Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth.
When I was a kid, my parents loved to tell the story of how they met. My dad was in a band that played at my mom's sister's wedding. At the time, he was also an ordained Franciscan friar. Recently, I went home to get the whole story.
Dad, how long were you in the order before you met Mom?
D: Eight years.
The first of which you were in seclusion, right?
D: The first two years, yeah, total seclusion. Especially the second year, which is called the novitiate year, where you're away from everything for an entire year, no contact with the outside world, parents, whatever.
So what were you doing in DC?
D: After I finished the novitiate year I went to college for four years near Boston, and after Boston I went to medical school in Georgetown, which is why I went to DC.
Can you describe when you met Mom?
D: Well, I also played the bass fiddle and would frequently play and sing at Sunday masses at the friary.
With other friars?
D: With other friars. So Eileen's sister Kathy was getting married and she heard about these people who sang at weddings. They came to listen to us at Sunday mass and Eileen was the maid of honor, so she came along to audition us. And that's how we met.
So you guys met at a Sunday mass?
D: The very first time I ever saw Mom, yes.
Did you guys talk?
D: Yeah. But I mean, it was nothing. We were just acquaintances and that was it.
M: [My sister] thought it was the funniest thing she'd ever seen, and then the next time I saw him was at the wedding a month or so later.
So Dad's playing at Aunt Kathy's wedding…
M: Dad's playing at Aunt Kathy's wedding — actually, I dont' know if you remember this, but I was in there about an hour before the wedding. I was in the church, I had curlers in my hair and I was wearing a flannel shirt, and you guys were in there warming up.
D: It was after the wedding, after the ceremony, when I was packing up the instruments. Mom came up to me and said, "Would you like to come to the reception?" And I said… well, I had a really big exam the following Monday —
M: This was on a Friday.
D: It was a pharmacology exam and it was on laxatives —
M: I almost lost out to laxatives!
D: And I said, "I really have to go back and study. I've got a big exam on Monday." And she said, "Oh come on, just come to the reception. It won't be long." And I said, "No I really can't." And she said, "Well, I'm not gonna beg you." And when she said that, I thought "Oh I just offended her." So I said, "Well, I'll come for a short time." We danced at the reception and um, then… What happened was, it probably would've ended there, but there was some guy at the wedding —
M: I'm trying to remember his name.
D: Who Mom had dated in the past. And in Mom's mind, she was over with this guy, but in his mind he still had a hold over Mom. And he noticed that Mom and I were dancing, and he was a little drunk. So as I was heading back to my car in the parking lot —
By the way, are you still in garb?
D: No, at that point I was just in normal clothes. But we were in the parking lot on the way back to the car and this guy comes up and starts making a fuss that we'd been dancing or whatever, and Mom tells him basically to bug off. There was a little scene and we went our separate ways.
So Mom, a part of the story you always told was that you saw Dad singing "Sunshine On My Shoulders."
M: The three of them sang "Paul Stooki's Wedding Song" at the beginning of the wedding, and at the end he was singing "Sunshine On My Shoulders" by John Denver. I remember thinking, "Hm… not the best rendition."
D: They kept teasing me for the way I sang "shouderrrs".
M: But he just looked like he was absolutely and completely enjoying himself. I thought he had beautiful hair. I thought it was cute.
What'd you like about Mom?
D: She was pretty hot! The whole package, really. Everything seemed to fit. Personality fit. We had the same interests. It just felt right.
M: We didn't have to say "Do we fit?" We just did.
So the second date…
D: A couple days after the wedding, I called Mom and said, "I'm sorry for the scene I made. I'm sorry if that upset you. Would you like to go out to dinner?" So we went out to dinner, and we danced again.
M: At Emerson's Plum in Rosling, Virginia.
D: At this point, I am already sort of seeing the writing on the wall that I might leave the order. And Mom was kind of pushing that along a little bit, so we went out to dinner and then kind of went our separate ways until you —
D: Kathy had a little get together to thank everyone who was in the wedding including the musicians so she invited us to go along and by that time I had kind of gotten over Mom, I mean we had gone out that one time —
M: I'm easy to forget (laughs).
