Before You Were Born: "We had a car. That was it."

Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth: Adventuresome times in the 1970s.

By Liv Combe

Before they were "happily married writers," my parents were freewheeling, globetrotting younglings who probably wouldn't have gotten married if it weren't for the U.S. Army. Recently, I interviewed them about their adventures.

In 1976, Dad, you were graduating from college and leaving for Switzerland to play basketball; Mom, you were just about to start your sophomore year. You'd just gone on a few dates. Why did you decide to stay together?

D: It was bad timing. We both recognized that we had a real spark and a real attraction, but it just seemed doomed because I was taking off. It's just a testament to our attraction to one another that we decided we didn't have to cut this off because of timing; we could write these letters and kind of explore that. I just think… I was really intrigued. Mom had these angry eyes and was real pretty, and I just wanted to get to know her better.

M: And you were very lonely, weren't you?

D: You always put the blackest spin on things. "If you weren't lonely you would never have written to me." Yeah, that's true. If I had been in the circus, you wouldn't have been born, Livi. So I think it was that. It was just kind of unfinished business. And letters turned out to be a perfect kind of way to date, in a way. Transatlantically.

When were you officially together, then?

M: It was right before I went to Ireland.

D: I came back that next summer. I picked her up at the Philadelphia train station, and I remember our driving around together in this big boat of a car that my parents had. It just seemed odd. We'd written all these letters, but hadn't really talked that much! It was like meeting a stranger who you knew really well, through the letters. We were zipping along some freeway, and we were just sort of sitting there. It reminded me of the ending of The Graduate, when they sit there on the bus, like, what do we do now? But then I put the moves on her, you know.

M: Which terrified me.

And then when Mom was in Ireland and Dad was back in Switzerland, you visited each other?

M: Yeah. Dad came to Ireland first, before I went to Switzerland. I was sort of being watched. The program I was with was from a Catholic school, the University of Detroit, and we had a priest who accompanied the group. He was really displeased the first time I went to Switzerland.

D: Father McCranky. And I guess we met in Paris for Christmas that year? Then you came to Switzerland at the end of your time in Ireland. We took this long trip down to Montpelier, and then we went down to Barcelona, and then Madrid, and from there we went up to Oxford. We were just living on the cheap, just moving around, and it was great.

So when you came back to the U.S. for Mom's last year of college, the two of you lived together in Davidson. How did you decide to get married?

D: It was forced upon us by the U.S. military.

M: It was a convergence of things happening. Dad was unhappy with his doctoral program, or maybe unhappy about being separated, but unhappy in any case.

D: I'd started a doctoral program at the University of Rochester, and our silly little plan was that I would be doing my doctorate for four years and Mom would be in the army for four years, and then we'd get together. We'd live together and all that stuff. And that plan lasted a couple of months, basically. I didn't like the program or the city that much, and being apart wasn't working too well, so I decided to quit the doctoral program so that we could be together. But to be together in the military meant we had to be married, because they were going to ship her over to Germany, and they wouldn't ship me unless I was hitched to her.

So there was no proposal? It was just a decision?

D: Pretty much, wasn't it?

M: Yeah. I think you suggested it, as I remember.

Were you nervous about getting married so quickly?

D: It didn't feel quick at all.

M: No, I think we knew it was going to happen. I don't know if we knew we were going to get married, with an official ceremony, but I think we always knew that we were going to be together.

NEXT: "The troops I intermingled with didn't give a shit, but some of the officers could be real assholes about it..."


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