Somewhere a Woman Is Building an Ark
My Sister – My Wife
By George Neville, Army
Writing Type: Prose
Now that I have your attention, laugh along with me. If not laugh, smile once in a while as you read this story. My wife and I met in high school Her family moved into our area during her junior year. We went to school together for a year-and-a-half and graduated in June of 1961. We did not notice it at the time, but we spent a lot of time together, as evidenced by our yearbook. We never dated each other and neither of us even gave our relationship any serious thought. After graduation, we went our separate ways. We had not seen each other since.
In April of 1963, I saw my wife downtown. I worked in a large department store. I found out she worked at a law firm in the building across the street. We had fun catching up, and I asked her for her phone number. I had nothing to write on, but I had purchased a 45-rpm record of Jan and Dean singing “Surf City,” and I wrote her number on the sleeve. It later became our song. Quite romantic, don’t you think?
That was on a Friday. Later that night, I was out with some friends. My wife-to-be had two teen aged sisters, so I called. We all went over to her house and visited for awhile. We made a date for lunch the next day. I was working and had to get back to work, but we agreed to meet again that evening. In our small town there was not much to do, so we ended up at a drive-in movie. Surely you remember those, don’t you? We made a date for the next day, when we went swimming with her family.
We talked of seeing each other the next night, but I had to work until 9:00 p .m. She got off work at 5:00 p .m., so I told her to take my car home and pick me up later. She told me she would wash my car! She picked me up right on time. That is when I found out I could really trust her. I had checked the mileage, but she did not know that. When she picked me up, the mileage had only changed a few miles. I knew she had not been out running my car all over town. She could be trusted.
We dated every day for three months and decided to get married. We found an apartment easily, and we were able to furnish it. “Back in the day,” if a person was under 21, he or she had to have parental permission to marry. So, my fiancée, her parents, my parents and I went down to the courthouse to get our marriage license. We had a small ceremony in my in-law’s back yard.
After a little over a year, we found out my father-in- law was ill. He had terminal cancer, with about six months to live. My mother-in-law was not about to just sit back and do nothing, so she loaded him up and carried him to the VAMC in Dayton, Ohio, to the old Brown Hospital. They started him on an experimental chemo treatment, and he seemed better. He was able to come back home. The treatment eventually wore out and the doctors tried another. After 11 years, they ran out of new experimental medicines.
We had spent our holidays with both families together. In 1966, I was drafted into the United States Army. I served at Ft. Jackson, S.C. My wife came out, and we lived there for two years. We had purchased my wife’s parents’ house, and they moved back to their home town, just north of Columbus. They had more family there.
We got home and life went on. We had two sons after I was discharged. We were able to go back to the jobs we had before the Army days. Things seemed to be okay. Life went on still, and we enjoyed parenting. But in February of 1974, my father-in-law passed away. We knew it was coming, but we really did not want his life to end, and we were not ready to give him up. We had no choice, however.
In April of 1976, my mother died very suddenly, of a massive heart attack that came without any warning. My wife had spent the weekend at her mother’s house. I was to pick her up on Sunday. I called and asked my mother if she wanted to ride with me. She declined as she had plans to visit her sister and other friends to play cards. I was told that my mother said, “It’s getting really warm in here,” crossed her arms on the table, and put her head on her arms. Then she was dead. She had not suffered, but we were all shocked.
I had returned from picking up my wife and the boys, and I put them down for a nap. Meanwhile, my wife went out to get fresh milk and bread for the next week. The phone rang and a lady asked me if I had heard anything from my family. I told her I had talked to my mother that morning, but not since. She very bluntly said to me. “Well, your mother is dead.” I thought it was a prank by some kids, and I asked who was calling. It was my parent’s neighbor, so I knew it had to be true. She told me my dad was on his way home, and we thought it would be best if he did not come back to an empty house. I told the neighbor I would be right there, and I hung up the phone.
Then I thought: I have two boys in bed and no car. How was I going to go anywhere? I called my sister and her husband and asked them to pick me up. Then I called a friend to come watch the boys.
My dad did not handle any of this very well. It fell on my sister and me to make most of the decisions. My parents had nothing pre-arranged. We didn’t know what my mother would have wanted done. We had no idea of all the things there were to do when someone dies. Our dad was not much help, either. We had a rude awakening at that time. Death is just a business to so many people.
My dad went back to work. After a week or so, he began stopping at a neighborhood bar on his way home from work. This was totally out of character for him. I learned that every unwed lady in the neighborhood started going there, also. They were after him like mosquitoes get after me on a hot August evening.
We told my mother-in-law what was going on. She usually came to visit us every weekend or so. She said if we could get dad there the next weekend, she would come down and talk to him to see if she could help. The next weekend, there she was. Dad came over to help me with my garden. He was an old-time farmer and loved to work with Mother Earth. I don’t think he thought I knew what I was doing, trying to put in a garden. My mother-in-law came outside, and I made an excuse to leave. She and my dad started talking. She stayed with him a long time. We spied out the window and saw them sitting on a bench under our apple tree.
Eventually, they came up to the house. Dad said good-bye to all, and told me he would be back the next weekend to help. I put all my garden equipment away and went in. It seems my dad had asked my mother-in-law out that evening, with some of my mom’s family and some friends. He picked her up later that night. Well, 10:30 p.m. came and no mother-in-law. Then it was 11:00 p.m. and no mother-in-law. Then it was midnight.
I told my wife to tell her, when she got home, that she was grounded for the rest of her life. I said to put her in her room and lock the door! About 12:45 a.m., the car pulled in. I went on to bed, so it would not be too obvious we had been sitting there waiting.
My wife told me later that her mother had come in as giddy as a young teenager on her first date. She also reported that my dad had held her hand. This was not quite what we expected; after all, my mother-in-law just wanted to see if she could talk to Dad. He came over the next day, and they went out again. From then on, it was either her coming down to our house or him going up to visit with her. She lived in a small town, but they had a bed-and-breakfast and he stayed there. Things are so different now from the way they were back then.
They dated for three months and decided to get married. Does any of this sound familiar? I loved my mother-in-law, but when we found out they were getting married, we were stunned. My brother and sisters were not happy with me. My wife’s brothers and sisters were not very pleased, either. But, hey, we didn’t make that decision for them. That July, my wife and I accompanied them to the courthouse to obtain their wedding license. They only wanted a small wedding, so we decided to have it in our backyard. We were even able to get the same minister that presided at our wedding, 13 years before.
That was in 1976, and they were married almost 26 years. So you see, that is how my wife became my sister! Well, sister-in-law, or stepsister, that is! That made our two boys cousins, I think. And now my mother-in-law was my stepmother!
My father passed away, but through the years, we enjoyed ourselves. We had some new best friends. Our anniversary will be next July, and for us, it will be 44 years. Some years were good, and some were bad.
This is a true story. It was written only with the encouragement of my doctor, Frederick Peterson, Jr., of the Dayton VAMC.