As a rule, I’ve kept my posts on this blog focused on my cancer experience and on my personal, random reflections. It’s a little awkward to write about other people in such a public forum. However, I have my wife Dorothy’s OK to get personal in public. Why did I wait?
For a little background mood music, I’m adding a song from an awesome songwriter, David Bridie, who started out with an Australian band called Not Drowning, Waving and then moved on to co-found My Friend the Chocolate Cake. I came across this song a couple years ago and it speaks to me of my respect and awe for the woman I married. (Just click to hear a live version of the song.)
Dorothy and I met in 1984. I was a lonely, unfocused graduate student living in my grampa’s house, half-heartedly working on a Master’s in French and uncertain about my future. We’re not exactly sure when and how we first met, except that we both attended a Mormon student ward (congregation for single adults) at the University of Utah, and at the time she was finishing a B.A. in English; I was a French teaching assistant and worked for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. We must have passed each other in the halls at church many times, but at some point she found out about my Dialogue connection and I found out she had just been published in Sunstone magazine. Must have been in August, when I was manning the Dialogue sales table at the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake and recognized Dorothy from church.
Shortly before the start of fall term, I was asked to speak in sacrament on the pretentious subject of “gospel scholarship.” I’d never been up on that podium before and remember very little about what I said. (And in retrospect, I feel bad that I missed out on Dorothy’s opportunity to speak in church in another student ward, when she was assigned to speak on personal hygiene. She borrowed an oversized toothbrush and hinged set of teeth from her dad’s dental practice and demonstrated proper brushing techniques, among other things.)
What I do remember after I spoke in church was that an engaging young woman walked up to me, complimented me on my talk and my charcoal wool blazer, and couldn’t resist reaching out to TOUCH my jacket. She kinda stroked it a little, then looked mildly apologetic, smiled, and disappeared into the crowd.
We do remember a few other early moments, but the chronology is uncertain. Dorothy substitute-taught a Sunday School class one day, which I quite enjoyed. We’d see each other at ward gatherings, like a “Mingle or Stay Single” lunch one Fast Sunday. On that day, Dorothy’s forward nature made an impression when she broke out of line, fork in hand, and helped herself to a baked potato I was holding on a paper plate. I didn’t know any of the women in the ward so well that I’d allow such familiarity. It was refreshing.
So we became casually acquainted. My friend Clay and I talked about Dorothy, as single young men do, and he encouraged me to step forward. But I was painfully shy and had enough trouble with the idea of a personal, working-my-way-up-to-a-date relationship, let alone being forward with someone who intimidated me with her smarts, humor, and relaxed manner.
Still, it was fated. As it turns out, Clay became my accomplice in what must stand as one of the worst first dates in history. At the time I drove a ’72 Dodge Dart that had been handed through the family, and in the dead of winter this car had no functioning heater. I didn’t mind so much, but I hadn’t considered whether it would be an inconvenience to a fellow traveler. In early February, Clay and I agreed to host a casual get-together at his house in Kaysville, a 20-minute drive from Dorothy’s apartment in Salt Lake. True to form, I didn’t quite manage to invite anyone else (I still have issues with organizing group activities). Clay’s girlfriend didn’t even make it. But I convinced Dorothy that it was a party of sorts, and she agreed to go with me.
The temperature must have been about 10° Farenheit, and as we left in the dark evening Dorothy’s winter coat just didn’t keep her warm enough. So I suggested she open the glove compartment and look for a space blanket I had tucked in for emergencies. Yes, one of those flimsy metallic sheets that reflect back body heat. You can’t say I didn’t have a gallant streak. You also can’t say she was impressed. I think I caught a look of subtle desperation in her eyes as we trundled along I-15 in my dusty old car, with Dorothy trying to tuck a crinkly little piece of Mylar around her legs to keep from freezing.
And that only set the stage. Clay lived in a small house with his mother, her poodle, and a wind-up toy dog that found its way into the party. We were going to play a board game, possibly Trivial Pursuit, but with just the three of us that didn’t quite work out either. What stands out is how blithely Dorothy sailed through a short evening, not acting for a minute as if anything were seriously wrong. I remember is how she wound up the mechanical dog and held a conversation with it as it yapped and wobbled around on its stubby little legs. I tried not to laugh inappropriately, but Dorothy is a natural entertainer. Clay and I were laughing like fools and Dorothy just kept going.
I’ll never know how I got lucky enough for a second date. I’m quite sure Dorothy thought it was another memorable one-time fiasco in her dating career. But as spring broke in the city, we found ourselves crossing paths again. She lived only two blocks from my grampa’s house, and she’d go out jogging early in the morning on Eighth East, toward Liberty Park. I was rather surprised one morning, getting into my car for an early class, to hear her voice: “I think I just got flashed!” It seems that at one of the duplexes up the street, a man stepped out on his porch in a bathrobe to pick up his newspaper and couldn’t resist showing, well, more than he should. I sympathized with her, trying to reassure her that it was a safe neighborhood.
And so it went. We talked more, she invited me to go running (kicked my butt, of course), I invited her over to Grampa’s house one evening for canteloupe and yogurt. We dated, and it was good dating. I started writing her notes and leaving flowers for her, and we had some memorable moments in that Dodge Dart once the weather warmed up. April and May were blissful months. Then a bit a of uncertainty entered the picture: Spring term was her last quarter working on her degree, and she had made plans to go on a long bike trip with her friends Lynda and Alan after graduating. I worried about whether we’d still see each other after she returned, and wondered how I would keep up with someone who had such ambition and a carefree ability to make things happen. But I think I’ll save the rest of the story for another day.