Love & Sex

Before You Were Born: It Always Felt Like Fate

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Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth: The memory that kept them together through years of bickering.

By Marguerite Kennedy

For as long as I can remember, every February 2, my parents have celebrated Bob Moon Day. This is a holiday that only exists in our family. You see, February 2 was the day my parents met at a party in Charleston, South Carolina, well over thirty years ago. Neither of them knew the host — the eponymous Bob Moon — although he looms large in the mythology of their whirlwind romance.

The annual celebration of the anniversary of Bob Moon Day would make a lot more sense if my folks had spent the ensuing decades as the kind of madly-in-love couple that always gets along. To the contrary — my parents are both wonderful people, but their relationship has been defined by endless cats-and-dogs bickering, to put it mildly (think: a Southern, goyish version of Frank and Estelle Costanza from Seinfeld).

But every year, February 2 marks a brief détente. They stop arguing for just long enough to sip some champagne, beer, and coffee, and make a toast to the memory of a guy they probably never even met. On a recent drive across South Carolina with my parents, I asked them to tell me, once again, the ancient story of Bob Moon Day.

So you met at Bob Moon's party, but neither of you knew the host. How did you end up there?

Dad: I'd recently moved back from Samoa, where I was working for the government. Some guy who was a friend of a friend of a friend of my friend Norm invited me to the party.

Mom: My friend Mary insisted that I come out with her, but I really didn't want to. I'd gone out every night that week, and, frankly, I was exhausted. But earlier that day, I'd gone to the beauty shop. "You can't waste your hairdo sitting at home alone!" Mary said. "Besides, you may meet your future husband!" 

Come on. "You may meet your future husband?" I've always thought that part of the story sounded just a bit… made up.

M: I swear that's what she said! My hair appointment was originally scheduled for the day before, but the hairstylist was sick. If that appointment hadn't been changed, you probably wouldn't be here.

So, neither of you knew Bob Moon personally. Are you sure he existed?

D: Not entirely. If I met Bob Moon that night, I sure don't remember. But there were a lot of people at the party. 

M: The way I was raised, a lady never goes to a party at the home of someone unless she's been properly introduced. So I was a bit nervous about just randomly showing up. Mary's hairstylist told her about the party, but I don't think she knew the mysterious Bob Moon, either. I think I met him, that night, but I can't recall what he looked like, or what his story was. It's funny. I don't remember a thing about Bob Moon, but I do remember exactly what I was wearing…

A plaid wool skirt, a white blouse, alligator bootsThe ritual Telling of the Wardrobe happens every year on Bob Moon Day, remember?

M: I know, you've heard all this before. And your father was wearing a long-sleeve shirt with a dickey under it. 

A dickey? Egads.

M: It was the '70s, remember? Anyway, I walked into the kitchen — 

D: And she saw a tall, handsome man standing in the corner. 

M: But I decided to come talk to you, instead.

D: Hardy har har! That's when she came up to me and begged me to marry her. She thought I was the best lookin' man she'd ever seen! 

M: He was very tall, anyway. So he stood out.

D: And she was very petite. And about the prettiest girl I'd ever seen. Still is! Next to you, of course.

I know there are two versions of what happened next. One involves a bottle of champagne, and the other a bottle of beer. The debate has been raging for years.

M: I brought a bottle of champagne, and I was looking for someone to open it. Now, a lady never opens her own champagne, as you know. It's bad luck. 

D: She knows good and well it was a bottle of beer, not champagne. 

M: So I asked your father to open the champagne, and it spewed out it all over me.

D: It was beer! But I did spill it all over her. Accidentally, of course.

What happened after the champagne-or-possibly-beer spilling incident?

M: We must've talked for two straight hours. Well, mostly, he talked, and I listened. He told me all about Samoa, and San Francisco, and all his travels abroad. I thought it was very exotic. I was young, remember? And your father being so much older than I was, he'd had a lot more life experiences. And he was a walking encyclopedia — still is. I have to admit, I was enthralled.

