In July of 1994, my two sisters and I sifted through the belongings in our widowed mother’s home. She lay in a hospital nearby, unconscious and dying of a massive stroke at the age of 78. She lingered in that condition for nearly three weeks before she finally passed.
During those weeks, we hunted through the disarray of her home for documents, policies, and other papers that might be helpful for the disposition of her estate. It was grim and devastating work.
One trip to the dumpster behind her apartment complex allowed me (at last) to get rid of the embarrassingly poor plaster sculpture I’d made in high school two decades previously. I had never liked it, but my mom kept it in a place of honor. While there was a frisson of relief to see that thing go, my knees buckled with wordless grief when a set of Mom’s dentures tumbled with other “trash” into the dumpster, too. That she would never need them, never speak again, was more than I could fathom. My being the only Mormon in the family didn’t make my grief any easier to bear right in the midst of our loss.
My sisters Susan and Holly meanwhile had discovered Mom’s car insurance policy tucked into the 50th Rockford High School reunion program; stock certificates for companies long since defunct in one stack of papers; and boxes of old family photos – few of them labeled.
Holly pulled a small metal lock box out from one pile. Among the papers inside was one that baffled us all. It was a marriage license dated 30 May 1939 from Dubuque, Iowa (we had always lived in Illinois). My parents’ names were filled in for the bride and groom. It looked very legal.
What? We all knew that my parents were married August 17, 1940.
Surprise! Those young rascals had eloped and never told anyone about it! Then, 15 months later they had their public wedding complete with newspaper engagement announcements, gown, bridesmaids, bouquet and banquet.
Sorting out this mystery was simultaneously confusing and a welcome distraction during our task.
Piecing things together, this is what we now believe happened:
My mother was in nursing school in 1939, and, at that time, women who were married were not allowed to obtain professional degrees. (!) Apparently my parents were so in love and impetuous that they secretly took the train from Illinois to Dubuque and were married one month shy of my mother’s graduation.
They never told her family or his – or the nursing school. When they returned from their weekend get-away, Mom continued to live in her dorm until graduation, and with her parents after that. My mother’s mother died in December of 1939, not knowing that her daughter was a Mrs. as well as an RN.
After a decent interval, they planned and carried out their public nuptials.
My memories of my parents’ relationship aren’t all that sunny. This new overlay of them as risk-taking lovebirds supplied an unexpectedly joyful sheen at a dark time. What chutzpah they had! I look forward to getting to know those two!
August 2, 2005, the day my youngest son went to the temple before his mission, was a very full day for him – and for me. After his initiatory and endowment, we moved right across the hall where he participated in sealing my parents to each other (their THIRD wedding date!) and me to my parents. In the “one eternal round” way in which God works, my son and I were proxies for my parents as they were sealed. Again with my son acting on behalf of my father with my dear friend on behalf of my mother, I was sealed to my parents. This is the kind of “plural marriage” I can get behind.