Our Family… my daughters favorite photo of us!
Where do you start in writing a post on how you met your husband, and the life you’ve shared… with me being a Southern Peach (some might not agree:) and he a Yankee Airman. It was recently approached to me that I should write a how “we” came to be… and how my life transformed in moving above the Mason-Dixon line! If “you’re” reading this… this is how it happened… with another post of how my life changed, and how I adapted!!
Haven’t you always heard how “love” comes when you least expect it… well it did to me the night I met Steve on Halloween night in 1970… and it went like this in speeding it up just a bit. We dated a very short time… my father never met him… and I hardly knew anything about him… then mid December, Steve was given orders to report to Loring AFB in Maine in January… could they have moved him any further… he told me we were getting married… yes we did… and later he was sent across the ocean… and look what happened in 2021!
This year, hubby and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on May 5th (1971-2021)… yikes where did those years go… and I’m seriously demanding a do-over… is anyone listening?
I’d date this photo about 1981… wow 10 years here for us!
I met Steve on Halloween night… and while he saw me all night dancing away at the local club (Sandpiper) where I went every weekend… I never saw him. Hmmm, wonder why he didn’t ask me to dance… will have to ask… he didn’t remember! I do remember being there with my girlfriend and dancing all night, but everything else that night at the club is a blur. As it was Halloween, and dress was required… I came dressed in an older prom dress as a fairy princess. What was I thinking… but that costume won me first place! I actually was way underage to have even been allowed in the club… but somehow we were always allowed in as we didn’t drink… just wanted to dance! So someone, hint hint… under-age… won a case of beer that night for her costume!
I frequented The Sandpiper club in Warner Robins… not far from the nearby Air Force base, so there were often many airmen there besides the locals. While it was a 21 age club, I was always allowed in… even though I was only 18. I’m not sure why, but the cop at the door knew we didn’t drink… so he often let some of us girls in to dance to the local bands. I had no interest in drinking… I just wanted to dance… and going the entire time while Steve was stationed there… and always puzzles me why we never ran into each other before that night… I was always on the dance floor. He never remembered seeing me… and I never saw him.
One of my favorite dresses I wore to the Sandpiper… and I still have it!
On the night it was arranged for Steve to meet me… unbeknownst to me… but we only ended up together later when my girlfriend and I went back to his house for a party. I was pointed out to him that night as the girl who wanted to meet him… but someone, I think. was trying to hook us up… as I knew nothing about him, or even that I was supposed to meet him that night.
Long story short… we walked into his house he shared with his buddies, and it was so dark that I literally tripped… with him catching me… and we never left each other’s side. Then about a month later, someone higher up, like the Air Force, decided that he should be transferred to Maine! Well, that might as well have been “the moon”… to a Southern girl. I figured, well it was nice while it lasted… even though I was feeling pretty heartbroken.
We spent as much time together as we could before he left… he asked for my address and said he’d call, but I really wondered if it’d happen… but he did call almost every day, even writing letters. We are probably the last generation who wrote letters to our loved ones using “snail mail”. I’ve always been a letter writer… writing to many pen-pals through the years… then to Steve… and many to my mother over the years. My mother talked about how she and my father wrote to each other before they married… what I wouldn’t give to have those letters, but somehow they disappeared in moves. I still have our letters saved that we wrote… and who knows… maybe the grandchildren will read them and think “wow, they had no email or cell phones?”
After Steve left, I never thought our relationship would last, as we had only known each other in person less than two months… but once he was settled in the cold, snowy state of Maine, he called everyday and wrote letters. Funny to think back now… of how often he wrote, as I can hardly get him to write anything today… although he will peck away a post on Facebook… often asking… how do you spell???… who was his dictionary before me?
Steve left Georgia mid December 1970 to spend a few weeks at home before heading to Maine after the New Year. Christmas was spent at home with his parents before heading to snowy Maine mid-January. While home, he mentioned to them that he was pretty serious about the girl he’d met in Georgia… I’m sure it wasn’t well received as I was not Italian… they didn’t know me… and I was from the South… three strikes against me!
