On an icy Friday evening, Februry 4, 1977, in a small Baptist church outside Benton, Arkansas, I married John Wilkins. We were both 22. We had no concept, of course, of how very young that is.
I met John in college. He sat next to me in my very first class, freshman English. We have slightly different memories of that class. The professor was a woman who loved my writing and bored the class endlessly by reading my essays aloud. She told me I was destined to be the next Erma Bombeck or James Thurber – heady words to someone who already dreamed of being a published writer and craved that validation. I’m not sure how she would have felt about my choice to write romance, but I do credit her for giving me the initial courage to pursue publication. John, on the other hand, does not remember her so warmly, since she was rather biased toward her female students. It’s a wonder he would even talk to this “teacher’s pet” outside of class!
The first thing I noticed about John was his hair. He wore it pretty long then – almost to his collar – and curly. With his height – 6’5″ compared to my own just-shy-of-5’4″ – and sideburns that came down almost to the dimple in his chin, he stood out from the crowd. Quite thin then, he had a weakness for solid color polo shirts and bright plaid pants worn with blue suede Adidas shoes (it was 1973. We were all in questionable fashions). I couldn’t help but notice him. Our kids still think our old photos are hilarious, especially their dad, whom they know as a pullover-and-jeans wearing Republican with a fondness for “elevator music” and TV news programs.
(John and me at a friend’s wedding in 1976)
It took him until the end of the semester to ask me out (girls didn’t ask then, but I think I made it quite clear that I was interested). Our first date was washing his sparkly-gold-and-white ’73 T-bird, followed by dinner at a mall cafeteria. Very romantic, hmm? That car became very important to our relationship. Both of us had weekend obligations at our homes in central Arkansas, an almost 3-hour drive from our college in the northeast corner of the state, so every Friday and Sunday we commuted together (I didn’t have a car). We spent those hours talking and listening to his 8-track tapes. During summer breaks, he made the 45 minute drive to my house to pick me up for movies and dinner in Little Rock (halfway between my home in Benton and his in Jacksonville). Nearly every weekend, we water-skiied on Greer’s Ferry Lake, often with friends. It was a fun, carefree time. He still owns that T-Bird, which he keeps in storage. It hasn’t been driven in years. I wonder if the 8-track player still works.
Our wedding was modest. The music was provided by friends and family (I’ve mentioned that before). The reception was held in the church basement. A friend of my mom’s made the cake for expenses; it was beautiful, white with cascading pink and mint green roses. I wore an Alfred Angelo gown I bought on sale, using the proceeds of my summer job. John wore a mint-green brocade tux with a mint green ruffled shirt (still the 70s). On June 23, 2007, our second daughter, Kerry, wore my dress for her own wedding. Our son-in-law, Justin, should be very relieved that John’s tux was a rental.
We had our first child, Courtney, on April 1, 1980, followed by Kerry in April, 1983. David came along in November, 1988, making our family complete.
During these past 32 years, we’ve had our share of triumphs and challenges. We’ve been through the usual financial ups and downs, survived in-law adjustments and normal marital conflicts. We’ve lost parents – his father and my mother, both traumatic times for us. We’ve changed careers, achieved a few dreams, gave up a few others. It certainly hasn’t always been easy, but we were both committed to making it work, and we’ve been rewarded for our efforts. He is still my best friend.
Though we’ve been remarkably blessed, health-wise, we’ve made a few emergency-room runs with our children. We spent our 22nd anniversary in a hospital waiting room while our oldest daughter, still in college then, underwent an emergency appendectomy. The following year, that same daughter was badly injured in a chemistry lab accident that resulted in several days in ICU. That was undoubtedly the most terrifying ordeal of our lives, and we survived it by clinging to each other. Courtney is now healthy and thriving in her research career, while Kerry prepares to graduate from medical school in the spring and David is a pre-med major in college. John and I both consider our children to be the greatest blessing of our marriage, and we are so grateful for them.
The passing years have left their toll. We’ve both gained a few pounds. He still has a thick head of hair, but it’s silver now. Mine would be, too, if it weren’t for my stylist. There might be a few wrinkles and sags (forget plastic surgery – I’ve earned every line!). We have both worked out of our home for years, so we’re together pretty much all the time. I won’t say we never quarrel (lightning would strike me here in my chair if I tried to make you believe that), but for the most part, we get along well. I know that he has been my biggest supporter in my career, believing in me even when I suffered doubts, still certain that I can do anything I set my mind to. And I am continually amazed by his quiet competence – our kids and I are convinced that there is nothing he can’t fix or figure out, given enough time. He would and has dropped anything for me or the kids or his mother, who he visits in her home every day to take care of things around the house for her. I, on the other hand, am a fan of his beautiful wood working, and I’m delighted that he is now pursuing it full-time, with displays in local art galleries and a growing number of collectors.
Whenever I write a happy ending for my romance novels, I always envision a long and fulfilling marriage for the couple I’ve brought together in the story. My own story didn’t end 32 years ago; it was just beginning.
Happy anniversary, John. Here’s to the next 32.