I judge my life - Part 1 - Making a start


Has it been worthwhile—your life, I mean?

I will answer with a story.

Long ago, I watched a girl eating in the school cafeteria. Everyday, I watched her. She would raise each forkful high, turning it this way and that, savoring the fragrance, watching the steam rise; then, finally, she would take a bite. At 5’11” and 150 pounds, I regarded eating as a nuisance, and I was charmed by her love for her food; that and her gentle face, brown eyes, shy demeanor, and shapely body. The year was 1971, and we were students at Mississippi College.

A few months later, my roommate, Lynn, introduced me to his newest girl, and it was her, Peggy. I asked Lynn if he minded me asking Peggy out, and he said no. Later, to her, he said, “Turn him down.” Maybe she would have dated me anyway.

Three dates later, school was out. While I was getting graduated at Jackson’s Civic Auditorium, Peggy was next door at the Greyhound Station waiting for a bus back to San Antonio. I also left town that afternoon.

I didn’t much care about Canada, but another student lived in the Canadian Rockies, and I was riding home with him just for the hell of it. I anticipated hitchhiking back to Mississippi almost as soon as we got to Edmonton. On our second day out, we stopped in Trinidad, Colorado, former home of Doc Holliday and present home of my half-sister’s husband’s father. Just enough of a connection for a free night’s lodging. When the lime-green Canadian Gremlin left the next morning, I wasn’t in it. I was on my way to San Antonio to surprise Peggy. We had been apart two whole days. My host worried that the Colorado cops would hassle me, so he drove me just over the border into New Mexico. I stepped out of his car at 7:00 a.m., and figured I would call Peggy if I made it to San Antonio before midnight. Otherwise, I would sleep on the ground.

I called at 11:55. Her father answered. He had been asleep. He didn’t know who the hell I was, so I figured it would be a bad time to tell him that I had come to marry his daughter. My last ride had been with an encyclopedia salesman, and when Peggy and her father pulled into the truck stop, the salesman was dutifully trying to sell me a set of encyclopedias, using his car hood as a table on which to display his wares.

Peggy’s parents moved her 13-year-old sister into another room, and gave me her bed. Pam woke up the next morning, and wondered why she wasn’t in her own bed. When she found me there, she screamed. I nearly screamed too. After Peggy accepted my proposal, I said I would ask her father for her hand. No way, Peggy said. She didn’t want to spring it on him until I was long gone.

We were married on December 19, four months after we met. I wanted to do it sooner, but weddings take time, or so I was told. Father Hale—that would be Episcopal Father Hale—warned us that he had never performed a wedding during Advent that lasted.

Did you ever have any qualms about marrying so quickly?

Only once. Peggy and I went out to eat one Sunday, and she asked me what I thought she should order. I suggested a t-bone. This was my idea of joke because we had just been trying to convince ourselves that we had enough money to get married. Peggy ordered a t-bone. Worse yet, she didn’t eat it all. I naturally concluded that the woman was a spendthrift and that our life together would be an endless cycle of deepening debt and bankruptcy. We had a big fight, maybe our first. Peggy said that she hadn’t even wanted a t-bone, but had gotten one to please me.

Our honeymoon meal was at a “family restaurant.” Our honeymoon destination was the 8’ by 35’ hardly heated trailer that we had rented near Mississippi College where Peggy was still a student. The bedroom was all bed, and the only way we could be in the bathroom at the same time was if one of us was in the tub, but mostly it was the cold that drove us out. After a few months, we moved into an upstairs’ apartment in what had once been a large house. We had already added a stray kitten to our family.

We lived cheaply. Fortunately, we shared a talent for it—Peggy having proven to be anything but a spendthrift. I immediately showed myself unable to hold a job. Between the summer of 1971 and the summer of 1973, I worked first as a funeral director/ambulance driver at Adkin’s Funeral Home, then as a schoolteacher for Hinds County Public Schools, then as a sporting good’s salesman at Miller’s Discount, then as a funeral director at Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home, and finally as a respiratory therapy technician at University Medical Center. My biggest employment challenge was that I feared and hated anyone who gave me orders or had power over me. I considered myself too good for every job I ever had.

