There is my birthday, which I don’t actually need a reminder of, but it’s there none-the-less. And Mark’s birthday, of course. And then come the birthdays of various family members and friends. Add to these personal reminders several holidays, National and Christian. Oh, and the yearly celebration of marriage, too.
What I find interesting is that we don’t just mark the annual passage of dates that hearken back to happy days. Independence day, Christmas, Birthdays, Wedding Anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, etc. each celebrate presumably happy events. Not being Catholic, I have no actual idea who St. Patrick was, which is fine since that day seems to be less about the saint and more about the green beer. As a kid, it was about making sure I wore something green so that I wouldn’t be subjected to pinches. Where in the world did that come from!? Anyway, there are all sorts of holidays out there that either commemorate joyous events, or dates that at least usually make us smile.
There are memorial anniversaries, too. Memorial Day being the most recognized, and Pearl Harbor Day, and Patriot’s Day. These dates remind us of those who have died either defending this nation, or in the case of Patriot’s Day and Pearl Harbor Day, in attacks upon this nation. They aren’t what I’d call happy events, but days to reflect back in somber remembrance to events so momentous that they can never be allowed to be forgotten.
And let’s not forget the various dates set aside to honor those who in some way contributed either to the birth of this nation or to it’s history. Today is President’s Day, but we single out George Washington for his own day. And Martin Luther King, Jr., too. And there are others. Even members of our own families get special days of their own. Mothers, Fathers, Grandparents, all of whom certainly deserve to be recognized for the countless sacrifices they make, often on a daily basis.
There is even a seemingly endless list of far more obscure dates that some like to recognize. Things like National Eat Pie Day, or National Trivia Day. This list is both fascinating in its length and content. National Nothing Day comes on January 16. How, exactly, does one celebrate that, I wonder?
Last but certainly not least come the days that I personally would like to forget, yet that I continue to mark each and every year. Today is one of those days. My mother died on February 21, 1989. For 22 years now I’ve been watching that day come and go, often marked by tears and sadness, or at the very least, a general malaise. Today will be no different than those that have come before. But there’s more to the story of my mother’s death than just this date. Because I have two other important dates on either side of it.
Mark and I met on July 31, 1987. It was the last night of the Ohio County 4H Fair in Rising Sun, IN. My sister lived there in those days in a fairly small trailer park that abuts the fairgrounds. My mother and I were visiting her during our summer break. There was a girl my age who also lived in the trailer park and who babysat my sister’s children. My sister naturally figured we would get along, and we did. Allison suggested we walk over to the fairgrounds that evening and take a look at the animals as they were loaded up. There was quite a large crowd milling around. At some point as we walked along, I heard a male voice say, “Hey, Allison.” I glanced around as she laughed and said, “that was Mark.” Not having ever met Mark, I had no idea what he looked like and so had no way to pick him out of the crowd. I shrugged it off.
Later that evening we were sitting on a small bench in front of Allison’s trailer. The fair had wound down. We were just talking, as teenage girls do. Then a motorcycle came by carrying two guys. Honestly, I can’t remember what the one on the back looked like. I was busy looking at the cutie who was driving. He came to a stop and said hi to us. I don’t remember what words were spoken in those first few moments, just that he said he had to take his friend to his truck and that he’d come back after he did. (Mark later told me all about this night from his point of view. He saw me when we passed in the crowd and immediately wondered who I was. Later, as he was taking his friend Jeff to his truck after the fair, he spotted me sitting out there with Allison and stopped. But he was worried about Jeff being interested in me, so he wanted to get him out of there as quick as he could. Isn’t that just precious?)
He did come back and we chatted that night. It was obvious to Allison, I suppose, that sparks were flying between Mark and me. So she made a special mention of the fact that I would be going to church with her in the morning. I don’t know how long we talked, but he eventually left and I went across the road to my sister’s trailer and went to bed. The next morning as Sunday school was winding up, we heard Mark’s motorcycle pull into the lot. There is a long, drawn out story behind Mark and his parents and family and this particular church. Suffice it to say that he had not been there in quite some time. But he showed up that morning.
After church we made a date to meet so he could take me for a ride on his bike. This is us, probably on that date.
He was chewing on a straw. I don’t know why. Anyway, we went for a ride and came back to my sister’s place, then sat out there and talked into the wee hours of the night. I walked into my sister’s trailer after he finally left to find my mother waiting up for me. I looked at her and said, “he’s the one.” Her reply was, “I know,” and that was the absolute last time we ever talked about it. Which brings us to the first anniversary of my special cluster.
Mark made his first trip down to Mississippi to see us near the beginning of January of 1988. (I say “us” because he loved my mom as much as he loved me.) Some time after that, I don’t remember exactly when, I accidentally over heard him on the phone with my mom talking to her about getting me a ring. (This remained my secret for YEARS, as I was careful to hang up the extension I’d picked up and to never say a word to anyone about what I’d heard. LOL) He gave me that ring on February 20, 1988. This means, of course, that on the date of the first anniversary of our engagement we were sitting in a hospital while my mother was dying.
We talked about it then. How neither of us ever imagined we’d be spending our anniversary like that. I always found it rather remarkable that the timing worked out like it did. I’d like to say that I found a way to take the joy of the 20th and carry it over to the 21st, but I didn’t. In fact, I can’t actually remember what I did on the first couple of anniversaries after my mother’s death. I wasn’t catatonic, but I was as close to it as anyone can be while still conscious and upright.