His mom cooked Sunday dinner on his last day for him and also his Air Force buddies… Vernon (Wiggens), Chuck (Zellar), Bob (Kletsco) and Mike (Mohr); also transferred with Steve to Loring AFB in Limestone, Maine. They had all shared a house together while stationed at Warner Robins AFB in Georgia. By early afternoon, the guys left on I-95 in their cars… each following their buddy Chuck… he had been stationed at Loring before.
By the time they hit the Maine border on I-95, they ran into heavy snow… and the closer they got to the base, all Steve saw were fields and fields of snow… more snow than he’d ever seen in his life… and he was from the snowy, cold state of Connecticut. Fields rolled one after another… piled high with snow… so high that the snow banks reached halfway up the telephone poles… no fences seen in separating the farms. It was only when the snow began melting, did fence posts peek out… and he discovered that there really were fields divided by fences… which had been completely unseen… covered with snow all winter.
Arriving in the barracks, he quickly learned no fridges were needed to keep your beer cold… just sit the cans outside on the high snow bank… just outside your second story window.
Those snowy fields were actually the well-known potato fields where many of our russet potatoes come from. As I never had visited Maine before, we took a trip there a few years ago… all the way to Limestone, which is the closest town to Loring AFB, and only a couple miles from the Canadian border; you can read about that trip, along with where Uncle Jimmy Donahue was from… growing up where those russet potatoes were grown; read HERE. We would have driven into Canada after discovering the border, but having no passports, we make a quick turnaround!
Our relationship grew stronger through nightly phone calls while he was stationed in Maine… all free thanks to Uncle Sam… well kinda! A fellow airman hooked him up on how to make those free calls. Imagine if Facebook had been around back then! The next three months were spent on countless phone calls… with me feeling very sad in wondering what will happen… and where this romance would really lead.
After only a couple months, he called to say he was shipping out of Loring, along with his best friend Chuck… and heading to Thailand. Well that through me into a tailspin! Maine was a possibility to visit, but never could I travel overseas. All had been good for us until he received those orders to ship out for Thailand in June! I was devastated… thinking, this is it for us, it’s over!
It was soon afterward, when Steve said “I’m bringing you home to live with my parents after we marry.” Marry… it was never a question of “will you marry me“… more like he told me we were getting married. I don’t think I even questioned it, as I felt more shell-shocked in trying to wrap my head around that he was going to Thailand! Steve’s time spent in Brrr cold Maine was short-lived… and by early April… he was packing again… for a warmer climate… heading overseas to Thailand! (More on that story later…)
Soon Steve was talking about how he was coming down before he left, and we were getting married… and he was bringing me to CT to live with his parents while he was gone. Yikes… did he even ask me to marry him… kind of a blur now, but I went right along with him. I was getting married… my parents hadn’t even met him… and I was going to live with my new in-laws, of whom I had never met, or even talked to. I must have been scared, but not too scared, as I marched right in to tell my father that I was getting married! That went well… he told me quickly that I was crazy to quit my job when Steve hadn’t even came down yet, and he hadn’t even met him! I was 18, soon turning 19 and what was I thinking! He clearly thought I wasn’t thinking… but I stood my ground telling him, “Steve is coming, you’ll see!”
Before the transfer overseas, he went home in mid April… announcing to his parents he was getting married to a girl in Georgia, and he would be bringing her to live with them while he was in Thailand. In knowing how I would feel… I know his mother wasn’t immediately happy, but I guess she relented that I could come and stay there. My father wasn’t much happier on the day I bounced into his room telling him I was getting married… and to a guy he also hadn’t met! He took it well… but shook his head telling me I was crazy to quit my job before Steve even came; he felt this young airman was just telling me what I wanted to hear. I’m sure I mouthed out… “you’ll see, he’s coming!”