Meanwhile, Peggy was finishing up her degree in secondary education while working at Gibb’s Pizza Parlor. She had no trouble holding a job. The other girls at the pizza parlor were black, and they called Peggy princess. It was meant as a compliment.

How did your parents feel about Peggy?

My parents loved Peggy. My mother loved Peggy more than she loved me, and my father loved Peggy equally as well. Anyone who is with Peggy for five minutes would have to be a moron to not notice that here is a woman who is honest, gentle, intelligent, loyal, and modest. If you were in a crowd of strangers and found it necessary to ask one of them to hold onto your life’s savings while you went someplace, you would just naturally choose Peggy. Unlike me, she completely lacks treachery. I’ve never known a better person.

Ms Magazine appeared in January1972, two months after we were married. I subscribed to it in Peggy’s name because I got it into my head that she needed to be liberated. Women libbers seemed sexy to me, maybe because their goal was to make women think; and intelligent, thinking women drove me crazy, libidinally speaking. I made a point of keeping Ms in the bathroom because that’s where I did much of my reading, and where I assumed that Peggy would learn to do much of her reading. Funny that I failed to take it in that Peggy NEVER, EVER read in the bathroom. I attributed this failure to an insufficient variety of reading materials. After 37 years of supplying her with books and magazines, Peggy still doesn’t read in the bathroom. I am beginning to worry that there’s something wrong with her, and that our marriage was a mistake.

In any event, Peggy had zero interest in women’s lib in general or Ms Magazine in particular. What Peggy did have an interest in was good milk, and I had been making her drink powdered milk because it was a lot cheaper. I told her she would get used to powdered milk. She persevered for months. Then one day she came home with a jug of real milk and powdered milk hasn’t passed her lips since. This senseless rebellion wasn’t what I had in mind when I set out to liberate her.

In 1973, I joined the Air Force, and was sent off for training in San Antonio. Peggy’s parents were still in San Antonio where Peggy’s father, Earl, was a Lt. Col at Randolph. The plan was for Peggy to live with her parents while I was in boot camp.

Why did you join the Air Force?

Because I lacked direction. I had a B.S. in education (K-8) but no desire to teach.

Why did you get a degree in something you weren’t interested in?

After my third year in college, I decided I needed a major that I could complete during my fourth year (I don’t remember why), and education was the only thing that fit the bill. I did, as I mentioned, try teaching during the fall before Peggy and I were married, but I felt like a misfit at the elementary school that hired me because every student and every teacher but myself was black. More importantly, I had contracted hepatitis (probably from the girl to whom I gave my virginity two months before I met Peggy), and was feverish, lethargic, and dropped from 150 pounds to 125. I finally walked off the job. The superintendent threatened to sue me, but I had purposely neglected to sign my contract. Promising that I would be in certain spot at a certain time on a certain day months in advance seemed like a jail sentence to me.

Earl said he liked the Air Force, and I liked—and wanted to please—Earl. Since he was a weatherman, I decided that I should be a weatherman too. I mean, what’s not to like about fluffy white clouds and rainbows? Peggy and I drove to San Antonio a week before I was supposed to report to Lackland for basic, so we took a few days for a proper honeymoon in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. We still have a painting on velvet of the desert by moonlight. Years after we bought it, Peggy said it was tacky, and that we should get rid of it. Not likely. It reminds me of our honeymoon, and that makes it holy.

I lasted 17 days at Lackland. The sergeants yelled at me and hurt my feelings, and they did all kinds of other obnoxious things like waking us up before dawn each day by beating garbage can lids together. At 23, I was the oldest recruit among the 70 in my “flight” and the only one with a college education. I felt like a misfit and a failure just by being there instead of at Officer’s Candidate School where everyone else with my qualifications had apparently gone. I concluded that the Air Force was like all the other jobs I ever had only worse. I also spent a lot of time worrying that I couldn’t run the mile fast enough to avoid having to go through boot camp a second time. I was a good runner, so there was no reason for my fear, yet it was a big fear. I have always been a person who blossoms before praise and wilts under criticism, and the whole premise of boot camp is that you remold ordinary people into warriors by tearing down who they used to be.