D: But once I saw her again that kind of tipped me over the edge, so we went out to dinner again. It was at that dinner that I said to Mom, "If I left the order, would you consider getting married?"
So it was literally two dates.
D: Second date.
Two dates and you proposed. And this was over the course of how long?
M: From October to early December.
So you guys knew each other for about two months and you decided to get engaged.
D: I just knew it was —
D: So Mom initially said yes, and then we walked around for two hours talking. A day or two later Mom kind of put on the brakes being like, "We barely knew each other" —
M: I don't remember that!
D: You did!
M: Sounds like me.
D: So we decided we'd see each other. And I already had planned on leaving the order.
Mom, did you have any hesitation hitting on someone who was a friar?
M: I wasn't hitting on him! The wedding was over — it was kind of an informal wedding — and she said, "Why don't you go ask those guys to come to the reception?" And I don't remember saying, "Well, I'm not gonna beg you," even though it had a big impact on you.
D: It was the most important moment in our lives!
M: No recollection. So at the reception, I remember standing at the table, holding a glass of wine and Katherine said again, "You should ask those guys to dance." I remember taking my shoes off and going over. I do remember the dance. Rod Stewart was playing, and I remember thinking, "We fit perfectly together when we dance, this person I do not know."
D: The moment Mom said "Well I'm not going to beg you" changed our entire lives. You would't be here if Mom hadn't said that one line! Because I would've gone back to the friary and we probably never would've seen each other again.
So it basically made you feel guilty.
M: Guilt! It works so well! And I remember thinking, I went to school with people who got involved with priests — I'm not going to be one of those crazy women! But then we went out again and he said, "If I do this, will you consider marrying me?" And I said, "Oh sure." And then we walked around for a couple hours. And then I went home I was rational, thinking, this is ridiculous, this doesn't work that way, blah blah blah. But as soon as we'd get back together again it'd be like, "Yea, okay, let's do it. Perfectly fine."
D: And at that point, obviously it was a pretty tumultuous time for me. I was a sophomore in med school.
M: And I was a senior in college.
D: And here I am, thinking, I'm gonna marry this person, I'm leaving the order, I gotta find a way to support myself. The friary's not going to support me anymore. I couldn't study, I couldn't concentrate, so I took a leave of absence from med school for a year. And that's when I worked for Mom's brother and lived with Mom's grandmother. And then a month before we got married, I started my sophomore year again.
M: So we met October 19th of 1973 and got married October 12th of 1974. We missed a year by a week.
D: In retrospect, we hardly knew each other.
When you got married?
D: Even afterwards! And yet we still knew that we were meant for each other.
M: We were so naive.
D: We didn't know each other that well. We had only met a year earlier. There's such an element of luck.
So now you're married. You are Norbert and Eileen Dziengielewski for a while.
D: We were. For…
M: From '74 until January of '76.
So what prompted the change?
D: Let me spell it: D-Z-I-E-N-G-I-E-L-E-W-S-K-I. That's what prompted it. At that point I was a junior in med school and I was already in the hospital and no one could page me, no one could pronounce my name. Professionally, I had to change my name.
M: And I kept using my maiden name at work because no one could pronounce the new one. And Devin was gonna be born. We kept going back and forth about a name and I clearly remember the night: we were lying in bed, just kind of cuddling, and I said, "Norb! Mathias! Mathias, West Virginia!" And we knew that was it.
Which was where you went on your honeymoon. How'd you choose Mathias, West Virginia?
M: Well, I had off Monday for Columbus Day. And we liked West Virginia, it was inexpensive. I found it, but you made the reservation. And then, I guess that's it. The rest is history.
Is the story of how your parents met or the adventures of their wild youth the stuff of family legend? Are you interested in sitting down with them and getting the full story? If so, we'd love to hear about it! Send us a brief description of your parents and the story you'd get from them to email@example.com with the subject line “Before You Were Born."