Twenty-one: All Grown Up


At Christmas break during my senior year in college, I was given an engagement ring. It’s what we did back then. If you didn’t get a ring at Christmas, your entire future clouded over. Well, I got my ring from the blue-eyed boy, who had graduated in three years and two summers and gone on to medical school.

So I was spending my senior year “alone,” except for occasional sanctioned dates with a fraternity brother of his who escorted me to parties. Medical school didn’t leave a lot of time for traveling the three hours back to campus to see me, and it seemed that when he did come (I think of him as just a boy then; we were both so young, so young), I would romanticize the time we’d spend together, and he would be exhausted from the study-grind of a first-year med student. Often, we argued, because my expectations far exceeded the reality.

And yet we planned a wedding. I graduated in May. We were married the end of June.

Daughter to Wife

Many girls of that generation went straight from daddy’s house to husband’s, from being daughter to being wife.

There were signs I should have recognized. The night before the wedding, after the rehearsal dinner, we fought. I chalked it up to pre-wedding jitters. Deep down, I think I knew something was fundamentally wrong, but I closed my mind to it. We went through with the wedding. It rained that day. My grandmother shook her head and said rain on your wedding day was a bad sign. Maybe she was right.

The finishing touch. Notice the curly bangs (humidity).

A Dose of Reality

We had been married two weeks when my young husband’s parents were seriously injured in an automobile accident. My husband had just started his summer job in a lab at the medical center, and I had a job with the telephone company in an engineering office where I learned to write specifications for new telephone installations. (Yes, with English and psychology majors, that was where I wound up. It was considered a fine job for a young woman fresh out of college.)

We dropped everything and went to Nashville where his parents were hospitalized, and we spent much of the summer traveling back and forth. We didn’t have a lot of time to settle in as newlyweds, and we had been married about three months when my father-in-law died. He was forty-eight years old. My husband’s mother recovered, but it was a long, slow process. In the fall, my husband went back to school for his second year, which wasn’t quite as hard as the first. I went on with my “plum” job at the phone company that paid me about half as much as my male counterparts.

So that was my introduction to marriage and to deep loss, almost simultaneously.

The Little Junk-store House

I should add that we loved our first apartment in a duplex on St. Mary Street.  We had furnished it with junk store finds. That little place is still vivid in my mind: the dark paneled walls, built-in bookcases, hardwood floors, big windows in the living room that let in lots of light, a rather primitive kitchen (which didn’t matter because I–almost literally–couldn’t boil water!), a sunny bedroom, and a tiny room that could become a nursery.

We were happy there.

Where were you at twenty-one? Were you settling down, or striking out on an adventure?

We are closing in on the end of the twenty-five memoir posts in the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. Just a few more to go . . . I wouldn’t have thought it possible! Thanks for sparking the memories, Jane Ann McLachlan.

12 thoughts on “Twenty-one: All Grown Up

  1. College graduation was the beginning of marriage for most of us of that generation. Jane finished a year ahead, while waiting she added a year of seminary in the School of Music. In the Summer of ’63 we were married and I began seminary that fall and Jane began teaching music in the Shelby County elementary schools. We didn’t have enough money for a honeymoon. Instead we made a trip of 35 miles and spent the time in a friend’s home at the lake….Next year we will be celebrating 50 yrs of marriage. Maybe this time we’ll take that special trip.


    • Wait–didn’t you just take a special trip? Just kidding. Of course you should take a *very* special trip to celebrate. That’s quite a milestone. Around this house, we have to add up our collective years! (In case others haven’t guessed, Gerard and I went to high school together.)


  2. That’s a hard way to begin a marriage, giving so much concern over to the previous generation when, in the natural order of things, you would be getting help from that quarter.

    At 21, I graduated college with thoughts of career and marriage — looking back they were confused thoughts with many more options available than you had, but also great expectations and not really great ways of tapping into all the opportunities.


  3. You do seem to have had a picture perfect life, Gerry. I know that that is never quite the case. But my mother(s) and aunt(s) contrived appearances to coincide with your narrative…the times. Strong social conventions. At 21, I was getting an amazing amount of marriage proposals…as the line went in “The Big Chill:” “Fear of herpes.” Yes, but really that year was when folks started to realize that AIDS wasn’t just a disease for folks with an alternative lifestyle. I was young, nice looking and disease-free…and dumbfounded by the attention. Mayflies.


    • No, my life wasn’t picture perfect. On the surface it may have seemed so to some people, but the dynamics of my growing-up household were incredibly complicated, and my marriage would prove to be the same way. Harder days ahead.

      Lots of proposals! Well, I pretty much took myself out of the running for that, didn’t I! Love it!


  4. I was the mother of a beautiful two-year-old girl, trying to make her father understand that yes, I could go back to work, but even two incomes weren’t going to cut it if neither of us had more than a high-school diploma. I enrolled in the local community college. He made it as hard as dared while keeping up the appearance of support to the outside world. He didn’t fool anyone, though: a hungry snake can’t hide it’s fangs forever.


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