From This Day Forward

One Small Step

1969 was the most impor­tant year of my life. It was cram-packed with momen­tous events.

Neil Arm­strong climbed down Apol­lo 11 Eagle’s lad­der to set foot on the moon.

A com­put­er net­work gave birth to the ARPANET, which evolved into today’s inter­net.

Ted Kennedy drove his car off a one lane bridge into Poucha Pond on Chap­paquid­dick Island, killing both Mary Jo Kopechne and his chances of ever becom­ing Pres­i­dent.

March on Wash­ing­ton

The NYPD raid­ed the Stonewall Inn, trig­ger­ing riots that led to the gay lib­er­a­tion move­ment.

A quar­ter of a mil­lion peo­ple marched on Wash­ing­ton to demand an end to the Viet­nam War.

Big-name artists enter­tained a crowd of almost a half-mil­lion peo­ple on a dairy farm in upstate New York at a rock con­cert dubbed the Wood­stock Fes­ti­val.

Wood­stock Fes­ti­val

These events changed the cul­ture of the nation and altered its his­to­ry, but I didn’t remem­ber they had occurred in 1969 until I did the research for this post. The only day of that year I remem­bered with­out prompt­ing was June 20.

I woke up in the Will­cox Hotel in Aiken, South Car­oli­na, feel­ing nau­seous and light-head­ed. I took a long show­er, turn­ing the hot water faucet way up, then switch­ing to cold water, then back to hot.

It didn’t help. My prob­lem wasn’t phys­i­cal. It was psy­cho­so­mat­ic. I was ner­vous about the upcom­ing main event of the day. My wed­ding.

My anx­i­ety didn’t spring from doubts about Cindy. From our first date on, I was sure I want­ed to spend my life with her.

Will­cox Hotel, Aiken, SC

The prob­lem was with me. I’d been wor­ried ever since I’d asked Cindy’s dad for her hand in mar­riage. His answer went on for an hour. He didn’t say no, but he didn’t say yes. My win­ning per­son­al­i­ty didn’t seem to bowl him over. For some rea­son, he kept pound­ing on nit­pick­ing details, like I didn’t have a job or any mon­ey or any prospects of get­ting a job or any mon­ey.

I came out of that meet­ing des­per­ate to prove my wor­thi­ness. With a new sense of urgency, I man­aged to line up a job and squir­rel away some cash before our wed­ding day, but my anx­i­ety didn’t go away. Down deep inside I knew Cindy’s dad was right to wor­ry about me. I was imma­ture and untest­ed, and on June 20, I didn’t know if I’d grown up enough to be Cindy’s, or anybody’s, hus­band.

Mid-after­noon I went to my par­ents’ room and told them I was scared sick. Mom had made clear to me long before the wed­ding that Cindy was my sav­ing grace in her eyes. For the rest of her life, she would remind me every chance she got, “You nev­er would have amount­ed to any­thing if you hadn’t found Cindy.” She had no patience that after­noon with my ner­vous stom­ach or any­thing else that might derail our mar­riage. “Get over it,” she barked.

Cindy

Dad had suf­fered from a ner­vous con­di­tion since he was a boy, so he was a lit­tle more under­stand­ing. He took me aside and hand­ed me a half-pint bot­tle of green vis­cous liq­uid, which he called nerve med­i­cine. “Take two tea­spoons of this,” he said. “It helps.”

I trun­dled back to my room. The label on Dad’s bot­tle of “nerve med­i­cine” said it was thir­ty per­cent alco­hol. Might work, I thought. I downed two tea­spoons. It didn’t help. I took anoth­er dose. Still noth­ing.

I’d drained the whole bot­tle by the time Dad drove me to the church, but my stom­ach was still doing back­flips. Sup­pose I faint dur­ing the cer­e­mo­ny, I thought. Worse yet, sup­pose I throw up. I’ll nev­er live it down, and Cindy will dump me for sure. The more I envi­sioned all the ways I could screw up the wed­ding, not to men­tion my whole life, the worse I felt.

Cindy with her Dad

Cindy’s family’s min­is­ter and Dad marched me into the sanc­tu­ary, and we took our places in front of a huge crowd that filled every pew on a hot-as-hell evening with sti­fling humid­i­ty and no air con­di­tion­ing. Sweat rolled down my back inside my starched white shirt as my broth­er took his place beside me as my best man. A col­lege class­mate, two friends from White Hall, Cindy’s sis­ter as the brides­maid, and three of Cindy’s friends walked down the aisle and lined up at the altar.

The organ­ist keyed the open­ing notes of Here Comes the Bride; the big dou­ble doors at the rear of the sanc­tu­ary opened; and Cindy and her dad stepped for­ward.

Cindy was radi­ant, beau­ti­ful beyond words, and she smiled when she saw me.

In that moment, I calmed down and a small seed of con­fi­dence took root inside me, des­tined to grow slow­ly, but steadi­ly, over the com­ing years.

Cindy’s dad walked her down the aisle, and she took my arm. Her hazel eyes shin­ing, she flashed that pix­ie grin I’d fall­en in love with the night we met, and we turned to face my dad.

Anniver­sary Gift

He led us through the vows. “I, Ken, take thee, Cindy, to be my wed­ded wife from this day for­ward, to have and to hold, for bet­ter or worse, for rich­er or poor­er, in sick­ness and in health, in joy and in sor­row, to love and to cher­ish till death do us part.”

The tra­di­tion­al vows are archa­ic and old-fash­ioned, I guess, but they seemed right to me back then. They still do. And we’ve lived by them through good times and bad.

I kissed the bride and we walked down the aisle, out the big dou­ble doors, and on into the next fifty years.

June 20, 1969, to June 20, 2019, 600 months, 18,262 days, three chil­dren, six grand­chil­dren, count­less cher­ished mem­o­ries.

A half-cen­tu­ry behind us. For­ev­er still to go.