of almost transcendent loveliness, every shade shouting its arrival, beyond brilliant, like in a Bollywood dance number, or on the "Sergeant Pepper's" album cover.  

We're in the balcony, watching all of Henry and Claudette's hard work burn in ORANGE! and RED! and YELLOW! cruelly torched by the remorseless British and their dusky Iroquois helpmeets, and we're both rooting for The Good Guys.  Young Mr. Fonda takes up his rifle, fair Miss Colbert throws on a militiaman's coat and together they commence to whacking a whole bunch of British evildoers.  

When the fight is over, Fonda and Colbert and their little crowd of Yankees is victorious, the battlefield strewn with the smoking, lifeless remains of the King's men.  Henry strides through the carnage, square jawed and clear eyed, searching for his sweetheart.  Lynda leans over in her balcony seat, points to Fonda, and whispers, "That's my ancestor, and" Henry steps over the buckshot peppered body of a fallen British soldier, "that's your ancestor."

Jacob Anguish, wherever you are, take a moment to look up old Jabez Alexander, late of the New Hampshire Militia.  He's a farmer, like you, and a soldier, like you, even if you fought under warring flags. 

You're related by marriage.  Try not to burn his stuff.

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