In the sixties, in Texas, there was a well established dating progression. You began dating, and if things went really well, you began to go steady (no other dating partners). Then, if that went really well, the man (if in college) would ask the woman to wear his fraternity pin (being pinned) which was the precursor to an engagement and very, very serious. Later, the man would ask the woman to marry him and usually got a positive reply.
Karen and I had our first date in October of 1964 and began “going steady” in early November (same year). In late November, on a Friday evening, I had gotten up enough nerve to ask her to wear my fraternity pin. She told me she couldn’t say “yes” or “no” until Sunday night, and I wasn’t to try to see her at all on Saturday. I was crushed and didn’t know what to say or do, so I left and walked with head down back to my dorm. Turns out Karen had accepted a date back in September before she met me with Ralph Wisian (how’s that for remembering) for the football game that Saturday night and had never broken a date and wasn’t about to start now. Ironically, me and my friends went to the same football game and ended up sitting right behind her and Ralph. We hadn’t been there five minutes when she excused herself to go the restroom and NEVER RETURNED. She spent the entire game in the Ladies Room and wouldn’t come out until I had left the stadium. The next night, she apologized profusely, explained the situation, and told me she’d be proud to wear my pin—we were “pinned.”
Soon, the end of term rolled around and Christmas break was upon us, so I had to fly back to Alexandria, Louisiana, where my family was living. Karen and I had been together or called each other every single day since she put on my pin. We didn’t like being apart over Christmas, but I had to have oral surgery. My wisdom teeth were growing in all crooked, and I had to go into the hospital (St. Francis Cabrini) for the surgery and recovery. I was all doped up afterword and my face had swollen into a non-made up version of the Joker from Batman. My cheeks were puffed out like a chipmunk’s with enough acorns in his mouth to last two winters. Karen still insisted I call her every night even though I couldn’t make words and was too doped up to know what I was saying—I could only make wah-wah sounds. I couldn’t eat anything, so my Dad got me addicted to egg nog and bourbon which it turns out you can live on for several days. I still miss that stuff every Christmas. Anyway, the time came to fly back to Abilene for the next term to begin, and Karen wanted to pick me up at the Abilene Airport in her little Austin Cambridge. My flight got in around eight o’clock at night, and it was bitter cold. While we sat in her little car waiting for it to heat up a bit, I pulled out an engagement ring, and with a face so puffy even my mother couldn’t love it, I stammered out, “Wah woo warry, we?” Now Shakespeare has never written a line as romantic as that. Seems you have to be able to touch your lips together to make an “m” sound, and I just couldn’t manage it. I think we kissed, but I wouldn’t have felt it. She did say, “Yes” and after crying a little (both of us, I think), we drove to her house where I would sleep on the couch until the dorm opened at school.
So, Karen, who laughs at my jokes, is too principled to cancel a date, and who has been by my side ever since has spent over fifty-two years with me. Neither of us would change a thing, even the hard times, because all of it together has made us what we are—and we like what and who we are. I don’t have any pictures of me with the puffy face, but I do have a shot of us getting married exactly six months later. It’s the picture of those two kids on the right. She still laughs at my jokes, and we cry at the same sad movies, and finish each other’s sandwiches (you thought I was going to say “sentences” but we don’t hear well enough to do that anymore).