Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Married in a Kuspuk

Today is the day for which I have waited for more than fifty years. The day that, for many years, I thought would never come. The day that, for the last four years, I have joyfully anticipated. Today is the day that Dutch and I will be married.

Our story goes so far back that there is not a time in my life which I can remember before I knew him. His name echoes down the hallways of my memory for as far back as it goes. I was three years old when we met; he was almost five. The first existing photo of us together was taken at his fifth birthday party, in July of 1955. He is the adorable boy in the white shirt at the corner of the table, third from the left. I am the tow-headed girl in the white sweater, second from the right.

The photo was taken in Heidelberg, Germany. Our fathers were both Army officers in the Dental Corp, stationed there. His dad, the Colonel, was older, and was my dad’s mentor. Our folks were great friends, and Dutch and I often played together while the grown-ups had bridge parties (for you young’uns who don’t know, bridge is a card game which was the passion of many in the pre-TV era of the 1950s).

Our moms decided at that early point in our lives that Dutch and I were meant for each other; they could not have known how right they were, or how long it would take for that rightness to manifest. I grew up with the assumption that one day I would marry him. That was just how it was.

After Heidelberg, my dad left the Army and went back to school (at the Colonel’s urging) for additional training and education to become a periodontist. We settled in Mobile, Alabama. The Colonel was a career Army man who stayed in until retirement, so Dutch moved around the US with his family as military kids do. We never lived in the same place again, but every year or so his mom saw to it that their vacation travels brought them to our home for a few days to visit. Dutch became for me this exotic, shy, ever-taller boy/young man who dropped into my quiet Southern life from places I had never been to. The first day was always awkward, but by the time he left we were old friends again and I hated seeing him go.

By high school the Colonel had retired and there was strong consideration of them moving to Gulfport, Mississippi, where we then lived, but in the end they settled in Florida. Close enough that visits continued, and throughout high school Dutch and I were pen pals who wrote letters to each other regularly. I wish I still had those letters, written in pencil on lined notebook paper.

He was a star athlete in basketball, football, and track, and sent me clippings when he made the local papers, which was rather often. Once he even made the front page of the second section when he dragged a dead human body ashore from a lake near his home; for a moment he was a shining local hero. I was quite dazzled by his deeds and prowess—not to mention his incredible good looks—and so proud that I knew him.

Upon high school graduation, he received an appointment to West Point, but chose instead to attend the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. We continued to write to each other, and when I graduated high school, I sent him my class ring which he wore on his little finger. A snapshot in one of his yearbooks shows him sitting on his bunk holding some little desk toy, and my ring is on his finger.

A huge event at the Academy each year is June Week, and his junior year Dutch invited me to come up for it. The seniors are preparing to graduate and receive their commissions, and there are lots of official events, parties, and parades.

The junior class has a large prom-style party during this week at which they receive their long-awaited class rings. It is a formal event complete with pomp and ceremony. There is a 10-foot-tall paper machae replica of a class ring through which each cadet and his date (all cadets were male back then) walked. Until that point in the evening, she had worn his ring on a ribbon around her neck; as they stop under the giant ring, she removes his class ring from the ribbon and places it on his finger. A photo commemorates the moment.

It was 1971, and at 19 I was as pure and virginal as a good Southern girl should be. Dutch invited me to bring my best friend, Jinks, as a blind date for his best friend, Claybo. The guys rented a beach cottage for us to stay in, not far from the Academy. Jinks and I drove all the way to Connecticut from Mississippi in my Volkswagen—quite a trip for two unaccompanied young women back then, and we felt quite daring.

Jinks and Claybo hit it off immediately, and I was as happy as always to see Dutch again. We had a whirlwind week of activities at the Academy, and dreamy, romantic nights at our picturesque little beach cottage. Jinks and I both gave up our virginity there, in a storybook setting, to our tall, handsome cadets who were gentle and kind and ever so grateful as they were virgins as well.

Over the rest of that year, Dutch found several opportunities to visit me at college in Mississippi, and for New Year’s of 1972 we went to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. At the stroke of midnight we kissed on Bourbon Street among thousands of revelers. That trip was the last time I would see him for the next 31 years.

