My polio-shot marriage


‘Mommy has something she sort of forgot to tell you’

(This story was originally published in honor of my would-have-been 43rd anniversary in August of 2015. Since many of you haven’t had a chance to read it — but mainly because I’m out in the Pacific Northwest enjoying the company of my mother, daughter and my sister’s family — I’m posting it again. Think of it as a summer rerun, Lutheran Liar style. Enjoy!)

Last week I told you about how once I dated Steve Martin. Now I’m going to tell you about how once I married a guy — a guy who was not The Dude.

The Guy in question is the one pictured in the rather awkward wedding photo at the top of this post. I doubt very much that he reads my blog, but, for all intents and purposes and in this story, he’ll just be ‘The Guy’. (That rather downcast-looking young girl — the one who’s not me — is my sister Laura, she of ‘Larry and the Nose Holes’ fame.)

Why am I telling this story now? Well, tomorrow would have been my, like, zillionth wedding anniversary if indeed I had stayed married to The Guy. The other is that it’s August. Which is like Blog Siberia, except that it’s so hot. So if I embarrass anyone, including myself, the collateral damage will be relatively minor.

I was married so briefly to The Guy, and had been married for such a long time to The Dude, that I sort of forgot all about my ‘previous marriage’. Until one August about 15 years ago when The Child was getting ready for her annual visit to her grandparents in Carlyle, my home town.

See, my mom called with ‘Should I put the wedding pictures away?’ And I’m like ‘What wedding pictures?’ (The Dude and I didn’t really have a wedding; hence no wedding pictures, unless you count the one by the hot dog stand, which you can see if you click here). ‘The ones from your wedding to The Guy’ (only she used his real name). She went on to remind me that The Child was going to be visiting soon, and might see said pictures and have Some Questions.  ‘Oh, that’s okay’, I say. ‘Keep ’em out. It’s high time I told her about being married before.’

I’m going to tell you how I told The Child about The Guy. But first let me describe this previous relationship a bit. See, I met The Guy when I was a junior at the University of Missouri. I was dating another person at the time, the infamous Larry of ‘Larry and the Nose Holes’, who was a hippie. In contrast, The Guy was the president of his fraternity, which was Sigma Alpha Epsilon, whose members (at least in those days) liked to dress in Confederate Army uniforms on formal occasions. Definitely not a hippie.

It was rather fun to date them both at the same time. When I went out with Larry, I wore torn jeans and uncombed hair and said ‘right on!’ and went to rock concerts with, like, Three Dog Night where I got sick on Boone’s Farm Apple Wine. When I went out with The Guy, I wore a dress and nylons (yes, ‘nylons’) and said ‘go, Mizzou!’ and went to football games where I got sick on Mad Dog 20/20.

Eventually, I had to choose. (Or I thought I did anyway. Which is sort of the same thing.) I chose The Guy. Not because he looked swell in a Confederate Uniform, but because he was graduating from law school. Although the fact that he was handsome didn’t hurt. He rather resembled a heartthrob of the time, Burt Reynolds, but before he (Burt) started wearing a rather unfortunate rug. (I honestly don’t know if The Guy wears a rather unfortunate rug; I haven’t seen him in about 40 years.)

Before I know it, we’re engaged. See, in those days if you wanted to buy a couch or shop for double-bed sheets or cook stuffed pork chops for two or (yes, I’ll go there) engage in you-know-what with someone, you got married. No one in my world or even anyone I’d heard of (gasp) lived together. Which is what The Guy and I would probably do today, instead of getting married. (Oops. I just thought of telling my Gramma Peterson about living together. So, never mind. We would get married.)

So get married we did. In a nice Lutheran (big surprise) ceremony. With a reception held in my parents’ backyard. It was about a zillion degrees, and I picked that dress with long sleeves, a high neck, and dozens of layers of skirt. In retrospect, my mom should have known: Anyone who picked out that dress for an August wedding in Southern Illinois had absolutely no business getting married.

I will save the story of our short marriage for another time. But you know how it ended: it ended. After a couple of years, The Guy and I decided to go our separate ways. He was a lawyer by then, so the divorce (excuse me, the ‘dissolution’) was easy. He drew up the papers, got a friend to file them, and we paid 50 bucks and shook hands — never to cross paths, or to shop at K-Mart together, ever again.