By late 1991 I was finally starting to emerge from the fog of the depression I’d sunk into. Mark, God bless him, stood by me through it all, even when I made his life a living hell. There are an assortment of reasons why we hadn’t already gotten married. Partly, I suppose Mark wanted to make sure I would actually remember the ceremony. But he also had issues with our age difference. Despite having given me a ring, he was always afraid that I would “grow up” one day and decide that we didn’t have enough in common. It is the only real insecurity I have ever known him to have.
For my part, I knew he had nothing to worry about. I’d known it practically from day one of our relationship. See I believed then and still do today that our meeting was no accident or quirk of fate. Some have told me I was lucky to find such a good man. My response to that is that I am not “lucky,” I am saved. I don’t believe in fate or luck. I believe in God. And I believe with every fiber of my being that it was His hand that guided Mark to walk past me that July night. It was God’s hand that kept Allison and me out there talking so that Mark would see us when he passed by. It was God’s hand that led me to attend church with Allison and that brought Mark to that church that Sunday morning in spite of the fact that he had personal reasons not to come. And it was God who knew that a short year and a half later I would desperately need Mark’s strength to help me get through the single most emotionally devastating event of my life.
I wasn’t looking for a husband when I met Mark. I was barely 16 at the time. (A big part of why Mark was so worried about me “growing up.”) And I actually had a very casual boyfriend back home. He and I had decided that we weren’t interested in any kind of serious relationship. We just had fun together and so agreed to go out until one of us found someone we did want a relationship with. Ironically, he missed me so much while I was gone visiting my sister that he called me as soon as we got home and told me he’d changed his mind, that he wanted to make our relationship exclusive. I had to tell him the truth. That I’d met someone else and that it was serious.
And Lord knows Mark wasn’t looking for a girlfriend. Especially not a 16 year old girl that lived more than 400 miles away in Mississippi. He was 21, going to college at Perdue University. He wanted to be an astronaut. He certainly had the smarts for it. Just as a point of clarification, he didn’t realize how young I was when we first met. By the time he figured it out, he was already attached I suppose.
God’s funny that way. He likes to hook us up with people we wouldn’t necessarily lean toward on our own, be it potential mates or even friends. Mark always called me a city girl. Compared to him, I guess I was. But in every way that mattered, we were alike. We shared the same values, the same belief in God. We shared the same love of family. We made each other laugh and it didn’t hurt that we both found the other attractive, too. LOL
So I was engaged to Mark on February 20, 1988. I lost my mother on February 21, 1989. By February of 1992, I was at a point where I was beyond ready to be married. It was a bit of a coercion to get Mark to agree, even then. But agree he did. I decided that we would do it on the anniversary of our engagement. I figured it would be good to try to turn that date back into something joyful. This was all done kinda on the spur of the moment with almost no planning. I did buy a special dress and Mark and I bought rings, but other than that, it was pretty much a quickie kind of deal.
Indiana required prospective newlyweds to jump through quite a few hoops. Kentucky was far less particular. All we needed was proof of who we were and our ages and we could get a license. I called the courthouse and double checked. So on February 20, 1992 Mark and I and his parents headed over to the courthouse in Warsaw, KY to get married. We got our marriage license with no problems. Unfortunately the actual marriage was a bit of an issue. It turns out that the judge over there was gone for the day. There wasn’t anyone to marry us. That was a Thursday. Poor Mark, in an effort to soothe my anxiety, suggested that we could just come back the next day.
I was NOT going to get married on the anniversary of my mother’s death. I just couldn’t. And I knew good and well that no courthouse was open on Saturday, which meant we were looking at waiting until the following week. I wasn’t far enough recovered from my severe depression that this snafu didn’t send me for a loop. I was angry and upset. I didn’t want to wait several more days. It was a mess.
But, again, God came through. Honestly, looking back I can’t remember exactly how it all happened. I just know that we found out that the judge in Carroll county was not only going to be in his office on Saturday morning, but that he would be more than happy to marry us then. So on Saturday, February 22, 1992, Mark and I and his parents went to Carrollton, KY and met up with Judge Harold “Shorty” Thomlinson. He married us that morning.
I really need to spend some time cleaning this picture up. But at least you can see our rings… and Mark’s jeans. He really dressed up for the occasion. LOL
So this is how I came to have three anniversaries in a row. First our engagement, then mom’s death, and finally our wedding. Every single year when these three days come around I inevitably wade through a roller coaster of emotions. Still, ultimately, I guess I accomplished what I set out to do. Or I should say that God accomplished what He set out to do. Because if Mark and I had gotten married on the 20th, then I would have had nothing but normal days after the 21st came around. Just regular old days for the grief to linger through. Now, while I may still grieve and mourn on the 21st of every February, the very next day I can’t help but remember just how blessed I am.
I have a husband who I adore and who in turn adores me. We make each other happy. We make each other laugh. We would rather be in each others’ company than with anyone else either of us knows. And if I had ever had any doubts about just how fabulous a guy my husband is (which I didn’t), his faith, love, and support through my cancer diagnosis and treatment would have put them to rest.
Ultimately, I can’t help but take some time out of these days to thank God for leading Mark and I to the places we both needed to be. I love my husband dearly. We are so well matched that it can be nothing BUT the hand of God Almighty that set it all in motion. So thank You, Lord, for my husband. Thank You for guiding us to each other. Thank You for blessing and protecting and encouraging us through all these years. And please, Lord, continue to do so.