Not long after returning to the Academy that January, he met a young woman and fell rapidly in love with her. He wrote me a long and painful letter in which he explained that he wanted only to be with her. In October of that year they were married. I was devastated. I never answered his letter, a childish response which I now regret; he deserved more from me than silence.

Over the years I thought of him frequently and wondered how he was, how his life was going, if he were happy. Our parents continued to exchange Christmas cards, but his mother became very circumspect about mentioning him. I knew when his two sons were born, but not much else. I tried several times to contact him, but never with any success. He has been my soul mate since we were children, and I never stopped wanting to know of him, to keep a connection of some kind.

In the summer of 1983 we almost saw each other. A family vacation took us through the town where his mom lived (the Colonel had passed away by then) and Dutch and his family lived nearby. Of course we stopped to visit his mom, and she called him to let him know and invite him to join us. He very much wanted to, but declined for the sake of maintaining peace on the home front. I was incredibly disappointed.

Life continued to chart our paths in separate directions. He completed 24 years as an officer in the Coast Guard and retired at the rank of Captain. He was living in Houston, Texas, and moved on to work with an engineering company that builds off-shore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. His sons grew up and the oldest chose to follow in his dad’s footsteps, graduating from the Coast Guard Academy in 2000. He is now in law school, and continues to make his dad proud. The younger son graduated from college in 2006 and is not yet settled on a career path.

I, meanwhile, moved from college in Mississippi to California for a few years and then to Seattle; completed a Master’s in Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then returned to Seattle to complete training as a physician assistant at the University of Washington Medex NW PA training program. My work as a PA took me to a migrant farmworker clinic in central Washington, then to Spokane, to Montana, and eventually to Alaska where I have been for nearly ten years.

In the summer of 2003, I received an email out of the blue from my old friend Jinks. She found me through the internet and we began writing. She mentioned that she had also found Claybo, and I was stunned. I knew that he would know where Dutch was and how to contact him. I wrote to him, he wrote to Dutch, Dutch wrote back to him, he wrote back to me, and eventually, I wrote to Dutch. That was the beginning of the most incredible year of correspondence in our lives.

Our connection as soul mates was still there, and immediately apparent, after all the long years of silence and separation. We wrote to each other daily, we talked about everything; we fell in love again through our writing.

The following summer he left his life in Houston and moved to Bethel to live with me. We rented a motor home and drove the Alaska Highway for two glorious weeks, from Seattle to Anchorage, and then flew out to Bethel. And here we have lived most happily ever since. He adapted quickly to the cold climate and has become an avid snowmachiner. He loved driving his own dog team in the Arctic. He doesn’t even mind shoveling snow.

Dutch is my soul’s true mate, and the love of my life. I feel incredibly fortunate to have known him for as long as I can remember. He is one of the finest men I have ever known, and I will be honored to be his wife.

Our ceremony (in about an hour!) will be brief and private, with only two witnesses in front of a Justice of the Peace at the courthouse. And I do plan to wear a kuspuk; a lovely new one made for me by one of the physicians at the hospital (thanks, Dr. R!). The whole wedding-gown-thing seems somehow not appropriate for me, for here, for this. There will be no flowers, as Bethel doesn’t have a florist. We don’t have rings yet, as Bethel doesn’t have a jeweler. I won’t wear make-up; I don’t even own any! I won’t get my hair and nails done, and there won’t be any bridal showers or wedding gifts. For us, for here, a kuspuk is perfect. In my wildest childhood dream, I would never have imagined it.


Blogger Earl said...

Wow! Congratulations!

I grew up 70 miles to the North, in H'burg, MS.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008 6:54:00 PM  
Blogger kg said...

Congratulations and best wishes!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008 7:50:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

My warmest and most heartfelt congrats to you and Dutch!! Finding one's soulmate is a wonderful, blessed thing, and I am beyond happy for you both!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008 8:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't generally comment, but I had to stop today to say Congratulations!

Thursday, May 08, 2008 1:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations and best wishes to you both. What a beautiful story...

Thursday, May 08, 2008 4:33:00 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

Wow! What an incredible story. Congratulations to you both- I wish you years of happiness together.