My parents were divorced at that time, and I had remained with my father so I didn’t have to change schools in my senior year. Even though I had graduated, I continued to live with daddy, versus going to live with my mother on my grandfather’s farm. I’m sure it upset her, but I didn’t want to leave my friends and where I had grown up. My mother actually took the news much better than my father had, or so I thought. In thinking back now, I wonder why, as it’s usually the mothers who want to plan a wedding… and I even took that away from her as we decided, or rather I did… that we would elope to South Carolina. Weddings didn’t seem to be nearly a big event to me as they were where Steve lived… he had gone to several family weddings, unlike me, as I had no memories of any family weddings. I’ve never liked being the center of attention, so us eloping by ourselves was more exciting to me… Steve just went along with what I’d planned of “no” parents at our wedding… just us!
Mama and me after graduation…. it wasn’t long after this photo was taken during the summer… that I met Steve.
Mama was quite different when she first met Steve… giving him a big hug right away. If she had second thoughts, she kept them well hidden. She’s always told me how happy she was that I was moving away, as divorce seemed to be too prominent in the area… probably because of the base. Both my girlfriends married, divorced, and married again. I don’t know how my life would have been if I’d remained in Perry… but I have no regrets on the choice I made… it turned out perfect! Mama always said… “I finally gained the son I never had… she truly loved Steve!”
As we didn’t have much time before he shipped out, my “bright” idea was for us to go to South Carolina where no blood tests were required… allowing you to marry right away… or so I thought! If the internet had been around, I could have better researched that, but young and in love… we set off for the great town of Aikens, South Carolina; who even thought to call the courthouse there and inquire… definitely not me! Having nothing more than a paper map in hand, and me as navigator, of which I have retained that job for the last 50 years… we found the courthouse about an hour before closing. The two of us ran all the way up the long stairs to the marriage license/judge’s office to only discover we had to wait 24 hours before marrying! Funny story… “on the way up those stairs, we met an elderly lady coming down, who looked at us silly young kids, and said, “I bet you two are here to get married.” I’m sure I giggled, saying “yes” as we kept running up the stairs… today if I saw those stairs… I’d be looking for an elevator!
I’ve written before about our “elopement”…. over Here.
We made our first stop as man and wife at my girlfriend Linda Sue’s house… look who had to take a wedding photo with us! Even though we eloped, I did have a white dress… just a little short! Note my shoes sitting on the hood of the car… and I still hate wearing shoes! Steve’s 1965 yellow Lemans is in the background… not sure if he’d have let me put my shoes on his car!
Our wedding date of May 3rd, quickly turned into May 5th… and we were up early on our wedding day… me all dressed in my short, short white dress and Steve in nice pants and a ruffled purple shirt. In saying our “I Do’s” that morning before the judge, which should have been a solemn and reverent moment… not for me so much… as I remember being fidgety and feeling like I would burst out giggling at any moment! I couldn’t wait to say that final “I Do” and run out of there. That judge must have been shaking her head at me… as I’m sure she read my face! Hmmm, wonder if she thought that these silly young kids will never see 50 years of marriage… well, we proved her wrong!
Risher’s Restaurant where I first worked at age 16… The New Perry Hotel was where daddy treated us to our first dinner as man and wife!
We headed back to Georgia… so daddy could see that Steve really made an honorable woman of his daughter (LOL)… as daddy had had his thoughts on that! We arrived to discover daddy’s plan of taking the “newlywed’s” out to eat at the New Perry Hotel that evening. I’d lived in town since the age of five, and had never eaten there with their fancy white tablecloths… how did that happen? I’m so sad that it has since permanently closed, but still standing… hopefully someone will reopen it again as a hotel and restaurant. I have many memories as a young girl of tourists staying there en-route to Florida… walking our streets in the evening. My hometown of Perry was known as the “crossroads” of Georgia… tourists often stopped to spend the night… and usually they were repeat visitors.