The Vietnam War was winding down, and the Air Force apparently decided that it had too many people, so one day they took about half of my unit to a building where second lieutenants called us in one at a time and asked us a lot of questions. I didn’t realize until later that they were looking for an excuse to get rid of us, but it wouldn’t have mattered. One of the questions was whether I had ever smoked marijuana. I said I had. The next question was how many times I had smoked it. I think I said three, which was about right. I was to smoke it a lot more in coming years.

The next day, a few of us were called away from our unit, and put together with a lot of other guys. Then we were all lined up and contemptuously ordered to leave our last names on our uniforms (they had been sewn on) but to tear off the U.S. Air Force insignia. It was like a court martial scene from an old cavalry movie except that we weren’t sent through the gates of the fort to wander the desert. Also, we weren’t all being dishonorably discharged. My discharge was what was called a “general discharge.” It’s considered honorable, but not too honorable—just a little honorable, I guess you could say. The expulsion process took a week during which we were housed in some old barracks at the edge of the base. My roommate said he was being discharged for attacking his drill instructor. He looked crazier than shit to me, and I tried to stay clear of him.

We rejects had to stay on the base, but we could move around a good bit—Lackland is the biggest military base in the world, probably bigger than a lot of countries—and nothing was expected of us. We could also have visitors. Peggy and her parents came to see me and, by so doing, to witness my disgrace. That was hard for me, and no doubt hard for Earl and Doris, although they never said anything. My relationship with them was pretty much bereft of either praise or criticism. Peggy didn’t say much either. It was a time to look ahead rather than behind.

I wish I could do those years over. I took trivial things too seriously, and that kept me from taking the rest of my life seriously enough. Like a dog, I only saw what was in front of my face. But I’ll tell you something that I often ponder. Let’s say that I had been able to use my abilities to the fullest. That would have set me on a whole other path, and who knows where that path would have led? Because I can’t see where other choices would have taken me, I can’t know that they would have been for the best. I do know that a person’s smallest act can dramatically alter the rest of his life.

After all these years, I am still alive, and I still have Peggy to hold and to love. My life has been worthwhile.

49 comments:

His kajirah said...

Beautiful pictures, you're still alive and you still have Peggy. After all is said, done and gone, could you really hope or ask for more?

(Hope you're doing well)

~cali

Natalie said...

Snow, that was the best post I have read EVER!
What a gift you have given us, thank you.
What a gift you have been given in Peggy, she deserves a thousand Camry's!
A lovely picture of you both too. You are right, Peggy has the most beautiful, brown, gentle eyes and soft demenour. Lucky,lucky you.xx♥

Michelle said...

Beautiful!

khelsaoe said...

That WAS beautiful. Thank you.

Audrey said...

Very nice. Thank you for sharing.

Caitlin Dale said...

That is a beautiful lady you have there. :) I love your story.

Bill said...

I must say, that was quite a captivating post. Also, I'm with you on the praise versus criticism thing.

pink dogwood said...

enjoyed reading your story.

nollyposh said...

A lovely story of troughs and hills and trials and love... the best kind X:-)

Rob-bear said...

What an amazing story, and so beautifully written. Along with some wonderful pictures.

I've married a lot of couples, and I often wonder what became of them. I hope they are as wonderfully happy as you and Peggy.

C Woods said...

Very nice post ---a great love story. It's nice to know that your young love lasted, as it so rarely does. Now I want to hear the rest of your story. What kind of work did you eventually get into?

In response to the comment you made on my blog, i added a comment below yours (on my blog) with complete instructions on how to add categories with post titles to the sidebar ---at least how I did it. It is rather easy but takes a long time to do, depending on the number of posts you want to add to your list.

