This June, Dale and I will celebrate 42 years of marriage. In 1964, we entered Messiah College in the same freshman class. For four years we went to school together, shared some classes (although not most since he was a math major and I was an English major), but didn’t date except for one Sadie Hawkins event our freshman year and we didn’t know each other well. After we graduated in 1968, he went off to Zambia to do his alternate military service and I went to graduate school at the University of Idaho. Neither of us would have imagined then that three years later we would be married to each other.
Way out in what felt like the middle of nowhere at graduate school in Moscow, Idaho, I was very homesick and lonely. I didn’t know anyone and survived the first semester by writing lengthy and chatty commiserating letters to college friends who had also dispersed to unfamiliar places and receiving similar letters from them. In one letter, my best friend Mary, writing from her graduate school outpost in Kansas, told me that her mother, a pastor’s wife, had a conversation with Dale’s mother, also a pastor’s wife, back in Pennsylvania. How the subject came up, I don’t know, but apparently Dale’s mother told Mary’s mother that Dale would probably enjoy hearing from me. (Knowing Dale’s mother, I suspect she was trying to help make something happen for her son in the romance department!) The next question for me was whether and how to act on the information Mary gave me. I was definitely interested, because ever since that Sadie Hawkins “date” when we were freshmen, I had a crush on Dale.
So as not to seem too pushy or forward, I decided to send Christmas cards and letters not only to Dale but also to the three other members of our graduating class who were teaching at the same school in Zambia. That way, it wouldn’t look too much like I was “chasing” Dale! Two of them were married to each other and the other was dating one of my good friends, so for them my card was just a friendly gesture. In Dale’s letter I suggested I would be glad to hear from him if he wanted to write to me. And then I waited. Some weeks later (remember, this was in the days of snail-mail when even airmail letters took an average of a week to arrive), I received a letter from Dale thanking me for my letter and saying that he would like us to continue writing to each other. And the rest, as they say, is history!
We wrote regularly to each other for one-and-a-half years, from December 1968 until he returned to the U. S. in August 1970. I watched the mail eagerly for those familiar blue airforms. The truth is that I was more “regular” with writing than Dale was; there were times when it seemed like I was anxiously waiting for weeks without a letter, during which time I catastrophized about why he hadn’t written. But then another letter would arrive and all my worries would prove unnecessary. It was a major milestone when we started signing our letters with “love.” At Christmas time in 1969, while I was home from grad school, Dale’s parents invited me to their home (they were doing their part to nurture the relationship!). While I was there, they made an audio tape to send to him and expected me to contribute. That was awkward, and I asked to record my message privately, although I’m sure they listened to it later. I have no memory of what I said!
As August 1970 approached, I was both nervous and excited at the prospect of seeing Dale after having romanced each other only by letter and a couple of audiotapes. What would happen when we were together in person? Would the relationship fizzle or blossom? I made plans with his family to go along to meet him at the Harrisburg airport when he arrived. That evening was one of the most nerve-wracking and awkward of my life. We had no previous romantic history to guide how we would greet each other (handshake, hug, kiss?) and we were both shy and introverted, plus his 15-year-old brother was there snapping pictures. Suffice it to say we greeted each other and made it through the evening!
I went home with him and his family from the airport for the night, and the next day travelled with them to State College where Dale had an appointment related to attending graduate school at Penn State that fall. So our first day together was spent with his parents and brother, a lot of it in the car. Soon, however, we started dating in a more traditional way and without his family. I was in my first year of teaching and living at home with my parents and he was in graduate school. Either he would come to Grantham and stay with me and my family for the weekend or I would go to State College to spend the weekend with him. By Christmas he had asked me to marry him, we formally announced our engagement on January 3, 1971 and we were married on June 19.
Dale and I found each other at the right time in our lives. Even though it might have been nice if we had dated in college, neither of us was probably ready at that point. But, when we were both off on our own in far-flung places, feeling somewhat isolated and lonely even in the midst of new experiences, it felt right. And there was something about a letter-writing courtship that worked for us. I’ve never regretted writing that first letter!