My first job at the age of sixteen was as a waitress, but at Risher’s Restaurant, which was just a block away from The New Perry Hotel. I had never waitressed before, and it certainly showed on my first night when I took orders from the many Yankee tourists who stopped in. I quickly learned that there was another form of tea besides our Southern sweet tea… but to me that was the only tea in the world. When I sat that first glass of sweet iced tea in front of a Northern couple… she gave me a look… quickly telling me this wasn’t tea. And I’m sure I bantered back and forth, that “yes” it was… before I shuffled off to the kitchen muttering something unprintable here! Who would know that I soon would be marrying a Yankee from the North… but he enjoys a cold glass of sweet tea! I’ve trained him well!
Daddy cooked us a special “catfish” dinner on our last night… and Oh it was so good! Steve couldn’t believe all the catfish he’d caught that morning… and he certainly ate most of them! Daddy had always enjoyed fishing from the time he was probably old enough to hold a pole. Besides catching our dinner… he also knew his way around a kitchen! Nothing better than catfish and hushpuppies cooked by daddy… he sure knew how to cook, and good thing, as I couldn’t! Steve was in for a big surprise… in not marrying an Italian girl who knew how to cook his favorites! That was ok though, as his mom soon taught me to cook those Italian favorites! In looking more closely at this photo… I’m sure that wall phone heard many conversations with Steve during the past months. I love looking in the backgrounds of my photographs… and any photo with daddy… well, there was never a beer can too far away!
A few receipts from our honeymoon trip to CT. and the many postcards I bought… and wrote… but never mailed. I’m thankful I never mailed them so I have the memories and information. I’ll blog my writing on those postcards on another post. More on our adventures HERE.
In as I’m hesitant today in going places I’ve never been… there was no hesitations when I packed my bags that morning, loaded up the U-Haul trailer, and left my home in Georgia… for a far away place called West Haven, Connecticut… to live with strangers for possibly a year. Often today, I think back and find it hard to believe how I literally never thought twice about packing… leaving home with a guy I’d only known six months… actually only spending a couple of months in person with… but it was meant to be! I guess Daddy liked Steve and trusted him… or else he would have stepped up to tell me I wasn’t going anywhere!
My only regret was… that last morning I woke to find Daddy gone… leaving only a note telling me he was called into work and would call me later to say goodbye. I was too giddy in being a newlywed to have really understood what was going on. My big strong daddy couldn’t say goodbye without shedding tears… I guess he didn’t want me to see that. Even in writing this, tears swell in my eyes… wishing that I had went out searching for him to get that last hug, but I had other things on my mind. I was starting a new life with a man I loved… but I was sad… and kept hoping daddy would show up before we left. All through the years I’ve often had dreams of calling daddy and going there to see him, but never finding him. Those dreams have haunted me all these years… and I think they come from him not saying that final goodbye to me on the morning I left.
Today in the year of 2021… I’m writing about living with the same man for 50 years… and wondering where did the years ago! We didn’t have children right away… we were two kids ourselves, just enjoying life… coming and going whenever we wanted… before becoming a family with children. We wanted to have time together… the time that we never had before marriage.
Steve and I in our wedding attire of 1971… his parents gave a small house party for everyone to meet me… and I remember being so overwhelmed and stuck like glue to Steve all day! There was so many people all wanting to meet me… and hear me talk with my Southern accent… but I was so nervous as I couldn’t remember all their names! I thought I’d never remember everyone, and who’s family was who. And now… my Southern accent is pretty much all gone except for a few words that Steve tells me today that I saw wrong… hey everyone down South knows what I’m saying… so who’s wrong!
I had about six weeks of being a new “bride” in Connecticut before Uncle Sam shipped Steve out for Thailand… leaving me all alone with his parents and family… and over a thousand miles from my home state of Georgia. I soon began to feel more comfortable, feeling like I was now family. After a few weeks I even found a job at Grand Light & Supply in New Haven… working in their billing department… typing bills daily… Thank You typing class!
Steve in his so loved “Papa-son” pants… writing one of many letters to me while stationed in Thailand. He brought home several of those silk pants and wore them out over the years.