D: But, don't forget, she was about to marry an ol' boy named Jim something-or-another…

M: He would've made a good husband.

D: I think he was gay. He ended up becoming a priest, you know.

M: That's not very nice. 

D: What? He did become a priest.

M: I don't think he was gay. Besides, who cares if he was?

D: I didn't say it was a bad thing. I just said he was probably gay, that's all. 

M: Why? Because he was nice, and tidy, and enjoyed classical music?

D: For starters.

M: Unlike someone I know, Jim would always hang up his jacket, instead of just letting it fall wherever when he walks through the door. And he would never track mud in onto the carpet, or leave his shoes in the middle of the floor, or… I should've married Jim.

D: You would've been miserable! But you would have an extremely tidy, well-decorated house.

M: Oh, stop it. 

For the record, would you tell the court where you went after Bob Moon's party?

D: We went to The Merch — short for the Merchant Seamen's Club.

Because you are my parents, I'm not going to make a joke about the name of that club. But it's causing me physical pain.

M: The Merch was the place to go out in Charleston, in those days. It was basically a jazz club. One of those places where you'd find people from every background, every walk of life. Everyone from debutantes to poor white trash to famous jazz musicians hung out at The Merch. It was an institution. So we danced…

D: And had a few more drinks.

M: And then somehow, he convinced me to let him come back to my place for a cup of coffee.

Wasn't that scandalous, letting a, uh, "gentleman caller" come back to your place on the first date? Heck, before the first date?

M: Oh, well, it's not like anything happened. I made that clear from the get-go. We just drank coffee, and he talked. I was so tired I was about to die — it was two in the morning — but I couldn't get him to leave.

D: Ha! I tried to leave, but she wouldn't let me. She practically blocked the door! 

M: Don't listen to your father. But we still have the mugs we drank the coffee out of.

Those orange, floral mugs — the ones that come out every year on Bob Moon Day…

M: Those are the ones.

How soon thereafter did you see each other again?

M: The next day. He showed up at the school where I taught. He brought a bunch of TV sets for my classroom.

TV sets? Wouldn't a box of candy have been cheaper?

D: I was working for EDTV at the time, and my job was to train teachers to use educational television. She was a teacher, so I figured, why not train her?

M: It was like he was stalking me. He called about ten times a day. I think finally I agreed to marry him just to make him stop calling.  

D: That's not true! She's the one who wouldn't leave me alone. She begged me to marry her. Begged!

You got married on April 11 — just nine weeks after you met on Bob Moon Day. I wasn't born until years later, so it wasn't a shotgun wedding. Why the big hurry?

M: He told me we had to get married, right away, because he was about to start his Ph.D. program at U.C. Berkeley, and he wanted me to go with him. 

D: Besides, when you meet the right person, why wait?

How did your families react when you told them you were marrying someone you'd only known for a few weeks?

M: My brothers said, "He would be fine for Rosemary [her older sister], but he's too old for you."

D: After meeting your mother, my mama took me aside and said, "I like this one. Don't mess it up." Then she added, "This is the last time I lend you money for an engagement ring."

Ouch. Because your first marriage had ended after less than a year?

D: But I was very young, the first time!

M: I later found out that my father said, before we got married, "I give it six months, tops." The funny thing is, at the time, I didn't really think of marriage as something permanent. In the back of my mind, I kind of thought I would marry a few different men in the course of my lifetime. I went into it with the attitude of, "If it doesn't work out, we can just get a divorce."

The two of you came pretty close to divorce on more than one occasion. Why stick it out?

D: She would be miserable without me!

M: Mmm. Actually, I think part of it goes back to Bob Moon Day. The random, once-in-a-blue-moon meeting. Something about it always felt… I dunno, like fate. That immediate, magnetic attraction. Even in the bad times. Whatever it was that drew us together — whether it was love or madness — it never entirely went away.

D [(deliberately?) off-key]: "Some enchanted evening… You may see a stranger… Across a crowded room…"