Another way to do it, is: If you add labels to the end of each post, you can use the labels gadget. It will put a list of every label you have used on the sidebar. Let's say you had a label for "Bible" (one of your recent posts.) If you added the label gadget and I clicked on the "Bible" label, it would give me a list of every post on which you added the "Bible" label. I see that you haven't added labels (at least on the recent posts I looked at) so you'd have to go back and do that on all posts. That might be equally time consuming now, but you'd have to do nothing in the future. It would update automatically.

Kitty said...

Hi. Firstly, I want to say thanks for dropping by my blog and taking the tie to comment. Secondly I want to say that this is one hell of a blog post. So beautifully written - honest and insightful. I'm really glad that things worked out for Peggy and you: stories like yours give hope to people like me.

Take care :-)

Lisa said...

i loved that post. loved it. what a beautiful skill you have snowbunny xx

Gaston Studio said...

Another amazing story from you Snow, which is why I left another 'something' on my blog today for you to enjoy!

My second child, Sandi, had no idea what she wanted to do after high school and after working at a couple of meaningless job, she and a friend joined the Army on the buddy system. She did her time as an MP, got discharged honorably and immediatley went to college. She said the Army helped her realize what she wanted to do with her life and one thing was NOT to spend it in the military (although they wanted her to go to officer's candidate school or whatever they call it in the army and go into intelligence!).

I'm very proud of her.

Michelle H. said...

This is an amazing post about the wonders of your life and love. The pictures are also beautiful. I've never seen a church like this before.

Snowbrush said...

First, I hope everyone noticed that the pictures are cllckable so you can see Peggy even better.

Cali, Michelle, Khelasoe, Audrey Caitlin, Nollyposh, and Pink, I bask in your praise. This was an emotional piece to write.

Natalie, what kind words--1,000 Camrys for Peggy! Yes.

Bill, I anticipated you and me being alike about praise versus criticism. I think most people would agree. It's not that some of us prefer praise, but that we are wilted by criticism.

Rob-bear, I somehow didn't know that you were ordained.

Snowbrush said...

MIchelle "I've never seen a church like this before."

It's the Episcopal Church in Brookhaven, Mississippi, and one of the two most beautiful churches I've ever seen. Thank you for your kind words, Michelle.

Thank you also for your sweetness, Lisa.

Jane "I left another 'something' on my blog today."

I'll get over there in a bit. Peggy is about to give me a shower. I can bathe myself, but not nearly as well, and some areas I can't bathe at all.

KItty "stories like yours give hope to people like me. "

Thank you, Kitty, but I can take so little credit for my good outcome. In fact, I've done much to sabotage it, but I'll get to that another day.

C Woods "What kind of work did you eventually get into?"

I worked for years with my father as a house remodeler, but my longest term job by far has been as a houseperson for Peggy and me. She works part-time, and I do almost everything that needs doing on the homefront. I will check out your site for those instructions. Thank you.

Reuben said...

Whoo! You've clearly taken the right path Snow, for who else would write this blog and so give insight into my own lifely meanderings?

david mcmahon said...

I had a close relative who served at Lackland AFB. This is a wonderful post. Gaston Studio told me to come here and read it.

Chrisy said...

Oh Snow when I read your comment on my blog yesterday it made me quite emotional...to be read, understood, and appreciated..thank you so much...and then I came on over to your blog and read and read and, engulfed with my own memories and critiquing of the past, couldn't leave a comment...so I'm back...to thank you for the prompting to not just mull over the past, but to write it down...

Beth said...

Lovely tribute to your life with your wife. She sounds like a sweet soul.

kj said...

snowbrush, i've only read to the part about ms. magazine but that is okay because that is the way i read books--stop at a point until the next day or so and delightfully snuggle back in. i say this because reading this is reading a good book. that's what it is.

since i'm a writer too i am tickled to make your acquaintance and read your words. we both have so many wonderful artists in our blog lives, and isn't it cool to see the kind of word magic you spin?

xo

All Consuming said...

The photos is great, and you look like you are both literally 'watching the birdie' for all your worth!

