I remember it like it was yesterday.
Well, that may be stretching it. Let me start over. I remember it like it was day before yesterday. What I'm trying to say is that this date in ancient history is forever and indelibly impressed on my mind.
Because Mary and I got married on that day. And our marriage started out with a big bang, literally.
We had met in a nursing home, which I know seems odd and somewhat less than romantic. It happened like this.......... my friend Randy was working at Clyde Bender's nursing home in Stuarts Draft and he wanted to go to Bible School for three weeks. I to this day don't know what made me say it, but I told him I'd come up and take his place for those three weeks. I was shyer than a bashful church mouse so this was quite out of character for me.
Sure enough, Randy took me up on my offer.
Now Mary was from Harrisonburg and had recently moved to Draft to be the head cook at the home. I had met her only once before when a few of my friends and I had stopped in to visit Randy.
I had always thought I wouldn't be able to stand working in a nursing home. All the strange moaning and groaning from the residents who weren't in their right minds. And the smell.....
But I can honestly say I learned to love it. There were enough residents in their right minds to interact with and you learned to love the others as well.
There were some sad ones, too. Like Elsie Dunn. She would walk up and down the halls saying to anyone who would listen about how she was from Sowth Hill, Vahginnya. And she's got a dayeed husband. And her people don't love her and just put her ovah heah. And she shore would like to have an oatmeal suppah.
There was a very cultured blind lady there, Mrs. Hartley. She would follow me to the table at meal time by placing her hand on my shoulder. Almost always she would exclaim, "Heavens! I've never felt a shoulder so bony!" (I probably weighed about 140 back then) And when Frank Zuantner, (who ate his food without chewing) would begin to choke and make all sorts of terrible sounds, she would exclaim, "Heavens! What kind of a place am I in!??"
I realize that this is more information than you need to know, but I do know for sure that Frank COULD actually eat lima beans without chewing them, as I saw some once that had made the full digestive circuit and still looked none the worse for the wear. (Did I mention that nursing home work wasn't for the faint hearted?)
I could tell you about Mrs. Cunningham, and Mr. Rohrer. And Mr. Strickland who was a professor at the University of Richmond. He had suffered a breakdown of some sort and was at the home for rehabilitation. He later went back to his job at the college.
But I really need to get on with my story. I learned to know Mary there as well. She was, well, not like any other girl I knew. Of course I didn't know many girls (I was petrified of them) and the ones I did know had church mouse personalities sort of like mine.
She was outgoing without being bold. She was feisty and could hold her own in most any argument. She was a dedicated and hard worker and a mighty good cook. I enjoyed being around her.
One mealtime at the home we were serving the residents and Mary was telling Sharon about the taffy pull they were having at her youth group at Harrisonburg. And since it was leap year the girls had to ask a boy to pull taffy with her. No way was she going to do that, she said. Sharon pipes up, "I bet Merle would go with you, now wouldn't you Merle?"
What could I say? So I said sure, I'd go along.
Sharon and Irvan went along too that night. We pulled taffy and all Mary's friends pulled her aside when they had the chance and asked her if there was something to this. She assured them it was just a convenience arrangement so she wouldn't have to ask a guy.
On the way back home we had to pick up Mary's car which had been in Harrisonburg for repairs. We knew Sharon and Irvan would like to be by themselves so Mary and I rode home in her car. By now she was beginning to wonder if there was something to this after all. But of course I'm slow and haven't got there yet.
But sometime during the night it dawns on me that, you know, I really like this girl. So the next day I ask her if she wants to go to Gladys with me on Sunday. She accepts (and all her friends think she lied to them the night before) and the rest, as they say, is history.
That was a long, round about way of getting to Dec. 11, 1976. (I have a weakness for rabbit trails, I know)
Anyway, we got married at the Bank Church on that date. My dad preached something about Isaac finding a wife. Lloyd Horst pronounced us man and wife. And we headed to Turner Ashby High School for the reception.
About 3:00 or so we left and headed across the mountain towards West Va. where we had a cabin rented. A mile or two before Franklin, West Va. it was almost dark and was just beginning to rain when two deer popped out of nowhere right in front of the car. I'm sure everyone who hears this story wonders if for sure I had my eyes on the road and paying full attention to my driving. And since I don't believe in swearing, I will absolutely affirm that I can answer to the positive on both accounts.
They first deer made it across. The second wasn't so lucky. Neither were we.
Out of instinct I hit the brakes. Hit them too hard for the wet road. (this was before the days of anti-lock brakes) The second deer hit on the front drivers corner of the car and with the brakes locked it spun us around half a turn and we rammed the bank on the opposite side of the road going backwards. A man outside his house on the hill above the road saw it happen and said when we hit the bank the front end of the car came up so high he thought we were going over on the roof yet to boot.
We were shook up but unhurt. The car was totaled. The man and his wife invited us in and were very kind. The man happened to own a garage in Franklin, so he towed the car in while we waited for Mary's dad to come back across the mountain to pick us up. How humiliating.
As I said, we started married life with a bang. I should have realized then that it was a harbinger of things to come.
So what did we do this Dec. 11?
You probably won't believe it. After dark we drove up to my cousin Dwayne's field called the "High Meadow" and looked for deer. We saw four but they took off for the woods before I could run into one for old times sake.
And did I have my full attention on my driving on this night? Well now, that would be for me to know and for you to never find out.