An October Day

The view from my office window is simple, a beautiful sunny day, with an azure blue sky and a few wispy clouds. The temperature is 50 degrees Fahrenheit which requires a light jacket to endure. The trees around the neighborhood are holding their leaves and providing us with an array of yellows, reds, orange and some green. It is a beautiful fall day, one to behold and cherish. In the year 1961 this was the eve of my wedding. The actual wedding day was a carbon copy of today. The milestone matched the day, beautiful, exciting, refreshing, and eventful.

I kept busy on this day, washing and waxing my Volkswagen Bug in readiness for the great escape following our wedding. I hid the bug in my Mother-in-law’s garage so my groomsmen wouldn’t get any ideas about bedecking the little runt of a car with tails of dangling tin cans and white ‘Just Married’ signs painted on the windows. These acts of love were often carried out by friends of the groom in a show of endearment and jocularity. Our plan was to be chauffeured all day by Gene, my wife’s cousin, in his massive Cadillac. All I had to do was show up at the church which I did in plenty of time. Amazingly, I do not remember how I got there.

Barbara was of Polish heritage and I of Hungarian we decided to get married in her church which was heavily attended by Polish people. To appease my mother, I asked father Joe Adams, a priest from my parish Our Lady Of Hungary to officiate. To this day, I never understood my mother’s animosity towards any nationality not Hungarian. Mother never accepted Barbara until after our first child was born. At that point she must have figured that if she can’t beat her she would join her. We had a very happy family for the entirety of our years together.

Our wedding party was held at the American Legion hall in the town of Summit at 57th and Harlem. Chicago was on the east side of Harlem and the Legion hall on the west. This location was but a couple of miles from Barb’s home. It was ten miles from my family and friends. We hired Bill Kenny, the brother of Barb’s Aunt Frances to play for us. His repertoire was all Polish music. Needless to say we danced the Polka all evening. The food was cooked by a Polish lady, a friend of my mother-in-law, it was Polish faire. Right there are two reasons my Mother didn’t like me to marry outside my ethnicity. She survived, as did all the other Hungarian friends that attended. A few years earlier when my brother Bill married, Mom got to be the ultimate Hungarian hostess, so she was batting 500 between the two of us. Bill married a girl he met while serving in the army in Germany. She came to America to get married. After they were married here, they returned to Germany and married there too. Both mothers got to deliver their best.

I had called a motel in Chicago to book a room for our wedding night. The reservationist insisted that I was booking Saturday, and I persisted that we were arriving on early Sunday morning. That was my first lesson in booking hotel rooms. We got to the motel at three a.m. to learn that we did not have a room. They played my game and booked me for Sunday which in their world is includes Sunday night. I was wrong and they were right, I should have booked a room for Saturday which would have included Saturday night. After a considerable amount of time arguing who was right and who was wrong they relented and gave us their honeymoon suite for the night with our promise that we would move into a regular room the next day. I’ll skip the boring details of our activities of the next couple of days.

On Monday we fired up the Bug and headed for Miami, Florida. We landed in Indianapolis, Indiana in time for dinner. Barb used her iron to freshen her dress and that is how I learned that many hotels have only DC current. She burned out her iron, but her dress was wrinkle free that evening.

Along the way we stopped to tour a cavern along the Tennessee-Georgia border. It was another first for the both of us. We enjoyed seeing stalactites and stalagmites although we took a lot of shit from the tour guide once we let on that we were honeymooning. Eventually, we crossed the border into Florida and stopped at St. Augustine for a couple of days. We lived the uniqueness of the city. Old by US standards having been established in the 1600’s. There is a competition between St Augustine, Florida and Santa Fe, New Mexico for the title of first city in North America. I don’t think there are too many people that visit both towns since they are so far apart so the guides in each town make the claim and people go along thinking they know the truth. The truth is that the Spanish established Santa Fe first.

Eventually we landed in Fort Lauderdale. After a couple of days looking around we found a flyer advertising a three day trip to Nassau, Bahamas. We bit, and booked the tour. Another first for the trip, a flight in a DC3. It was noisy as hell but the trip only took 45 minutes. We fell in love with Nassau immediately. This was long before I knew what a passport was and didn’t know for many years after, as none were required. The unique thing about Nassau was that everyone spoke the King’s English. Coming from Chicago we were familiar with blacks and seeing blacks was not strange, what was strange was to hear them speak perfect English with a British accent. Twenty-five years later we returned to Nassau to find that the blacks had dropped the British accent and English in favor of Ebonics.

