“ Tell us again the story of how you met?” (Warning – rambling thoughts make long blog )
Yes the story of how my husband and I met and eventually married always causes some eyebrows to raise and is guaranteed a laugh. Maybe fitting to tell it today, my first wedding anniversary alone after 45 years. I am sure there are many who would have placed a bet against us lasting that long !!
I was a nursing student, happily planted in Edmonton and in those days, it was okay to be dating several men at once. In the late 60’s , dating was just that – occasional times out with a fellow, usually ending in a kiss or some “necking” in the car and a promise to “call.” As we were young and the “will call statement” about as reliable as a “see ya” – you didn’t worry if the next day you had a date with someone else. Exclusivity was granted with a conversation or a promise ring.
Although many weekend nights were spent hanging out at a local bar – which in the 60’s were HUGE establishments attached to hotel, it was best to meet men at a party of sorts – or a dance – and nursing students had no shortage of those. A fraternity house or group of students somehow got a hold of someone at our Nursing Residence who would run around the residence inviting us all to a party. Hence my first real injury – tearing ligaments and tendons in my knee slipping on spilled beer at a frat house while doing the polka – but I digress.
We were indentured to Nursing school for three yrs. Two months of that was spent at Alberta Hospital, Oliver, a stand-alone mental health institution just outside Edmonton. We were housed there with students from the other two hospitals that trained nurses, and made many new friends. ( I think that place might deserve its own blog post !) One night the topic of conversation came around to our quarterly nursing school dances (Live band and open invite dances held at each Nursing Residence) One of us, maybe me, mentioned that the Royal Alex Dances always got the same old guys – and the students from the Misericordia Hospital raved how their dances were better than ours – and attracted great men. Good idea, we thought, so 5 or 6 of us “Alex girls” piled into my Vauxhall and off we went to the “Mis” residence on Friday February 20th, 1970.
A large gymnasium, beautiful decorated, with about 500 ladies in very short mini skirts, and at least that many guys – in shirts and ties ( oh my does this date me !! ) was what greeted us on arrival. Our friends rushed over and we all found a place to STAND.. In some ways we hadn’t moved much farther than our old high school dances. Immediately this tall, thin, good looking guy came over and invite me to dance and we did.. He chatted and chatted and he seemed very nice but there was ONE problem – he was a regular attender at our dances And had dated a classmate of mine – I recognized him from our longing gazes out the window of the residence – we didn’t miss a thing from our gallery at the lounge. I even knew his first name -Gordon.
So what was I to do… but say thank you after the dance and go back to my friends. I had no shortage of requests to dance as maybe “new blood” was what the guys wanted too, but none seemed too worthy of exchanging names and getting them to say they would “call”. We were about to leave, and this same guy came back, persistent, and asked me to dance again. His thoughts were ” well she can only shut me down again.” My thoughts were – well at least he wasn’t boring – so I danced, several dances and went to another party with him after the dance, handing my car keys to the girls who were heading back to residence.
I came home that night, thinking he was “pretty nice “ and accepting a date for Sunday skating at a park. He had tried for Saturday night – but I already had a date – yes that seems preposterous thinking of today’s rules – but this was 1970! I had tried to get out of the skating date ( those that know me know that a good first impression may not have been a sports date) but my lack of skates was solved by borrowing his sister’s, and my lack of skill was countered with “ I’ll hold you up”.
You couldn’t live in a residence with 120 classmates without having everyone ask for a critique of your date and my innocent next door neighbour, Bonnie who was always curious about how someone found “the one”, asked me “ Did you ever think that he could be “ The ONE “ and to my surprise I answered yes !!
We continued dating – a lot of our dates very impromptu (when he could borrow his father’s car) – where he would show up at the Residence and the girls guarding the lounge would yell “ Terry, I see Gordon” which would be followed by an intercom announcement “ Miss Dokken, you have a visitor”. You could often tell if the Housemother approved of your visitor by the tone of her voice. I am not sure she did the first time, recognizing him as someone else’s date ! I would tear curlers out of my still wet mid back straight blond hair, do a quick change and run down to the lobby where he would say – Do you want to go for “ coffee?” Coffee was usually not involving coffee at all but a trip to one of the two neighbouring drive in A & W’s and a usual order of a “ swamp water, orange drink and onion rings to share. ( a tradition that continued for all 45 years ).