I refer to this episode sometimes as my ‘polio-shot marriage’, because, since I’d been married I got to stop making getting married be my goal in life (which I know sounds crazy to you Millennials, but was the goal for many young women of my era). Getting married early and getting it over with was, for me, like being inoculated against worrying about getting married. I could get on with having a nice life. Kind of like that scene in ‘Annie Hall’ where Woody Allen’s character gives Diane Keaton’s a kiss at the beginning of their first date so they can get on with having a nice evening instead of worrying about whether they’ll kiss or not.

But, like I say, several pieces of early marital photographic evidence existed in my parents’ house, so it was time to come clean to The Child, who was about eight or nine at this time:

The Child, enjoying summer vacation at Gramma's house at about the time of this story

The Child, enjoying summer vacation at Gramma’s house at about the time of this story. Note family pix on shelf, one or more of which could be of The Wedding in Question.

Here’s kind of how it went:

Me: ‘Gramma reminded me of something that I sort of forgot to tell you about.’

The Child: (silent, looking curious)

Me: ‘See, a long long time ago, way before I met your Dad, I was married to this other guy.’

The Child: (even more silent, if that were possible)

Me: ‘It was really a long time ago, when I was probably too young to get married. I met him in college. Anyway, we were only married a very short time, and then we got divorced. And then I moved to New York and met your father.’

The Child: (looking as though I had just sprouted wings or, possibly, horns) ‘Does Dad know about this?’

Well. As you can imagine, it took a while before she could digest this large lump of motherly history. But after a bit, she was asking me questions about The Guy (‘Where is he now?’ ‘I honestly have no idea’), and looking a bit more like she was willing to continue to accept me as her mother.

But I couldn’t resist. I just had to go on:

Me: ‘Oh! One more thing I forgot to tell you. I have these other kids…’

Well, she did not laugh when I told her I was kidding. (No wonder she turned on me when she turned thirteen.) Oh, and one more thought to leave you with, oh readers. If my marriage to The Dude (a doctor) had met the same fate as my marriage to The Guy (a lawyer), I would have had no choice: the next guy I married would have had to have been an Indian Chief.

Amagansett, New York. August 2015

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49 thoughts on “My polio-shot marriage

  1. Faith Norwick

    when I was around 10 – my dad used to take me to this strange doctor – on one of the rides home, he said something about “before I was married to your mother” – which he had said a hundred times before – but this time – it sounded different to me. At dinner that night, I turned to him and asked him if he was ever married before. Silence at the table – then he said yes he had been. I remember being devastated (I was only 10 remember). I wanted to know if he was really my father, did he have other children from that marriage. Basically – the answers were very short. Years later I was at a Yankee game with my uncle Julian (my dad’s brother). I pretended like I knew the whole story – (which I didn’t). Found out that her name was Tillie, she had red hair and one day my dad came home from work early and found her in bed with his best friend! Wow. Poor daddy.

    • OMG. Poor Faith! It’s so amazing — and somehow so unbelievable — that our parents were actually people, and not just our parents. That they had boyfriends and girlfriends and (gasp) husbands or wives in a life that we never could have imagined. Your poor poor daddy! No wonder he didn’t want to give you details; you were clever to get the story from Uncle Julian. As for red hair, my mom had a pretty serious red-haired boyfriend before she married my dad. We kids, who didn’t know any redheads and were therefore fascinated by the idea, would say “Oh, if you’d married him, we would have had red hair too!” She didn’t have the heart to tell us that if she’d married him, we wouldn’t have red hair — we wouldn’t exist!

    • Ooooo, Jeremy. Gosh, not be completely Out Of Line here, but have you thought about telling your daughter? Could be a Life Lesson for her. At the very least, an Interesting Conversation. But again — totally none of my beeswax!

  2. Wow. I remember the MRS degree joke, but I think the only pressure I had in trying to find a guy was my own, determined by my biological ticking clock. I married when I was 29. Looking back, I had time. My friend didn’t have her last child until she was 46!

    • Oh yes. I’m earning my ‘MRS’ degree (!) As for me, I got married the second — and, so far, the ‘lasting’ — time when I was 32. Then, The Dude and I dilly-dallied around about having a baby, which we finally did the year I turned 40. But it wasn’t easy; we finally resorted to IVF. Which worked (yay!) But I sometimes think of all those years of Close Calls (‘Could I possibly be — gasp — pregnant? Oh Lord!’) and feel a bit rueful.

