Here's how it went. While riding horse with my sister 35 years ago, moving in and out between the juniper trees and sagebrush on their ranch near Sisters, Oregon, The white-capped Cascade Mountains in the distance, she asked me what was the hardest thing about being divorced. There were lots of things, but what came to mind right then was saying that I missed the company of men. Not to date, no, I wasn't ready to date. And I worked with men at the clinic so it wasn't that. It was just sharing a meal with a man, listening to his voice as he talked about his day, having him ask about mine.
(Years later a widowed friend told me that at some point she missed the sound of a man's voice in her life, too. She decided to apply to be the conductor for an all-male choir; got the job and loved it!)
Anyway, my sister then said, "Does anyone like that come to mind, someone just to talk to?"
I'd met Jerry the year before while he recovered from an industrial accident that broke five vertebrae in his back. He was visiting my sister and I was in Oregon for a job interview. He impressed me with his kind blue eyes, baritone voice and that he knew the birthdays of his kids. He was just a nice guy to talk with. But he was married and so was I.
"Well, someone like your friend Jerry Kirkpatrick," I said. "Not him, I know he's married, but that kind of gentle soul who has lots of interests and is just a good person."
"He's not married anymore," my sister said.
"Oh. Well, he doesn't live here now. He moved away, didn't you tell me? So NOT him. He was just an example."
"Yes, but he's moved back. He's building a veterinary clinic in Bend."
"Oh," I said and that was the end of the conversation. I certainly didn't want to pursue this line of conversation with someone in it who was no longer 200 miles away and no longer married!
The next day at my office, Jerry Kirkpatrick arrived, a rolled-up set of house plans in his hand.
He says he stopped by to ask if I wanted to go for a cup of coffee. I didn't hear that. My mind was a gerbil cage of angst. What had my sister said to him! What must he think? I'll kill her for saying anything to him, I will.
Flummoxed, yes that's the word, flummoxed beyond belief I never heard the request for a cup of coffee. Instead I began to blubber about how sorry I was about what Judy must have told him, that I hadn't meant anything by it. It was just sometimes it would be nice to have dinner or a conversation with someone, not a date, oh no, not a date, never that, but I never intended for her to say anything at all and I was so sorry she'd told him of our conversation and I didn't mean anything by it, I had no idea what she might have meant so I hope he didn't misunderstand, lalalalala.
He hadn't said anything during my blubbering, just twisted that set of plans in his hand and kept a serene smile on his face. When I apologized for the third or fourth time he said, "So would you like to have dinner sometime? Not a date," he added. "Maybe at your place,
"Well, sure, not a date, just dinner. Just a conversation. That's all I really meant."
"How about Monday?"
"This Monday? Oh, well, sure, I guess that would work."
And with that he smiled and said he'd see me about 6:30 then if I'd give him directions."
I did and he left.
I called my sister.
"What on earth did you tell Jerry Kirkpatrick? You had no right to --"
"What are you talking about? I haven't seen him in months."
"He was just in my office and said he wanted to go out for dinner, not a date or anything like that. The very words I said to you!"
"Well you must have said them to him too because I didn't say them." She sounded indignant. "Will you have dinner with him?"
"Yes. I guess. But good grief, what must he think of me babbling on about what you said if you really didn't say anything?"
"I guess you'll have to ask him."
Jerry came to dinner and not then, but much later, after he told me he'd really come into the courthouse for an appointment with the planning department and that he had asked me out for coffee just because he enjoyed my company. "What did you think when I went on and on?" I said.
"Truly? I thought to myself how fortunate I was that a man like me could befuddle a woman like you."
He also remembered the day at my sister's ranch when we'd first met and he said he was sad when I went into the house because he'd enjoyed my company, a nice person to talk to, just a pleasant conversation. That's how it all began, I guess.
We'll celebrate 34 years of marriage on Saturday. Very few people actually attended the wedding service held beside the Deschutes River, officiated by our Lutheran pastor Don Parsons. My sister and her husband, their kids; Jerry's youngest son, Matt; our friends Dave and Blair Fredstrom (Dave was Jerry's best man); my parents. But afterwards, our friends joined us for a pot luck and celebration, many of them colleagues at the clinic where I worked and hunting and building friends of Jerry. I wore a white dress with embroidery on the front that I bought to square-dance in. I guess I could have at least bought a new dress!
My sister is gone; my parents are, too. They worried over our marriage in the beginning because of our age differences (Jerry's 16 years older than me) and they still grieved my divorce. I've lost touch with a number of those colleagues but Jerry is still connected to his hunting friends and Blair and David are still in our lives as foundational friends. And of course Matt works for us so he and his family are a part of who we have become, too. Even my nephews are spread across the country, one in Florida the other still in Oregon. My brother didn't make the wedding. I wish he had I love him so.
I'm not sure what has made it possible for Jerry and me to continue to care deeply for each other. I've had friends say they are amazed that people sacrifice for each other as we do but we really don't think of it that way. We have our ups and downs. Jerry's health, especially the growing deterioration of his back from the injury he was recovering from when I first met him at my sister's, continues to take its toll. I obsess about my writing, my work, the future. He's steady and reassuring. We make each others' lives interesting, never boring at all. We've found ways to support each others' dreams and hold each other through the disappointments.
I think reading scripture together, sharing devotionals, and trying to live lives inspired by faith -- though we fall short -- we have found ways to continue to grow in our love and care for each. Oh, yes, there are still days when I want to just move away. Not for a long time, you understand, but enough time to not want to bop him over the head when he decides to remodel the living room two days before Christmas, for example. Or when he decides to buy more cows.
I think, though, it a mark of our sustaining marriage that when he told me he wanted to go elk hunting this Saturday, our anniversary, so he could be near Elgin where he hunts on opening morning, that I told him that would be fine. I want him to enjoy his life. And really, I'm looking forward to the time alone when I can control the remote and let the dogs sleep on the bed.
Accommodation, adaptation, faith and love have seen us through. Those and a good sense of humor.
We hope to see some of you in August at various events. Please check my schedule to see where we'll be -- I say "we" because Jerry's back being willing, he plans to be with me.
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