We dated – mostly exclusively but without that label, for the next year and a half of my nursing training. We had real dates too, attending weddings and graduation, met each other’s family and expressed our love for each other. If permanence in our relationship came up, Gord was pretty quick with a standard answer “ My dad got married at 31 and I think that is a good age- I want to see the world.” So that would put a damper on this not quite 21 year old aspirations that she perhaps had met her future husband. It came to graduation time, and seeking out jobs. A fellow classmate and friend had applied for a job at the International Grenfell Mission in northern Newfoundland and had asked me if I wanted to come too. It seemed adventurous so I mailed away for an application and took it on one of our coffee dates to show Gord – completely assured he would say “ but I love you – you can’t go that far away”. To my surprise, my adventurous man said “you can’t miss that opportunity and that we should date others and maybe if I returned to Edmonton we could see each other again.” Not the response I wanted, so I applied and that August Karen and I took off with a car carrier on my brand new Toyota Corolla drove across Canada to the northern most part of Newfoundland for our adventure.
We stayed a year, while we dated others (not so many others for me and I think the same for him ) for a bit – but soon the letters got more romantic and we “ couldn’t live without each other” after this year of separation. We did see each other at a friends’s wedding I returned for and a family ski trip that Gord came on, most of our communication was weekly letters and monthly phone calls (20 mins $20). Although I applied and got positions in 3 hospitals in Toronto, where friends lived, Gord was quite insistent that if I returned to Edmonton, that would be best – so I did. I rented a small apartment for September 1, started my job at U of A hospital and prepared for a “ forever after ending” with the man I loved.
Well the man I loved was teaching by now, coaching every sport (girls and boys) in his small jr high /sr high school, and had met lots of single guy teachers. He seemed to have time for a quick date with me once or twice a week, which soon slowed to maybe every 10 days. Not my idea of a hot and heavy romance !! I was lonely, and asked him to come over and talk about this, asked for a bigger commitment and he promised to call with his answer. We were 22 and 24 – still far away from that magic 31 age ( which by the way DID come up in that big talk ). When three weeks passed without a phone call, I phoned my friends in Saskatoon, received three job offers there, gave my notice at work and the apartment and took off for greener pastures. I didn’t call him to say I was going – I figured my “ talk” had scared him completely away. Near Christmas, he calls my number, to find it disconnected, calls my sister and finds out I am in Saskatoon!! Although I was pining, my friends basically said “ good riddance- he used you”
So was that the end ?? Well obviously not! He phoned my parent’s home on New Years Eve to talk to me. I agreed and when he asked to come and see me I blurted out ” Not unless you have a diamond”. I hung up the phone – and wondered what I had done. But two times leaving disappointed in his lack of commitment, I decided not to call him back.
February came and I had some days off so I decided to return to Edmonton to visit my sister, Marian. When I arrived, she asked me if I had told Gord I was coming and since I hadn’t, we hatched this idea that she would call him and tell him where we would be and pretend I didn’t know she was doing this. For how could he bring diamonds if he didn’t know I was in town?. Gord recalls that he had plans with friends, but he decided to just go see if he could find me – at one of those huge bars at the Edmonton Inn. Turned out there were no seats in the bar and Marian and I ended up in the lounge and without text or find my phone advantages, Gord found us there. We chatted for a while – the three of us – and Marian excused herself to go to the bathroom (Gord would say FINALLY if telling this story) and as soon as she left he blurted out “ Will you marry me ?” I started to cry and said “Really – you mean it?” and he said he thought that July would be a good date. I said yes ! I was really pleased that I wasn’t going to have to wait till 1980!
Marian returned and saw our faces – both crying and wondered what had happened in that brief time. Marian returned to her apartment and we went over to tell Gord’s parents who were happy but a bit shocked, and called my dad who in his matter of fact way, said “ Not much I can do about it – welcome to the family.”
In the fairy tales, there would have been a big wedding and a happily ever after story, but today would not be honest if I didn’t tell you that the same problems that were in this story, continued for many years. Gord loved everyone and had a huge heart for service – and our main arguments were for the same energy to be put into us. He also really never could understand that the bold girl who asked him to bring diamonds had a lot of shy qualities and didn’t like being placed at a table at an event while my social butterfly husband worked the room. That caused a lot of fights. We worked through it – we both knew it was worth it.
I read somewhere that as widows and widowers we remember only the best of our spouse, and somehow give him sainthood. I remember the tough times, and regret a lot that I dwelled on some faults in our relationship rather than the love, but when push came to shove, and our many griefs and his illness invaded our lives, we clung to each other remembering that throughout all this we chose each other with all our faults showing.
There was a big white wedding, and a happily ever after – and the story still brings laughs and actually has inspired several young ladies to ask for what they need from their partner while risking it all.
I like that.