I was up a lot last night with a sick cat. Every time I came back to bed a sleepy man wrapped an arm around me and mumbled something sympathetic. He was really tired because all day long he had been shopping for plumbing bits on the mainland and then crawling around under the house fixing a stopped up kitchen sink and a leak in the hot water intake. We discovered these disasters on Sunday, a couple of hours before 10 people were coming to dinner, but we managed to muddle through until the next morning.
After fixing the pipes he came out covered with cobwebs and dirt, grumbling that the crawl spaces in houses he built himself were clean and had lights in them. But he had fulfilled his promise to me when we got married — “You’ll never have to call the plumber again.”
This illustrates some of what I began to know when he came to dinner a little over 2 years ago. I learned that he is sweet natured, he is calm, and, praise be, he is competent. None of my 3 other husbands (two college professors and a lawyer) could connect a hammer with a nail, let alone cope with plumbing issues.
On a fine summer evening in late June 2006 he arrived at my door without a bottle of wine because I told him I would provide it. I didn’t trust him to choose the wine. I judged him to be a meat and potatoes sort of fellow. Sometimes I like to cook fancy food, but steak and mashed potatoes makes me happy too, and that’s what we had. It was a lovely evening.
A week later he said he thought he should go home to mow the lawn.
Here’s some of what I learned during that week. He had started flying when he was 14. He paid for his flying lessons with money he earned repairing radios. While he was in college he homesteaded in Fairbanks, Alaska, and made his own airstrip. In his 40’s he flew solo from Victoria, BC across the Atlantic to London, England, and back, in an air race. In Alaska he flew commercially as a bush pilot. He had taught physics at the University of Alaska and done research on the Aurora Borealis. He owned an electric company, which he ran single handed in Manley, and he started a telephone company there as well.
During that week I was designated driver for his colonoscopy, although it turned out he didn’t need a designated driver. When the Doctor offered him sedation he remarked that the last time he had done without. The doctor said, “We can do that,” so Jerry walked out of the exam alert and hungry.
My 14 year old British granddaughter was coming to visit and I thought this was an appropriate time for a break from my new romance, so Jerry went home to mow the lawn. I planned to take my granddaughter to Vancouver to see some Shakespeare plays in tents by the river. My British grandchildren love Shakespeare.
I kept finding reasons to telephone Jerry. In the end he came to Vancouver with us, but because his hearing is not what it used to be, he had trouble following plot twists and understanding Shakespearian English.
I began to think that falling in love was a possibility, and that marriage might not be out of the question.
What changed my mind? Was it partly some way in which our minds connected? We both had training in science; mine in biology, his in physics, and we thought the same way about the world and how it works. All four of Jerry’s grandparents were Finnish, and Finns are noted for thriftiness with words, but despite his Finnish roots we talked for hours. There was a loveable quality about him that I can’t define. What can I say? He is an adorable man. I am always comfortable with him, and he always seems to be so with me.
Jerry has been emotionally drawn to the north all his life. Perhaps it’s those Finnish genes. He grew up in California. In the army he was sent to Fairbanks, Alaska, and soon after he was discharged he went back. He went to the University of Alaska on the GI bill, and later became a researcher at the Geophysics Institute there.
On the side of his island house he had carved in the shingles the shape of a goose. “It’s flying north,” he said wistfully. I said, “Why don’t we take a trip to Alaska?” He had not been back for many years, but the next thing I knew we had a copy of the Milepost and were packing the van. We drove the Alcan Highway.
Before we left, having known each other for about 6 weeks, we had decided to get married, but had not decided on a time. I thought my 5 children would need a lot of convincing. I knew their collective response would be, “Oh God, what’s Mother doing now!” Perhaps next year, I said, since much planning would be involved.
I think it was somewhere in the vicinity of Dawson city that Jerry said “I wonder what you have to do in Washington to get married. The last time I did it in Alaska it took 3 days.” I said nothing, but I was thinking.
We stayed in Whitehorse, Yukon, on August 3, 2006. It was Jerry’s 74th birthday. In his youth, Jerry said, if he stopped in Whitehorse he would go out in the evening to watch the bar fights. Today Whitehorse is a modern, sophisticated town, with some of the old flavor nicely preserved in its architecture. We stayed in a comfortable Chinese owned hotel with the decorating oddity that each of the 2 queen beds in our room had identical paintings hung over them. Before going out for Jerry’s birthday dinner we had a celebratory glass of wine. I said, “I wonder if it still takes only 3 days.”
So it was decided. This would solve all the problems of arguments with children and unwanted advice from friends. I could do what I liked, no matter how crazy and risky, though I never had any sense that what I was planning was anything but completely sound. Jerry’s character so combines authenticity, honesty and caution and he always makes me feel safe.
We stayed in Fairbanks long enough to begin the paper work to get married. Actually, it turned out to be 3 working days, and with the complication of getting Jerry’s friend, Bea, appointed to perform the ceremony, it took a week. So we signed the papers and went to Manley Hot Springs, Jerry‘s Alaska home, 150 miles west on a gravel road.
The forms were simple, but they required some specific information, to wit, the dates of all previous marriages, the dates of divorce, and the names of spouses. I was able to pull up marriage dates and names, but the dates of divorce were lost in the mist time. The young woman who was helping us said reassuringly, “Oh, don’t worry, we never check anything. I couldn’t remember the date of my divorce either.” Jerry’s problem, however, was worse than mine. He had been married twice, the first time in his 20’s and for only 2 years, and he couldn’t remember either the date of his marriage or his first wife’s last name, let alone the divorce date. Again, she assured him that there was no checking. (The name, of course, came to him later.)
We were married in Manley. We stayed in a cabin without indoor plumbing, so we had a bath in the hot springs before the wedding.
Bea officiated in her pretty yard, and the guests were old friends of Jerry’s. I didn’t know any of them. It was, for me, a brief few days of life without a complicating past.
I knew I would soon have to go home to face the children, and others, but I could put it off a little longer because Jerry had booked the Alaska ferry from Haines to Prince Rupert. Those days became our Honeymoon — the only one I ever had.