My Mother's Day contest entry.
Crossing The Line
On Tuesday night, March 8, 1966, at 11:00 PM, I fell in love. A simple act that would rip my family apart and test that love beyond belief.
Linda was 16, I was 17. We were both in the orchestra conductor’s office at school following a pit orchestra rehearsal for the school musical, South Pacific, using the phone to call our parents to pick us up. Linda was never able to reach hers due to phone problems, so my dad and I gave her a ride home. By the time we dropped her off, 25 minutes after we’d first met and just ten minutes after leaving the school, I knew I couldn’t let her out of my life. I managed to convince my dad to let me drive myself to the remaining rehearsals, and the performances. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I immediately began providing Linda’s transportation as well.
Once the musical was over, Linda and I found other things to do together. We got together for pool and card games with her parents at their house on many Saturdays. Most often her folks left us to ourselves in the family room, and we certainly were not complaining. More than once, unknown to me, Linda thanked them for trusting her, and us alone so soon in our relationship.
Four weeks after we met, during one of those pool playing Saturdays, we finally confessed our love for each other, and said our first “I love you”s. Five weeks after that, as I took her home after attending the Junior Class Play at school, Linda found the courage to tell me that she was an epileptic. It took me the rest of the evening to convince her that I was not going to let even that keep me from loving her. And her confession of that to me also told me why she was so thankful to her parents for trusting us. I was the first guy to ever give her a second look. The knowledge of her epilepsy scared them all away. But convincing her that not even her epilepsy would keep me from loving her was only the beginning of the battle we would face for the survival of our relationship.
To both prove to Linda I was serious about us, and to show her I would never let her epilepsy affect our love, one week later, on Friday, May 20, 1966, the afternoon of my Senior prom, in of all places the school cafeteria, I asked Linda to marry me. She squealed “YES!” before I could say another word.
My parents had noticed I was spending all my time with one girl. So I got a speech from my dad about not sticking with the first girl I “fell for”, and “playing the field”. And, I was also told they didn’t want me in a committed relationship at all until after college. Following my high school graduation, therefore, I was told I could see Linda one day a week, but only if I dated others as well. I did what I had to do. I had to. To me, Linda’s emotional situation made it mandatory that I do anything I had to for her to know I’d always be there for her.
When college classes started that fall of 1966, though, I was immediately told I could not see her at all until after college. That I had to “buckle down and study”. And with my major of Mechanical Engineering, that meant five years apart. My thoughts on that? No way was I going to be away from her for five years. Neither of us could withstand that. Especially Linda, and I knew it. I made arrangements with two close friends from high school that I hung out with on the weekends when they came home from college to include Linda in our weekend outings. Picking her up last and dropping her off first kept my parents from knowing we were together. It wasn’t our ideal, but it was enough time to keep our love truly alive and for her to fully realize I was not going anywhere but down that church aisle to marry her. And it all made sense to my two friends, too. They couldn’t believe mom’s attitude either.
I also made “arrangements” for a reason to get out of the house the night of Linda’s Christmas Formal dance at school, in late December, 1966. But my parents had kept track of the date of the dance. An hour into it, Linda’s dad walked up to us and quietly said my dad was waiting outside. Linda went to pieces. Her dad George and I had to support her between us. Before we went through that door I told her firmly, “We still have a date at the altar. I’ll be back.” She cracked a smile that got even wider when I said, shortly thereafter, in front of my father, “Don’t forget. I love you and I’ll be back.”
Shortly thereafter, a relative told me, “Your mom’s running the show. You’re dad’s just going along with it. Your mom would be better running a business. She doesn’t know how to raise kids.”
Linda and I managed to communicate by using her mailbox as a drop off point. But that wasn’t enough for me. The more stunts my parents pulled the angrier I got. Especially when my grades for the first quarter of college supported my claim that being kept from Linda is what kept me from concentrating on the books, yet they still wouldn’t believe me. By February, 1967, I couldn’t take the separation anymore, or the stress in dealing with my parents. Even though I was 3 years underage (legal age in Ohio then was 21, not 18), I called an attorney between classes at college and discovered I had an option even at my age.
