Through the heads of the passengers milling around the train station, he saw her . . . dark brown hair, full lips, and those legs! He made his way toward her, emboldened by the uniform he wore.
She saw him coming towards her. He looked like movie star Van Johnson . . . tall, thin, blonde, with the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen.
So begins one of life’s most beautiful love stories. We heard the same snatches of it down through the years . . . the meeting at the train depot during the war. Dad had been on a weekend pass to see his grandmother in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Mom was traveling with her father and sister to visit a cousin in Aberdeen. He shared his soldier’s pheasant sandwich with her. She went home that day and told her mother, “I met the man I’m going to marry.” That was the fall of 1943. They were married on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1944. The wedding picture shows Dad, serious, in his Army Air Corps uniform, blonde hair combed over in a wave . . . Mom in a black dress with a wide velvet collar, long brown hair spilling to her shoulders, full painted lips turning up slightly at the corners. They are both so beautiful they take your breath away.
He took his bride home to the mountains of Montana, to Flathead Lake and the log house he had grown up in, to meet his family.
“Isn’t she beautiful, Mother!”
“I’m sure I’ll grow to love her, Albert,” was his mother’s reply.
And she did. Lois spent a year with them while Albert went overseas. Grandpa woke her tenderly each morning after building a fire in the cookstove. Grandma cooked her breakfast, and a neighbor from church drove her into town to her job at the courthouse.
The years after the war brought five children in ten years, teaching jobs and an administrator’s position in a little logging town to the north, Libby, Montana. He flourished, a natural teacher and leader.
And the girl who grew up never having to do housework or eat anything she didn’t like, learned to cook and eat casseroles without making a face. She painted her living room dark forest green and chartreuse and made bold floral draperies to match, elegant enough to rival any in the magazines. She taught herself to sew for her girls, and once a month went to her 4-L Club “for ladies only.” Every year on their anniversary, they went to dinner at the Caboose out on Highway 2 north of town, where they made the most delicious Roquefort dressing. Daddy spent the rest of his life trying to duplicate that dressing! We’d line up on the edge of the tub to watch while she poised her lips for the lipstick tube and rubbed Jergens on her hands and face. That was her beauty routine.
And we watched when I don’t think he knew we did, as most every night he would reach down as he came to the dinner table and cup her breast as he kissed her. Every birthday or Christmas, his gifts to her were signed “To My Scotchell,” a nickname that made no sense to us, but sounded private and special, which it was both.
Even twenty-five years later you couldn’t be in their presence and not feel it, their love affair. Both consciously and unconsciously, we measured our own experiences against the backdrop of this relationship, as did others. Serious Bible School students would linger after class, “Tell us, Dad O, how did you know that she was the one the Lord had for you?” Expecting some guiding spiritual principle that would keep them from making the wrong choice, they were often surprised to hear, “It was those legs!”
One Sunday as I washed dishes, I overheard a young brother-in-law ask Dad as the men sat around the table after dinner, “What’s your secret, Dad . . . what advice can you give us on how to stay happily married and faithful to our wives?” (Who happened to be his daughters.) I remember the pause, as if Dad was deciding whether or not it was something that could be answered so simply. Then he said, “Always look at her with the same eyes that chose her.” That was it, nothing more, no elaboration. The son-in-law seemed somewhat disappointed, as if he expected . . . more.
Now, it is their fiftieth year together. We sit at their oak table listening to the wind through the pepper trees at the ranch in California. He comes to the table for dinner, bending to cup her breast lightly as he kisses her. Together, they have made fried chicken and potato salad for us. He has taped notes on the window over the sink and by the stove, notes to remind her how to make potato salad, notes to remind her what to put on the table . . . plates, silverware, salt and pepper, butter, and the Jell-O that they made hours before. Notes to remind her who is coming to dinner.
He is getting thin as his heart weakens, and only once does he confide in me that he worries how we will take care of Mom after he is gone. She goes everywhere with him, hoping that when the Lord takes him that He lets her go too.
But it doesn’t happen that way. And one Sunday morning in January . . . after their Sunday breakfast at McDonalds (he orders her scrambled eggs and English muffin exactly as she likes them, “soft scrambled, and crispy muffin, please, and extra hot coffee”) they sit in the early church service. They sing the songs. She lines each one quietly to him since he can no longer see the words, and he sings. Moments later, he reaches for her hand as the rushing wind of death sucks him away.
At the hospital, they hand me his wallet and ask me to find an insurance card. I feel strange, opening my father’s wallet, yet comforted by the smell of him as I touch it. I find the card, and behind it something I have never seen before. It’s Mom, before she was Mom . . . looking back at the camera over her shoulder, long brown hair falling down her bare back, lips full and painted, turning up ever so slightly at the corners . . . and on the back, in my father’s distinctive print the words, “My Scotchell.”
& Let your fountain be blessed and rejoice with the wife of your youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant doe; let her bosom satisfy you at all times; and always be transported with delight in her love.—Proverbs 5:18-19 Proverbs Stories