  3. josypheen

    I didn’t notice this the first time I read your story… But “whose members (at least in those days) liked to dress in Confederate Army uniforms on formal occasions”

    With events of the last few weeks in my mind, may I say “eep”!! If this story was contemporary, those lads might have been involved in protecting statues. 🙁

  4. Another comment here re my advice to daughters to not even think about marriage till age 30 or so. Spouse thinks this is why #1 daughter and longtime BF are not planning the wedding yet! Too bad, I say. They are each living their own lives right now but still have each other for emotional support and to visit and vacation with!

    Both kids know my situation though I sort of accidentally revealed a part of their dad’s sordid past. That is, they know he was married before, but don’t know how many times! For the record, I’m #3 so clearly third time’s the charm. He is smart enough to know that my way is way better than his!

    • Wow! Third time certainly MUST be the charm. I myself am ‘only’ on No. 2 (for 33 years, so feeling pretty good about it lasting, at least for a while), but my bro-in-law is happily on No. 3. They got married the same year we did, so there you go!

    • Wow, Julie. Good eyes (and good question)! I’ll have to ask my Mom for sure, but I’m thinking it must have been some award my Dad won. We lived in Illinois, so not sure. Though that sure as heck is Michigan!

  5. My mom was also married briefly before meeting my dad. I always remember knowing about it, and I once called him my Almost-Dad. (Mom did NOT like that…) We stumbled upon some wedding photos a couple years ago, and let me just say, I’m REALLY glad she married my dad. 😉

    • Oh wow, what a fantastic comment. ‘Almost-Dad’! Sheesh! And I know what you mean by those old photos of long-ago beaux. You wonder what was going on in your head — or your hormones!

  6. Ellen Fulton

    Main theme here:

    “I got to stop making getting married be my goal in life (which I know sounds crazy to you Millennials, but was the goal for many young women of my era). ”

    you just said it all, Alice.

  7. Your polio shot marriage- I totally get it. All through growing up I couldn’t wait to find my man, get married, and have a family (and to get the heck out of my mother’s house). Things, fortunately, didn’t happen as my young child/ teenage brain dreamed, and I didn’t get married until I was 36. When I was in high school, if you weren’t married by 30, your chances of finding a husband were slim. By the time I was 30 the world had changed a lot and continued to change, thank God. Although I wish I’d had my son at 28 instead of 38, I’m very glad things went the way they did.

    Does anyone ever even wear nylons anymore? Or slips? I haven’t worn a dress since about 2002.

    • Thank you for chiming in on this. As you no doubt realize by now (!) I go for humor in my pieces, but sometimes there’s something rather serious ‘hiding’ in there, like my observations about marriage. Sounds like you are a wise woman; so glad things worked out for you. And, BTW, I had The Child when I was 39. Things turned out pretty well, though at the time I sure wished I’d had the energy I had when I was 29!

  8. After mentiong my previous marriage to my 5 year old (trying to be as casual as possible) she started mentioning his name in conversations as if he were a fond member of our extended family… which in a strange way in her mind I guess he was.

    • Hah! This is hilarious! Even funnier than what happened in my family. Sounds like you did TOO good a job. Tho now you know of at least one person who can completely relate (!)

  9. I pretty much can’t stand how amazing and entertaining and damn funny your blog is. I came over from Susie’s Hop and now I’m completely hooked. Can’t wait for the next installment.

    • Well, hey there Barb. Thanks a bunch and welcome to my (Lutheranliar) World!
      I’m ever so glad you enjoy my stories. There’s a new one every Tuesday. (And sometimes, if I’m desperate for stats, I recycle one on the weekends.) Come by for more any time!

    • Hah! I don’t know if this was lucky or not, but I was never much of a thrower-upper. That Boone’s Farm jut kind of stuck around till I could chase it with some Mad Dog.

  10. Craig

    Gee Alice, I never knew you were mad dog 20/20 or a Boones Farm gal when I was in the service (army) my buddy’s bought me a case of strawberry hill for my ets (elapsed time in service) we could have had a great time.

  11. Ruth Meisenheimer

    You got married on the hottest day ever! Our houseguest tried to put her lipstick on in her air-conditioned car because our house was hot. We went to the Wil-Char later and I didn’t care when the waiter spilled a full glass of ice water on my new polyester dress! Good memories, Alice.

    • Oooo. How I wish I could go to the Wil-Char. Right now. And yes, it’s hot today too. So hot that it would indeed feel good to have a glass of ice water spilled on my dress! Thanks, Ruth!

    • Ah, when you’re right, you’re right, Mr. Don. After they kiss, Woody’s character says something like, ‘there, now we can digest our food.’ Great stuff. All fixed now.

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