Following his advice, I dropped out of college, got a $50 a week job, a $50 a month unfinished, much less unfurnished apartment, and left my parents’ home behind. The floor was still heavy plywood. I had a refrigerator but no stove. The plumbing worked, and I had my own outside entrance for privacy. I had an old bookshelf for my clock radio, an old army cot to sleep on, and an old overstuffed couch for visitors to sit on. That was all I had. But with my parents not financially supporting me, they could no longer run my life. Linda and I could be together at will, and I was happier than I’d ever been in my life, and sleeping better on that old army cot than I had in that bed at my parents’ home in ages. But my mother wasn’t done yet.
Linda graduated in June, 1967. A little over a year later, on Friday, August 16, 1968, both of us 19, Linda and I eloped to Newport, Kentucky and were married. Our “honeymoon” was a one-night stay in a well-known local hotel. As we walked there after returning from Newport, I decided to go ahead and tell my parents and get that burden behind me. I didn’t need it hanging over me while I was trying to please my bride on our wedding night.
I entered the phone booth, keeping the door open.
"Do you want me to wait out here?" Linda asked, smiling, knowing full well the question was totally unnecessary.
I beckoned her with my free hand. She joined me, and I held her close as the phone rang.
"Hi. Listen.....um.....mom, there's something I need to tell you....Linda and I are married." Terrified, I waited.
"About an hour ago."
"Oh. You can still get out of it, you know."
“Mom, I don't WANT to get out of it!" I didn't like that inference at all.
"Her parents pushed you into this, didn't they?"
"No, mom! It was entirely our own idea. They knew nothing until the last minute themselves."
"If you say so."
I could tell she didn't believe me. She made no effort to hide it. I said nothing.
"Well, you just remember. I don't want her in this house."
That did it. I didn't care what she thought now. I was through being diplomatic. Somewhat sarcastically, I shot back, "Yes, mother, I'll remember. Goodbye."
I hung up.
"Well?" Linda queried.
”I was hoping she'd open up. But I wasn't counting on it. She still thinks your parents pushed me into all this. I just wish she'd understand."
Linda hugged me one-handed as we began the rest of our walk. "I know, Jim." She stopped, and looked at me. "You've risked your entire relationship with your family for me. I only hope you continue to feel I'm worth it." She smiled and kissed me.
"Honey, if I wasn't sure of that I wouldn't have come this far. You are all I really need. And you always will be. You're a warm, loving girl. You're a beautiful person. And don't let anyone ever tell you different. I love you."
We held a long, loving kiss. Right there in the middle of town. Yes, just like any other lovers, for that one fleeting moment we were the only people on the face of the earth. But soon, coming back to reality, we arrived at the Sheraton-Gibson.
”Williamson," I said as we reached the desk. "We have a reservation." I saw nothing in it, but the clerk's face must have made Linda a trifle unsure about what he thought. Either that, or she just couldn’t resist bragging a little. The “ham” in her was showing again. I smiled inside.
"We just got married," she said, a little shyly.
"Oh!" Newlyweds, huh?"
"Yes sir," I said proudly.
"How'd you like to have the Bridal Suite instead of that room you reserved?"
We looked at each other, incredulous. Our mouths would have dropped open a mile if we gave them the chance.
"I'm not sure we can afford it," I said, still dazed.
"No extra charge."
"I'll bet I look awful silly right now!" I thought to myself as I tried to get my mouth to work. I finally succeeded. "We'll take it!!"
Linda hugged me. I could tell she was eating this up.