We haven't been able to manage any honeymoon at all yet, financially even a couple of nights away is out of the question. One of us could afford to go mind you hahahaha. I'm looking forward to us celebrating it whilst we sip soup together in the retirement home.

I agree about intelligence, tis a powerful aphrodisiac methinks.

I HAVE to have reading matter in the bathroom, some may point out that with Crohn's I have to be there longer than most, which is true, however tis also true that I read in the loo long before I developed that.

"Let’s say that I had been able to use my abilities to the fullest. That would have set me on a whole other path, and who knows where that path would have led? Because I can’t see where other choices would have taken me, I can’t know that they would have been for the best. I do know that a person’s smallest act can dramatically alter the rest of his life." - I have thought the same, and have come to the conclusion I wouldn't change a thing. Maybe I would have been physically well, but socially miserable as hell. I'm very happy with it the other way round.

"After all these years, I am still alive, and I still have Peggy to hold and to love. My life has been worthwhile". - What a lovely testament to your love, and your life that is.

Maternal Tales said...

What a lovely, lovely post. It just made me want to read more about you and Peggy and your life. How lucky you are to have each other...

Never wish to have done your time over - what you have done has made you who you are - and like you say, who's to know what other paths you would have walked along, but why wonder at all when it is obvious you have taken the right one!

Perfect x

Jeanne said...

What a gift you have for telling your story ... thank you so much for sharing your memories with us.
The photo of you and Peggy is full of youthful innocence. To be so in love with each other after 37 years of marriage - that's quite something!!

Snowbrush said...

Reuben "who else would write this blog and so give insight into my own lifely meanderings?"

Wow, what a wonderful thing to say. I am so grateful I could do that.

To David: I'm so glad that Jane sent you around!

Beth "She sounds like a sweet soul."

That reminds me. We have a schnauzer who Peggy loves so much that she calls him her "soul."

KJ "reading this is reading a good book. that's what it is."

Thank you. As for reading it in two sittings, I really wanted to cut it down in size, but that would have meant publishing it in two installments, and I didn't think my readers would like that, and it wouldn't make me any too happy either unless absolutely necessary.

All Con "One of us could afford to go mind you" [on our honeymoon"

Hey, that's an idea. You could text message everyday.

Maternal Tales " It just made me want to read more about you and Peggy and your life."

You will get to!

Jeanne "The photo of you and Peggy is full of youthful innocence."

Then you don't think that Peggy has a squinty, steely-eyed Clint Eastwood glare? (Ha)

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hey Snow, WOW---what a good time for me to check out your blog. You and Peggy have something VERY special --and you know it!!!! Hallelujah for that!!! And congrats to you both!

Thanks for visiting my blog... Please come back and I'll come back to yours. As for the question as to why we Tennesseans put the word "Tennessee" in our name---well I don't really know. For me, I am a huge University of TN fan--so since I live in TN, that just enhances the love...

For Jo (Brit in TN)---she is originally from England and landed here in Tennessee. Can you just imagine the culture shock????? ha ha

Thanks again for such a great post. Wonder if my hubby will write something like that about me after we have been married for many years????? (We just got married --2nd marriage-- in 2001, but this for both of us has been the greatest years of our lives.

Thanks again for visiting my blog.
Betsy ---from TENNESSEE (HA)

Sarah said...

Peggy seems like a treasure. What a thoughtful (and entertaining) glimpse into your lives...

Life at Star's Rest said...

My husband and I met in September, he proposed in February and we married in May. Of course, we weren't in our twenties either! I was 48 when we married, my first and his second. It just took me that long to find myself and to find the right man. Congratulations on a life well lived. Carmon

julie mitchell said...

Snow,
Thank you for gently guiding me to this post...It is a beautiful love letter, and your long love affair with Peggy touches my heart.
I think most of us wilt under criticism...and grow in the light of praise.
I'm strangely glad that you were asked to leave the military...My youngest (25) daughter is at a sort of meditation boot camp right now...it's a 10 day, 10 hour a day silent meditation...up at 4am lights out at 9:30...free and open to anyone with a sincere desire to participate...I wish something like this would have been available to me at her age...I think it would have saved me from a lot of poor choices.
I agree with others here...you need to write Chapter 2.
Thank you for sharing...hug, hug

Cheffie-Mom said...