By a small miracle, Steve didn’t spend a year overseas… and was able to return after only a few months and even leave the Air Force early. By Christmas we were finally a couple living together, although we still were living with his parents until we became more settled and saved money for our first apartment. Steve went to work for Armstrong Rubber, where his father had worked since the mid ’40’s. It was where so many family worked, or had worked; almost everyone in West Haven had family or friends who worked there. Armstrong was good to us, paying all medical for both our children… and it was a time when your medical paid 100 percent of your bills.
Our “love” letters to each other… before and after we married… treasures to me! My mother often talked about how she kept her and daddy’s letters, but in the move to Perry, they somehow disappeared. It saddens me so much, as I would have enjoyed reading their love letters to each other. I hope my grandchildren enjoy reading ours one day.
Steve worked at Armstrong from 1971-1980… going through a few strikes and layoffs… making it especially scary when you have a family with no income coming in, or medical! But, we somehow seemed to always make it through… although I shed many tears during those times… being scared that we’d lose everything. The final blow was when Armstrong began closing plants… and then the decision came in closing down the plant in West Haven. While it didn’t affect his father, as he was near retirement… it was a sad day when they closed their doors for the final time, as it affected most families in West Haven… leaving many without jobs in their future. The state stepped in and offered free re-training and Steve took advantage of going to welding school in hope of a future better job. He was hired out of school to work at the submarine base in New London… almost an hour ride away on I-95. After only a couple of years, he was laid off again… which led to many jobs in his future… and many lay-offs until a final layoff at age 60. At that time you were able to collect un-employment for two years… and from then he retired at age 62. I had went back to work part-time after my son started school, and I continued to work through the years… finally going full-time when he retired. I later retired after working at Stop and Shop Supermarket for 36 years. I’ll never forget the day I first laid my application on the top of the service desk… Steve was laid off, sick with bronchitis and too sick to even go down to the unemployment office to apply. Lucky for us, they called me in for an interview before I had even returned home. Never did I think I would have remained with Stop and Stop all those years. Funny how the very first job they offered me was the same last job I worked at for most of my time there. Both my children also later worked for them when they turned 16; my daughter remained with the company from age 16, working her way up to a top management position.
We bought our first “brand new” car in 1973… borrowing $3500 from Steve’s best friend as we had no credit to get a loan… and we desperately needed another car. Our first new car was a 1973 red Volkswagen… and what was I thinking… I did not even know how to drive a standard… but I soon learned. It was a rocky road in Steve teaching me how to drive that standard… but amidst tears, yells and many languages… I mastered it! But the one thing that gave me fears was stopping on hills… I went nowhere, where there was a hill that I might have to stop on. I quickly learned new routes… and I’d map out my route wherever I went. I guess if I couldn’t find a route… I didn’t go!
Steve and I both fell in love with everything old… and often spent our weekends at flea markets, tag sales and auctions. We soon began collecting old radios and Victrola’s if it had a horn on it… Steve wanted it! On a whim, we’d hop in our VW… and head anywhere that struck our fancy. Having no children to keep us home… we were determined to enjoy this time… even though the family kept asking… “when are you going to have a baby?” Between being asked when were children coming or when I was going to cut my hair, or when he was going to shave his beard… we were just two young kids enjoying life… never giving a thought of having a baby… we were having too much fun!
Children finally joined our family, with my son arriving in 1976 and my daughter in 1979… life changed… and we changed from being fancy free kids to responsible parents who stayed home more. Christmas soon became all about the kids and what was Santa going to bring them. We finally became a family… and loved every minute of it. It didn’t stop us from still enjoying our love for antiques… while not as often, but we often still hit the flea markets with two little ones in tow.
