Newlywed Love (#110)

October 20-23, 1970

As the days passed, we didn’t see or hear from either Cathy or John. Our history had been to check in with each other frequently, and it wasn’t unusual for us to get together 3-4 times a week.

But our last conversation had ended badly with unresolved tension over the differences in our spiritual beliefs. As Nate and I talked about it further, I got an idea that was probably from God. Never once had Cathy and I done something apart from our guys. So I thought I’d reach out to her just one-on-one, two wives trying to be friends.

Nate thought the idea had promise, so I called Cathy. We talked without any strain, and then she came up with a great suggestion… a way to spend time together while also being productive. As a team of two, we would home-make all our Christmas gifts.

Just CathyThe next day she came over for coffee, and neither of us brought up her amorous professor or the subject of open marriage. Instead we listed gift ideas that would be inexpensive and fun to make – candles, chocolates, simple sewing items, and maybe some knitted things.

Cathy had a natural ability to organize and troubleshoot (skills I lacked), so she would assemble our supplies, and I would develop the ideas of how to use them.

A few days later we began by melting chunks of wax in my double boiler, coloring them with stubs of broken crayons I’d gleaned from my school’s waste baskets. At the end of the evening, we had several finished products and were ready to run a test on one of them. Hopefully it would actually burn.

Which two...It lit right up, and our victory shout was loud enough to bring Nate from his paper-writing. Never mind that the candle burned down twice as fast a store-bought version. It had a flame, it was a candle, and we were thrilled.

Gradually we worked out an efficient assembly line and were churning out all kinds of candles, no two alike — some thin, others fat, and some hand-shaped in rough-looking balls. When they were all lined up on my pull-down ironing board, they were an impressive sight.

But best of all was that Cathy and I had deepened our friendship without a hint of tension. As we parted, we set a date to start making chocolates.

Fanny May“I know how to do hand-dipping that will look as good as Fanny May!” she said. Both of our extended families loved chocolate candy, and we couldn’t wait to get started on Phase 2 of the Christmas Gift Adventure — and to continue growing a new friendship.

“Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.” (Luke 6:31)

Newlywed Love (#20)

January 15, 1970

The month was half over, and it was time to establish another tradition: the burning of the Christmas tree. My family had done that almost every year, and it was always a festive evening.

StairwayNate and I walked two floors down and knocked on the door of friendly neighbors in our building. Fred and Alice were a sweet elderly couple who had been kind to us from the day we moved in. I remember Nate shaking hands with the old man the day we met. “So,” he said, “what do you do?”

Alice answered for her husband. “I have no idea what he does now, but he was a bank examiner when I married him.” Then they both laughed. Nate and I found that statement to be a charming commentary on a happy marriage and quoted it to each other often after that, always remembering Fred and Alice.

When we asked if we could borrow a saw, they wanted to know what we were sawing. “Our Christmas tree,” Nate said. “We’re going to burn it in the fireplace tonight.” Fred and Alice’s apartment was the identical layout to ours, but we doubted they’d ever used their fireplace. It looked pretty clean.

“Well,” said the old man, “don’t burn the building down. It would be a disappointment if we had to move.”

well used sawThey sent us off with a well-used saw and a plateful of yummy brownies topped with powdered sugar – wonderful examples of warm hospitality.

Back upstairs, it was easy to dismantle the tree – two ornaments and one string of lights. The sum total of our Christmas decorations fit nicely into a shoebox. And then it was time to make a big fire.

The previous August, when we had been hunting for a rental apartment, we had narrowed it down to two possibilities: one had a swimming pool, the other a fireplace. We agonized over the choice, but the fireplace won out.

Since even before Nate and I had married, we’d had fun scrounging the neighborhood and local forest preserves for pieces of firewood and kept our stash in the basement storeroom that came with the apartment – a rough-hewn closet 3 feet by 5 feet. Other than a couple of suitcases, we didn’t have much to store, so it was perfect for our collection of wood. And we made cozy fires almost every evening.

Burning the treeOnce we  had Fred’s saw, Nate set to work dismembering our brittle tree, then stuffing the fireplace full of branches. When he touched it with a match, however, neither of us were prepared for the size of the flames that roared to life and filled the fireplace with an angry orange blaze top-to-bottom and side-to-side – a situation dangerously close to being out of control.

Nate shouted, “Get a bowl of water!” (We didn’t own a bucket.) Thankfully, with the screen and a couple of fireplace tools, we were able to control things just enough to keep flames from leaping out onto the hardwood floor. Once everything calmed, we sawed the tree into smaller hunks and moved a little slower.

After all, we didn’t want to be the reason our downstairs neighbors had to move!

“A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.” (Proverbs 22:3)

Newlywed Love (#18)

January 5, 1970

On January 5th, both Nate and I started back to school, and it wasn’t easy shifting away from our tranquil time together at the apartment. But we both admitted the reason it had been so special was that we knew it couldn’t last. After thanking God for our first month of marriage, we moved back into the world of law school and 1st grade.

1st gradeWhen the horn beeped for me in front of our apartment building that Monday morning, it was still dark out. But I scampered down the steps, eager to see my driving buddies, and was glad to jump into Judy’s warm car on a bitter cold day. After we’d picked up Linda for our 40 mile commute, we had fun sharing all that had happened over our Christmas breaks.

In our classrooms, the children wanted to do the same. My students and I all laughed as they competed to be heard, stretching their hands high in the air with gusto. “Oooo! Me! Me! Choose me!”

Show and Tell was dominated by new toys and tales of joyful holiday adventures, and I was reminded again how much fun it was to have so many children in my life. Their joy was contagious, and by the 3:00 bell, I was feeling grateful for such a pleasurable job.

Principal Scarce poked his head into my classroom that Monday afternoon, letting me know he was in the process of scheduling teacher evaluations. Mine, he said, would be the following week. “How does that work?” I said.

He told me he would arrive unannounced to my room, observe my teaching for a while, then fill out a form rating me. He would study my lesson plan book, inspect our room (and cloak room), and chat with the children.

Evaluation

Following that observation day, he would arrange for a one-on-one meeting to go over the results. I would sign and date the form, as would he, and the results would go into my permanent file.

This was new to me – and sounded like a threat. The Chicago Public Schools hadn’t evaluated us at all, though I had to remind myself they were in emergency mode when I began teaching. As they scrambled to find enough classrooms and put an adult in charge of each one, my guess is they intended to do evaluations but other things pressed harder.

When I got home that evening, I told Nate about the evaluations. The whole thing was unnerving, especially since I still wasn’t officially certified as a teacher. Both Judy and Linda had majored in education, and their paperwork was in order. Just having a degree in literature, I was the only teacher at McKinley on probationary status.

Since Nate had one more year of law school, I would need permission to teach again. If I couldn’t teach, what then? What other job could possibly support us?

As Nate and I talked it over, he spoke words of praise about how much the children loved me, but nothing he said could talk me down from my fears. Surely Mr. Scarce hadn’t forgotten the day Judy, Linda, and I had decided teacher training sessions weren’t important enough to attend.

Of the 3 of us, though, I was the most expendable.

“[She] will not fear bad news; [her] heart is confident, trusting in the Lord.” (Psalm 112:7)