Archive for June, 2007

Thirty Nine Years

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

“It was 20 years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play.” So sang the Beatles in their 1967 release, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Now it’s 40 years since that seemingly unbreakable quad of lads pumped out yet another, weirdly psychedelic, album.

This is also a time of reflection for your correspondent who, just a year after Sgt. Pepper, wed the love of his life: Mary Ann Templeton. My high school sweetheart, thank God, remained unwed when I’d left a two-year stint in a seminary. And on the only day that matters in June she took my hand, standing alongside me in her handmade white wedding dress, and agreed to spend the rest of her life with the likes of me.

It was June 6, 1968, at 3:30 on a hot Thursday afternoon, when our immediate families gathered to bear witness in just a few pews at Little Flower Church in Springfield, Illinois.

The day before, when I’d taken my last final at Illinois State University, the ed-psych professor reported that “Senator Kennedy is still alive.”

That was Robert Kennedy, who’d been shot in California just after midnight.

Soon I was racing down from Normal, Illinois, in our oil-guzzling ’61 Chevy. The only thoughts in my mind were of Mary Ann and life together with her. A dream I could scarcely believe.

The next morning I awoke on the couch in my folk’s home on West Jefferson to hear KMOX radio — Dad’s St. Louis morning breakfast companion — announce RFK had died early in the morning of our wedding day. The next morning on the start of our life’s journey, we turned on the television in our Ramada Inn room to the scenes of Bobby’s funeral and Ted’s touching eulogy a world away in New York.

Almost two years before I had unceremoniously asked my sweetheart to marry me, tossing the ring box in her lap with the stupid words, “Here, you probably know what this is anyway.” I had ‘assumed’ [never, ever do that] that she’d seen the outline of the ring box in my pants pocket and knew what was coming. We were babysitting her younger brother for what seemed hours and hours until her Dad got home from the factory at midnight on that cold New Year’s Eve.

Well, she didn’t know; yet she still told this bumbling idiot she’d marry me anyway.

[I repaired that unkind proposal a few years ago by driving to the same spot, alongside Springfield’s Lincoln Library. I stopped the car, walked to her side of the car and got down on one knee, offering her an anniversary ring while asking her all these years later if she’d still marry me. Thank God, again, she said yes.]

What a summer that was in 1968. I’d scarcely followed politics in my single-minded march to a new married life. But cities were blowing up in riots, culminating with the awful “police riot” at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, just three Route-66 hours north of our Bloomington basement apartment.

Before we’d settled in we had a brief, six-day ‘honeymoon’ at Washington State Park in Petosi, Missouri; in a screen-less cabin, complete with a wasp’s nest, kitchenette and no air-conditioning. Heck, it was a bargain at 60 bucks for the week.

It was too hot to move on those breezeless nights and we kept hearing creatures walking outside our open windows. One memorable night we’d been invited by the park ranger to go ‘line fishing’ with some of his friends along the Big River (yes, that’s what it was called) down the hill from our cabin. I was generously offered and consumed four big 16 ounce cans of Budweiser [a deed I’d never done before nor since] while we watched a guy string a line of hooks across the 40 foot wide river. Afterwards, while driving erratically up the hill to our cabin, I kept saying to Mary Ann, “Those sure were nice people.”

This week, on Wednesday, it will be 39 years since that sunny Thursday afternoon. Times in our world are as bad, if not worse, than they had been then. But I still have my sweetheart, four beautiful children, and hopes that one day this world will be a better one.

Happy Anniversary, honey. I love you.

Nick Penning is an Arlington, Va., freelance writer. His column, “Penning Thoughts,” appears in alternating editions of The Arlington Connection.