Today, August 29, 2011, Dad turns seventy-eight years old. And, true to form, when I said “How old are you, Dad, eighty?” He responded with the old joke which ususally starts, “You ever had one of those days that you wouldn’t wish on a dog?” The rest of the joke, paraphased, is, he’s not a day over fifty three….If the day wasn’t good enough for a dog, you see, then it shouldn’t count on the calendar either.
Last year I posted something special for my dad on this website for Father’s Day. And the year before. This year, I was sick the weekend I’d planned to work on it so I decided to wait for his birthday, and I wanted to include some loving words from the rest of my family.
In the Cue family, we have, like all familes, jokes you hear over and over (mostly from Dad) and stories you hear over and over, too. Most of the stories are from Dad, too. Like the talking catfish, the gentle giant, the little mouse who lived under the brambleberry bush in a home with seven doors…kind of like the Dad in the movie, “Big Fish.”
Mom, on the other hand, despite having a Masters degree in English literature, only has two stories she tells over and over: How she converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of them. The other story, the one I’ve heard most often, is the story of how she met, and fell in love with, my Dad. As I’ve mentioned, one of the reasons my dad is the best dad ever, is that he always treats my mother like a Queen. Dad, I love you, and Happy Birthday. Mom’s story follows here below.
Mom’s Story, in Her Own Words
Most of the time when somebody asks me how I first met my husband, I revert to a “short” version of the story. Perhaps it is time to record the “whole” story, as I recall it more than twenty-five years later. It is, after all, a great story, and worth the telling.
Unlike most little girls I knew, I did not grow up dreaming of my Prince Charming and choosing names for our future babies. Marriage was not in my plans. My plan was to be perfect, and I had been repeatedly taught that perfect meant forsaking marriage and walking the high road as a “Bride of Christ.” I was also taught that God would call me to this lofty position. For years I prayed for, and waited for this calling. It never came. Instead, acting on good theological advice that my desire alone was sufficient motivation, at the age of twenty-one I finally acted upon my aspirations and entered a convent, expecting to spend the rest of my life in the service of God.
It took seven years for me to realize, with certainty, that the path I had chosen was not bringing me closer to my goals. Perhaps I was not cut out for such high perfection after all. Painfully I acknowledged that it would be better for me to go back into the world and work out my salvation with a life-partner at my side. I knew very little about how difficult it would be to find that partner.
The next four years I can best describe as a learning time. In the academic arena, I completed a Master’s degree and all the course work and examinations for a PhD at Marquette University in Milwaukee. In the school of life, I struggled to understand the complexities of male-female relationships. To make a long and painful chapter of my life very short, in the spring of 1974 I was a single parent, and considering the possibility that I might never find a compatible mate. Being happily married was beginning to look like the stuff fairy tales were made of, but not an option in real life.
This is where the story begins, in the spring of 1974. My baby was now a toddler, and it was time for the Lord to lend a helping hand. I believe that what started it all was a small incident in the office of my department chairman, after a routine interview regarding the progress of my doctoral dissertation. After academic matters were dispensed with, Dr. Schwarz dropped his professional tone, looked me straight in the eye, and said to me, “Ann, I want you to know I strongly disapprove of you raising your child without a father.” (This was the ‘70’s, and I was in a Jesuit university.)
Without a moment’s hesitation, I answered from my heart, “Dr. Schwartz, if Martin needs a father, God will provide a father.” I believed it. And the moment I said it, I knew it was true. Alone, I was getting nowhere with this problem. But if it was God’s will, it would be taken care of. What I still didn’t know was which direction the IF would lead, that is, whether or not a father was needed. I would continue to watch and pray. As I look back on that time, that is when a series of events was set into motion that led to an answer to my prayers, and I believe strongly that that simple act of faith in my chairman’s office was the spiritual trigger that opened up the heavens to pour down the greatest blessings of my life.
This is how it played out. By the end of that summer, I was facing more decisions, regarding both career and parenting. My dissertation was nearing completion, my fellowships had expired, and it was time to get a job. Somehow, I was in the right place at the right time, and received the sure promise of a position at UW-Milwaukee. Then, in what looked like a strange twist of fate, I was also offered a position at Marquette. For less pay, I could avoid the extra travel and time away from my child. It was a tough decision, and I had exactly one day to make it. The still small voice within, which I had learned to trust, said to stay at Marquette. I withdrew my application at UW-M, trusting that this was the right thing to do.