I took a series of very memorable photos that night, that I still cherish today. Here are two of them:
About three months later, my cousin Buster (his first name is actually Harlan, but we’ve always called him by his nickname of Buster as long as I can remember), came out here from California with his family to visit his wife’s family. He stopped by the apartment to meet Linda, then he and I drove through the downtown area so he could see what had changed in the two years since he’d last visited. During that bit of “cruising”, I told him all about what my mom and dad had pulled to that point, and how I had to make a choice. He said it looked to him as if I’d made the RIGHT choice, too. He also said if he got any ideas on how I could get mom and dad to come around he’d let me know.
Shortly after Buster and his family went back to California, my parents decided that Linda was allowed in their house. They never said what changed their mind, and I wasn’t about to ask. I had a feeling that it was being done just so they could see me, but I had no real proof of that. I know only two things about that situation, even now. 1. The reception from my parents was distant and chilly. For weeks she was calling them “Mr. Williamson” and “Mrs. Williamson” till I finally got her to get the courage up to ask what they WANTED her to call them. I still think they could have said something here on their own. But her asking did get them to change it to a first name basis. “Ar” and “Jim”. Nothing more. Nowhere close to the idea that HER parents WANTED me to call them “mom” and “dad”, which I did most willingly. We all felt closer that way. And 2. I had a trusted relative tell me that Buster had basically read my parents the riot act where their treatment of Linda and I was concerned. Draw your own conclusion. We visited with them, but not exactly every week, or on any regular basis if you know what I mean.
Other than dealing with my parents, the years went by all too quickly for Linda and I. Our life together was as close as we could possibly hope it would be to a fairytale. Very few major disagreements, each of us doing all we could to please the other. Around the house and on an intimate level. She took a shot at the SAT test, hoping to go back to school. I’d gone back some time earlier myself, and that had started her thinking about it. But, it was not to be. She had a seizure in the middle of the test, and never tried it again. We had come to learn, by then, through our own observations, that her biggest trigger for seizures was emotional tension. About 1977 or so, we began our efforts for a family in earnest. She was 28, I was 29.
Our dream of parenthood was never realized. On Monday evening, March 3, 1980, at 9:45 P.M., while I wasn’t home, Linda had a seizure in our bathroom, striking her head on the tile wall. She died instantly. I came home an hour and 45 minutes later and found her. She was 30, I was 31.
At the visitation, my mother came up to me as I stood by the casket, and said quietly and calmly, “Jimmie, I just want you to know that I might have been wrong about Linda.” I didn’t say it, but my thoughts at that moment were, “Mom, too little too late. Besides. Why couldn’t you have said that when she was here to hear it too? Were you too proud?” Aloud, I just said, “Thanks, mom”, and let it go at that. I was afraid if I let myself get started on a longer reply I wouldn’t stop for a long time, and besides, I really wasn’t in the mood to talk about it just then, and I didn't want a loud discussion at that moment to tarnish Linda's memory. Sometime during the year that followed, mom came up to me and said, "I never realized how much you and Linda meant to each other." I don't remember what I said in response, but what I had been tempted to say was, "You never took the time to get to know her, or anything about our relationship. If you had, you would have known how close we truly were."
A Postscript. I didn’t cry when mom died of lung cancer in late January, 1998. What few tears I did shed were for what we should have had between us, which is something I doubt she ever even thought about.
In 1999, while my dad and I were going through the latest draft of my biography about the years Linda and I had together, I asked him why he just went along with everything mom chose to do about Linda and I. His answer? “It was easier than arguing with her.” Gee, thanks, dad. I also found out from him, then, that he had never dated anyone but my mother, and that my mother’s sister, my aunt Ina, had never dated anyone but HER husband, my uncle Harry. I asked dad, point blank, why, if they had done that, they never thought the first choice I made could be right for me even when I tried to tell them. His answer? “I guess we never thought it through that far.” Like I said a second ago: “Gee. Thanks, Dad”. Then I asked him about mom’s comment to me at the visitation. If she had said that just to try and make me feel better.
”No, Jim, you know she always said exactly what she meant. If she said it, she meant it.”
He’s right, she did. But it still feels like too little, too late. But Linda and I won in the end. And that’s what truly matters to me.