Thursday, May 08, 2008 4:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story - congratulations on finding each other again - and thanks for telling how it is you came to be in Alaska. I wish you both a long and happy ever after together! :)

Thursday, May 08, 2008 5:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy cow, congratulations!

Thursday, May 08, 2008 6:54:00 AM  
Blogger Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

What a wonderful story! Congratulations!

Thursday, May 08, 2008 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger RunninL8 said...

We are INFINATLEY BLESSED to have found our soul mates…

That “knowing” is truly amazing, surreal, and RARE isn’t it? It's not a given that two good people end up meeting at all, let alone growing up together, and even more extraordinary that they develop that special union! I loved reading your wonderful story. The Goosebumps on my arms hurt!

Blessings on your path.... and your very special, long awaited day!

Thursday, May 08, 2008 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your writing of your story kept me on the edge of my seat and literally, I think my mouth was hanging open! Very romantic. Congratulations-it must feel wonderful!

Thursday, May 08, 2008 11:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy crap...just started reading this blog again a few days ago, just in time for the big announcement. Congratulations!

Thursday, May 08, 2008 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations. That is one cool story. I love good stories with happy endings. May your lives continue to overflow with happiness and togetherness.

Thursday, May 08, 2008 1:12:00 PM  
Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

No one deserves (!) it more. Much love and best wishes.

Thursday, May 08, 2008 1:14:00 PM  
Blogger Maggie Rosethorn said...

What a wonderful story. Best wishes for the rest of your lives together.

Thursday, May 08, 2008 1:33:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa G said...

Your story made my night. I'll bet you're beautiful in your kuspuk :) And, BTW, I grew up in Ocean Springs--I'll bet you know where THAT is. Best wishes to both of you!

Thursday, May 08, 2008 5:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a story! And congratulations!

I met my then-future husband in Bethel...we married three years later, in a courthouse (alas, in Santa Fe), in street clothes (like you, I was sans maekup, lol.) I wouldn't have done it any other way.

And here we are, 15 years later. :)

I wish you much happiness.

Thursday, May 08, 2008 10:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have so enjoyed your stories. Best wishes to both of you on your wedding. The account of your artic trip was so discriptive, I could almost see it. One thing about you that really stands out to me is how you championed for the wronged city attorney, Sharon Sigmon and the teacher, Jody Drew. GOOD FOR YOU! Not a lot of people would have the guts to do it. May God richly bless you and Dutch.

Friday, May 09, 2008 7:57:00 PM  
Blogger occam said...

Congrats Girl! Yor blog is better than a TV drama!

Friday, May 09, 2008 8:32:00 PM  
Blogger Jill Homer said...

That is an amazing story!

Congratulations, and thanks for sharing.

Saturday, May 10, 2008 10:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG OMG! I have little tears of happiness!

Congratulations :) :)

Saturday, May 10, 2008 10:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what an amazing story! Life does truly take us on a wild ride. Savor every moment of your new marriage.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 8:29:00 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

What a beautiful story!

Congratulations to you both!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 9:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CONGRATULATIONS to you two!!! We just got back to Bethel today and the first thing I did was to check your blog! We are both so happy for you. I know when we worked with Dutch, he said he moved here for love. It was one of the first things we talked about(with a HUGE smile on his face)!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 7:34:00 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Wow, what a story (and a nice happy ending!). Congratulations to you both :)

Saturday, May 17, 2008 4:56:00 AM  
Blogger Kay Wotton said...

Tundra- What a delightful blog, a complete and total story written right before you tie the knot! congratulations and best wishes. What a wonderful treat to return to reading blogs and find your life story. Blessings.

Saturday, May 17, 2008 7:31:00 PM  
Blogger Omnibabe said...

Warmest wishes for the best and brightest of years to come.

Sunday, May 18, 2008 1:55:00 PM  
Blogger Tea N. Crumpet said...

What an incredible story! Now one month into your marriage, I say to you that may God grant you many, happy, healthy and prosperous years together!

Monday, June 23, 2008 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and found this so intriguing. I too have found my soulmate,also a Coast Guard man! I love your story and will cherish it for a long time! Congratulations to you both! True love does exsist!

Thursday, August 28, 2008 1:07:00 AM  
Anonymous said...

Little doubt, the dude is completely just.

Monday, November 21, 2011 10:13:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home