After that, the helping hand from heaven became more and more intrusive. My little voice told me I needed to look into my child care arrangement, and I discovered a situation I was not happy with. I was directed to exactly the right replacement, but now the law required a TB skin test before my toddler could be admitted to the new nursery school. And time was getting short, before the beginning of the fall semester. Each time I tried to schedule an appointment at the clinic that could take care of this piece of business, my phone call was not answered. By the most curious confluence of happenings and mishappenings, I finally scheduled the appointment for Friday afternoon, September 6, my birthday. I had to hurry back home from morning classes, pick up my child for what I hoped was the last time at the babysitter, and get back to the South Side clinic for the skin test. It was a tight schedule, but we did it.
As we left the clinic, something else occurred which probably contributed to the outcome of what was to follow. Painters were on duty, doing some seasonal maintenance work, and they stopped to play with my child. Martin, a charmer at 22 months, enjoyed their attention. My mood changed, and I decided to take advantage of the day and the circumstances to drive back to the Marquette campus and celebrate my birthday at the graduate-student/faculty lounge where a TGIF was very likely in progress.
And so it happened that, for the first and only time of all the months and years I lived in Milwaukee, I found myself driving north on 18th Street, toward Wisconsin Avenue, heading for the more familiar parking places I was in the custom of using. And then the “little voice” did something to me most amazing. It became very, very loud, as loud as if a person were speaking right into my ear. Right in the middle of the block, in what seemed a very inconvenient place, it said, “Park here.” I was not about to disobey such an urgent command.
I parked. I now had a long walk, uphill, to the recreation facility, toddler in tow. We did not get very far before Martin broke away from me and ran, calling “Painter, painter,” toward the International House of Pancakes, where, sure enough, a painter was on duty. At the time, I had no knowledge of the equally unusual set of circumstances that had brought this particular painter to this particular place on the corner of 18th and Wisconsin at the precise time I would be walking by. I found out much later that he should have been done with that job and out of Milwaukee a few weeks earlier, but strange delays kept occurring.
In any case, this particular painter did not mind being interrupted by a child. He stopped his work and brought the little one back to me, and there on the sidewalk we engaged in polite, friendly conversation. Something about a better way to tie a child’s shoelaces. And about the unique architectural features of Milwaukee’s oldest buildings. And what sounded like a pick-up line at a singles’ party, “I’m a Virgo, what’s your sign?” I told him I was also a Virgo, and today was my birthday. He had the nerve to ask me if I was busy that evening, because “Virgos like to celebrate their birthdays.”. No, I had a date. That was true.
We continued to talk. He had recently lost his wife to cancer, and had left California to escape the memories that were causing him continued grief. I acknowledged that I was also “unattached.” He had gentle blue eyes, a look of kindness and compassion, and was obviously a hit with my son. I decided this conversation was probably more interesting than any academic small talk probably in progress at the TGIF. So when he asked me once again whether I was free later in the day, I told him yes, I really did have a birthday “date” for the evening, but I could take some time to converse with him now. I found out later that at that point he was only interested in me as somebody to talk to, a passing stranger. With my hair pinned up in a tight bun, and my high-necked dress, he had categorized me as an “old-maid schoolteacher” type, definitely without romantic appeal. But he had a soft spot for children.
There was a small working-man’s bar a few blocks back down the hill, where his grungy work clothes would not get a second glance. I decided that would be the best place to continue this “chance” meeting. What is etched forever into my memory is the walk we made togther as we moved to this more comfortable location, me and Jim swinging Martin between us, everyone rather caught up in the delicious excitement of making a new friend. There was a feeling of rightness, of balance, when man, woman, and child walked together. I remember thinking, it is too bad life doesn’t turn out this way in the end.
It was in that little bar that events took a sudden and irreversible turn. We found a booth, ordered drinks, and continued to talk. Martin decided he had to use the potty. He was still in training, and needed Mom’s help. So I took him to the ladies’ room. And then I picked him up to carry him back to our booth. He was in a playful mood, and knocked loose a few of my hairpins. My long hair, so carefully pinned into place, began to fall into my face and block my view of where I was walking. With two arms around a wiggling child, I acted instinctively to preserve a what dignity I could: somehow I pulled loose one more pin, and then I swung my head so that all the hair fell down, and I could at least see where I was going.