Wonderful, wonderful post! Congrats on the Post of the Day Award from Authorblog.

Pouty Lips said...

Good post, Snowbrush. You and Peggy are very fortunate to have found each other.

Jewels said...

What a beautiful tribute! Thank-you for sharing.

Snowbrush said...

Betsy "Can you just imagine the culture shock????? ha"

It was probably even worse than moving from Mississippi to Oregon. Then again, when Americans hear an English accent, they assume to person to be smarter than average, whereas Oregonians appear to rate people with a Southern accent below average in intelligence.

Cheffie-Mom "Congrats on the Post of the Day Award from Authorblog."

I'm unaware of this. When was I so honored?

To Pouty Lips and Jewels: thank you for your kind words.

Gaston Studio said...

Guilty, Snow. I nominated this post of yours to Authorblog a couple of days ago. David came around and named you a top contender.
Jane

Bella said...

that's all we hope for at the end of the day is someone to love us regardless of our shortcomings. this is a wonderful heartwarming glimpse into your lives. thanks for sharing, and thanks for stopping over.

Snowbrush said...

Jane "Guilty, Snow. I nominated this post of yours to Authorblog..."

Ha, I suspected as much! (And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your nomination and for the two awards you gave me this week. They are both on my desktop waiting for me to decide where to hang them. On the one hand, I cherish them, but on the other, I try to keep the graphics on my blog minimal, so I'm in a dilemma.)

Bella "thanks for stopping over."

And thank you too, Bella.

Renee said...

This post is amazing. And the best thing you did was marry the girl you love.

Peggy is beautiful and you are handsome.

Love Renee xoxo

rhymeswithplague said...

I'm a first-time visitor to your blog, Snow, and I can tell from the first two posts I read (4/23 and 4/20/2009) that I will be back. I'm hooked.

Every time I think I might actually be a pretty good writer, I encounter someone like yourself who writes so beautifully and who actually has something wonderful to say. Your words seem to flow so effortlessly (I am enough of a writer to realize that you probably put a lot of effort into it, but still...) that I am green, green, I tell you, with envy.

I am 68, male, and live in Georgia. I came here from Ruth Hull Chatlien's blog. I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

southeastcountrywife said...

that was cool reading, thanks for sharing!

Snowbrush said...

I thank you, Billy Ray, and you, Ms Country Wife. I had assumed that Southeast meant Georgia or South Carolina, and was surprised when I looked closer and found that you are in Australia. I sometimes wonder if Australia does not lead the English speaking world for blogs per capita.

JOE TODD said...

I really enjoy your blog. I left something for you at my site in my most recent post

Yoli said...

How beautiful and how sweet. So touching, thank you for sharing your story.

Snowbrush said...

Joe " I left something for you at my site in my most recent post."

Thank you, Joe, for my lovely Bella Award.

Yoli " I left something for you at my site in my most recent post"

And thank you for your kind words, Yoli.

Lisa Lectura Creations said...

What an amazing post! You are a great storyteller. I was absolutely just drawn in. I'm glad that everything worked out for you and Peggy. Thanks for sharing your world with us! I really enjoyed visiting your blog.

Thanks also for coming to visit!

Lisa

Snowbrush said...

Lisa Lectura "I really enjoyed visiting your blog."

Thank you. I enjoyed your blog also. Please come again.

Beth Niquette said...

My goodness--what a story! You are honest about yourself and your life. That's rare in this day and age. I enjoyed your blog.

Snowbrush said...

Thank you, Beth. I am so glad your dropped by.

BT said...

I wish I had read this before I left my rather abraisive comment on your latest entry. What an interesting story. You have been so honest and I can feel the love for Peggy shine through. What a wonderful photo of the church and of you two as a couple. Brilliant post.