Our time in Nassau was unforgettable and a topic for another post. When our plane landed in Fort Lauderdale we found our car packed and ready to leave for home. I made a big mistake in navigation and instead of back tracking the way we came I routed our trip westward toward the Gulf of Mexico. I wanted to visit New Orleans. On the map it looked doable, but it is clearly five hundred miles longer going that way. We crossed Alligator Alley toward Fort Meyers and turned north along the Gulf coast. The drive could best be described as driving through jungle. Lots of tall palm trees and dense foliage along both sides of the road. Small town dotted the road sides and gave us views of the gulf. Occasionally, we stopped at a white sand beach to take pictures.

By the time we rolled into New Orleans I was tired of driving. It was dark and busy with traffic on very old and narrow streets. I got lost making four circles around the city until I finally found a corner that was the key to exit. I have never returned to New Orleans since. We found a motel north of town, and collapsed. The next morning we got a good start, and drove straight through to Chicago, my second mistake of the return. The drive took twenty-nine hours. I’ve never done anything so stupid again. Thank God we arrived home safely in time to go to work the next day.

For Better Or For Worse

The old anniversary odometer just clicked off another whole number, we made it!  Today Peg and I celebrate our twelfth wedding anniversary. I can’t say the ride has been smooth because we have had our differences, but we learned to deal with them, and always made up. My God father once gave me this advice: never go to bed angry at each other , always kiss and tell each other “I  you love.”  God father’s advice works because Peg and I have made that ritual a standard practice. In twelve years I can say that we missed it once. I should say I missed it once because she was already asleep when I got home from a late meeting. Even though she slept, I followed through but she was so fast asleep she didn’t know I did.

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The first nine years I have to admit we enjoyed the “for better” aspect of our marriage vows We partied, we traveled, we went to the theater, we enjoyed the country club dinners with friends, all the things healthy people in love do. In the ninth year there was a dramatic slowdown in the better and an increase in the “for worse.” There were signs of memory deterioration. Peg suddenly needed help operating a washing machine. At first, I thought she was playing me, but she couldn’t remember which knobs to turn and buttons to push. When we traveled she always insisted I wait for her right outside the ladies room, she was afraid of getting lost. When in a restaurant she told me to order for her because she couldn’t see the items on the menu. This was a lady whose practice it was to read the entire menu, even the fine print, so she could decide upon a meal. During the last two years it has been mostly “for worse”  with an occasional better.

Joe & Peggy Wedding Party-November 5, 2005

Peggy’s Family

Before we agreed to marry, we discussed the inevitability of one of us dying or getting sick and how we expected the other to act. We agreed that even if we only had one year together it was worth the try at happiness. Both of us had long marriages before, and we both lost our spouses to a disease. Her husband died of heart related issues in combination with lung cancer at age sixty-nine. My wife beat breast cancer only to die at age sixty-five from issues related to a debilitating heart attack at age sixty-three.

Between the two of us we had ninety-one years of marriage under our belts, how hard could a second marriage be? It should be a snap, after all we have seen almost everything couples experience during our first marriages. How wrong I was. It was hard, but not so hard that we weren’t able to figure things out and smooth the conflicts over.


Right now, Peg is in some state of deterioration resulting from Alzheimer’s disease. I tell people she is relatively stable but declining very slowly.  This is why we are in the “for worse” period of our vows. Her communication skill is gone. Imagine a typical woman not being able to talk, she must be in hell. Imagine a woman who was a fashionista suddenly not giving a crap about clothes, make-up, or hair. Imagine a woman who was so fastidiously clean that she changed every piece of clothing every day because it was dirty from having worn it once, not wanting to bathe. Imagine a lady who could out walk me on a shopping trip not being able to walk again because she can’t remember how. I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift. Our lives have changed from that of newly weds to that of care-taker and patient. Luckily we had discussed these possibilities early on and put things in writing to be very clear about how we would treat each other.

It has been a good run but it is not over yet. It may last another day, or another ten years but it won’t matter because we still love each other now, and will continue to love each other to the very end which is the “till death do us part” of our vows. I write that like I expect to outlive her, but the fact is I can drop dead before her. In that case her life gets a little bit more complicated, but again, we have left instructions for our children on how to deal with that situation.

Happy anniversary my darling!