That was the moment that changed everything. Jim was watching. And in the loosening of my hair this became more than a chance encounter in a strange city on a long cross-country journey. A new chemistry entered the picture. He has explained it to me many times since that day: “At that moment, I knew I had to have you.” Sometimes I even wonder whether in some premortal training school I practiced that particular move, or even set it up as a signal that we would recognized in earth-life. It was that significant. He had made up his mind to see me again.
After Saturday’s dinner-date it became evident that this relationship was moving very quickly for both of us. It had to: he was about to leave his Milwaukee job site and go on to his next assignment in Chicago. It was a confusing time for me: we seemed mismatched in every possible way, and yet it felt so good being with him. And I was determined not to get into another bad dead-ended relationship, where the emotional stakes were high. Worst of all, he had no religion. He told me he had “tried them all,” and none was right for him. This I found to be very disturbing. My vision of family life included family prayer and total centering around church and church activities.
I had known Jim only three days when I decided to take my new “problem” to the Lord. My prayer was very simple. “Lord, I am beginning to like this man. He is good to my child. But he is a non-believer, and not even interested in religion. Shall I say good-bye to him right now?”
Three weeks later we were planning our marriage. And I was composing love poems during the time I had allotted to dissertation writing. We were married during the Christmas season. As events unfolded, it turned out that my “sacrifice” was no loss to me at all. But that is another story.
The answer was swift, sure, and totally unexpected. I had gone, like Abraham, to the altar of sacrifice. Instead, I was told, in that clear voice, “Marry him.” My interpretation was this: perhaps the sacrifice was mine, not to have a partner with whom I could share my practice of religion and my quest for spiritual perfection. Perhaps this was the sacrifice I needed to make, now that God had answered my earlier prayer, and found a father for my child. I decided I was willing to make that sacrifice. Little did I realize, at the time, that a helping hand from heaven had placed me securely on the “high road;” that marriage and family life were part of God’s plan for both perfection and happiness; and that my “sacrifice” would turn out to be short-lived indeed.
Our courtship was intense. Jim soon left the Milwaukee job site for Chicago. I had classes to prepare and student compositions to read, but there were long phone calls and almost daily drives between the two cities. I spoke pointedly of “commitment” and “our future,” and we were both old enough and experienced enough to examine the relationship from every angle, calculating the risks of our “mismatched” backgrounds. But nothing was certain until the hornet entered the picture. Or was it a bee?
We had known each other about three weeks. And I decided it was time for me to make the drive between Wisconsin and Illinois, so that Jim could get his work assignment done, painting a rooftop at a Chicago IHOP. I even got a babysitter for the occasion. Every detail was considered as I prepared for a romantic lunch break by setting up a picnic basket and locating a lovely hideaway in a forest preserve not too far from the job site. I drove us there, in my car, for the rendezvous that became the turning point in our relationship.
We sat down, on the rocks, alongside a little brook. I spread out the food. I took one bite of my sandwich, and spit it out. It felt like I had bitten into a mouthful of barbed wire! What crawled out from that rejected bite was a large bee, most likely a German hornet, every bit as dazed as I was.
I have had to rely on Jim to fill in for me the details of what happened next. He could see that I was reacting severely to the sting, and put me into the car so that he could go for help, any sort of help. In the back seat I was struggling, at first with the pain, then, as my tongue began to swell, with the ability to talk, and finally, with the ability to breathe. It became evident that my condition was deteriorating rapidly.
Jim stopped first at a pharmacy and explained what was happening. He was directed to the nearest emergency hospital, and mostly carried me in. I was injected with enough Benadryl to compromise what little consciousness I had retained. There, in that emergency room, with me on the guerney, Jim revisited the sense of loss he had felt when his wife had died, and decided he wanted to spend his life with me.
But the story gets even better, and the coincidences even stranger. Later, much later, that afternoon, we got back to the IHOP job. I remember sitting in Jim’s big work truck, nursing my pain, and watching him skillfully maneuver up and down the steep roof, carrying buckets and brushes as needed. Most vividly of all, I remember the one misstep, and his long, long slide to the bottom of the roof, as my heart once again that day threatened to quit beating. And I had an experience similar to his: threatened with loss, I knew how much I valued this person.
Later that evening he told me he wanted to marry me. And I said yes.
Back on campus I began planning the wedding and composing love poems during the time I had allotted to dissertation writing. We were married during the Christmas season. As events unfolded, it turned out that my “sacrifice” was no loss to me at all. But that is another story.