Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Journey We Take Together -- Part Two

Note to Readers: For many weeks now, writer Alexander "Sandy" Prisant has been writing a very moving series, "The Journey We Take Alone," about his lifelong struggle with illness. Now, his wife, Susan, is writing separately about the adventures they have lived as a couple for the last 47 years (they eloped at age 18.) Part One of this series ran on June 7, 2011.

By Susan Prisant

Now all we had to do was figure out how to actually pull off this wedding thing, finishing what we had started.

Sandy – my husband for the past 47 years – and I had a six-week whirlwind courtship. (Read Part One to catch up on this remarkable story.) And then one fall weekend in 1963 -- wearing white gloves like a proper girl would – I visited Sandy at the University of Wisconsin, where he was a freshman, flunking out because he was so miserably lovesick.

That memorable weekend ended with Sandy proposing in a taxi as we headed to the airport (I was supposed to go home). I accepted. We were 18 years old. And wild about each other.

What did we know about that big world, beyond the dorm’s glass staircase of love? First, we had to concoct a story for the parents, or my father would surely kill us. I could just picture him, waiting at JFK for me, the daughter who was never coming home.

As Sandy and I drove back to the dorm from the airport, abandoning plans for me to fly back to New York, we realized what we had to do: we already felt like we were MARRIED, so now, we had to make it legal! Or at least, that’s what we decided to tell our parents.

Yet the more we thought about it, fear for our lives took over. Sandy found the courage to take the phone and with a strong, confident voice, he said:

“Hello….Dad? Hello, Mr. G.?”

My father was screaming back: “Who is this? Who is this?”

Fortunately, Dad swallowed the whopper. Whole. He believed Sandy when he said we were already married.

Well, we were. Sort of. We were that much in love.

Then we called Joe, Sandy’s father and best friend. In full oratorical splendor, Joe began reciting what sounded like The Gettysburg Address.

Sandy interrupted to keep up the sham: “Dad, I just got married; you’re not addressing the nation!”

It was a dorm mate, John Kirchmeyer, who came to our rescue. He claimed: “Iowa was the place to get married.” What did we know? John took care of all the arrangements. We would leave the next morning, drive to Iowa in his 1952 Chevrolet and sleep at his uncle’s dairy farm.

We piled into the jalopy, drove for hours over snowbound highways, making our journey feel like the first wagon train forging the Mississippi and the Great Plains.

The County Clerk greeted us with a gift pack from the State of Iowa. There was Tide washing powder, Ivory Snow soap, Saran plastic wrap and many other goodies. It was our first wedding present; I was overjoyed.

The clerk began filling out the license: “Susan, your last name and age? Sandy, your given name and age?”

“EIGHTEEN! No, young man, you cannot marry in the State of Iowa.”

The walls were closing in. What were we going to do now? And NO, I’m not giving back my first wedding gift.

We drove back through town—one DX gas station. It was very quiet in the car on the way to the farm. Not married and no idea what to do next.

Our hosts were delighted to welcome the supposed “bride and groom.” Sandy and I sat on opposite sides of the room, praying for an unknown God to help us. We slept that night in the “honeymoon suite.” It was 30 below with a piece of cardboard in place of a window pane.

The next morning we faced the deathly-fearsome drive back to Wisconsin. Now we had to lie to everyone. We were too caught up in this fictional, fantastic fairy tale wedding.

It meant we returned to a huge celebration. An array of gifts and hundreds of people who wanted to be a part of The Story.

Meanwhile, my parents had been invited over to Sandy’s house to discuss this teenage marriage. I could imagine my father’s sober face as he drove down the long driveway. I could practically hear his voice: “No problem. We’re getting rid of our daughter. And they’re rich.”

Joe, with his instantly warm feelings for me, decided that I would always be there for his son. But he wanted my parents to know that Sandy’s delicate health made this marriage a gamble. However, his wise words were: “If you stop them, you will never know if you’ve made the biggest mistake of our lives.”

Having already called home to claim we were married, we now had to get our parents’ consent to actually do it.

Sandy was on the phone with another lie. This time he claimed it was our witness who was underage and the State of Iowa had declared our marriage null and void. But while we agonized over getting consent, our parents were already printing reception invitations.

Our never-ending marriage finally took place in Madison, Wisconsin, at Sandy’s alma mater. November 26, 1963. The wedding was just the first episode in the incredibly exciting adventure we’ve had for almost half a century.

Thanksgiving holiday arrived. We and all the New Yorkers at school piled on the plane as if we were coming home from summer camp, but we grew more and more anxious as we descended the staircase. We moved through long corridors directing us to signs that welcomed us to JFK. Parents seemed as if they were awaiting their children from the long, hot summer days of color war wins. There were smiles and armfuls of hugs and kisses.

And there, separated from the rest of the crowd, stood the two fathers-in-law.

Writer Susan Prisant created interactive reading and writing programs for children, writing eight children's books to use with these programs. The courses she led were sanctioned by the State of California and later, she taught them on the East Coast and also, in the American School in Israel.

1 comment:

Dr. Mel Waldman said...

Dear Susan Prisant:

I’m a hopeless romantic and I love a good love story. But yours-well yours is a great love story. I’m tempted to call your joint life script a romantic comedy. Certainly, the beginning of your unending love was blessed with passion and comedy. And the teenage angst mixed with intense positive emotions, lies, and shrewd deceptions was a joyous journey of young love.
Your young love became a lifetime commitment, continuously blossoming into something more beautiful through all the stages of your life together. But with the metamorphosis of young love into adult love, you shared the darkness too.
Now, Sandy needs a heart and kidney transplant. We don’t know the outcome. We can’t. We’re human beings who think and feel, dream and hope, and pray. Most of us can’t predict the future. Yet what we do know is that love is one of the most powerful forces on earth. So use your love to sustain you and Sandy. Each day discover something new and beautiful in your life. And if you believe in a Higher Power, pray. And if you don’t believe in G-d, pray to your deepest and noblest self. Somewhere out there and within, lies something extraordinarily beautiful and loving. It’s time to let go and discover.

Dr. Mel Waldman