By the time children came along, we were living in the Westville area of New Haven. We had previously lived in two different apartments in West Haven… first at Ivy St. Apartments, then later at Rolling Ridge Apartments on Meloy Rd. Everyone was soon asked to leave if they had pets… as they weren’t allowing pets any longer. We soon were forced to look for a new rent, and in finding nothing locally, we looked further away into New Haven. This rent was actually a second floor apartment in a house at 233 Fountain St. I remember being so scared in moving, as we felt at that time, it was far away… especially in not knowing the area at all. Of course it all worked out, and we lived there for about twelve years before the owners sold the house, practically out from under us… and once again we were looking for a new place to live… but now with two children, a dog, cat, and way more stuff than when we first moved there. It was this final move that pushed us to finally look to buy a house. My mother always reminded me how I called her up crying, saying that I was going to be homeless! While we did look back to West Haven for housing, we ended up continuing to stay in Westville… ending up only about a mile from where we were then living. This kept the kids from having to change schools, which worked out really well for us. Unfortunately, when we bought our first house in 1987… housing had skyrocketed, so we paid much higher than we should have, but we managed, and finally in 2017, we made our last house payment. That felt so good!
Kids grow up, graduate, college comes along… they move out… they marry… and suddenly you have 5 granddaughters! And you think… where did those years go. Then you hit that “lucky to make milestone” of celebrating 50 years of marriage… and you say a prayer for more years!
My husband is the only person I’ve ever spent so much time with… and we have been blessed with fifty years of marriage! My father died when I was just 31, and my mother died recently in 2020 at the age of 90, but living so far away from her for over fifty years… I was never as close as I am to my life-mate of over 50 years. Steve and I do everything together… it has never been you go your way, and I go another. People often remarked how they never saw one of us without the other. We’ve shared pretty much the same interest over the years… although I’ve never been able to teach him how to knit… and he’s never asked me to mow the lawn or shovel the snow. But we’ve shared so many things through the years… going to OTB (off track betting) to play the horses… we loved betting and watching the trotters on Saturday nights. Soon giving that up to raise our family… we spent everyday with our children… and summers was spent every day at the pool… at his parents home. My only regret is I wish we had taken our children on more car trips like we take today… I wish I had given them those memories of traveling, packing a lunch, and stopping to see things along the way.
Steve has always provided for me and our family… never complaining. He’d work overtime, still come to the pool, and clean up while I took the kids home to bathe and get ready for bed. He never left his parents house with anything for them to have to clean up behind all of us. It was just how he was… always looking out for others before himself. If it snowed, he cleaned our driveway, then cleaned theirs…. he mowed grass at home, then later cut grass at his parents… all without regrets or a complaint. He did what he felt a son should do in helping his parents as best he could, while also taking care of his family.
Me, with my sons family in Florida… a little teary-eyed in knowing I’d be leaving the next day for home. (I celebrated my birthday there)
Steve with the Florida grandchildren and the lap tables he made them! (The wood came from his parents first kitchen cabinets.)
Steve and I with our Connecticut granddaughters… again celebrating my birthday! I only take photos when I’m penned in… being in front of a camera panics me, but the girls don’t have a problem!
They often say that a short whirlwind romance before marriage works the best… and that certainly was us. Hardly knowing each other, but undoubtedly a match made in heaven… as we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary this year. We’ve never been separated long-distance, except for the one time when I spent a month at my mom’s, after her heart surgery, and it’s still the same today… you see one of us… and you’ll know that the other one isn’t far behind! I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten to mention or actually forgot (LOL), but if this was meant to include everything we’ve lived through… it would take years to read!
My in-laws celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997 (1947-1997)… like father like son!
Our latest “fun” summer days are spent just sitting at the beach and listening to music on the boardwalk. We are very lucky to be so close to the water, where we can enjoy the beach any day we choose. Being retired isn’t spent just watching television all day… I’m kept busy writing on my blog, knitting and crafting… along with sneaking in some TV time as I write; there’s many shows you can just listen to without having to devote your complete attention. Actually I never just watch TV without something in my hands… I must be busy! And at this time in our lives, I’m also trying to downsize us by selling; often my couch has become my wrapping station. But oddly in looking around, I’m not seeing empty spaces yet… not sure what I’m doing wrong, but one way or another things are leaving the house. Steve keeps busy with repairing his collection of cuckoo clocks… then there’s grass to cut, snow to shovel… and there’s always some plumbing problem that will suddenly pop up. We both enjoy our travels to Florida… where there’s no grass to cut or meals to prepare… just three beautiful granddaughter’s to craft and laugh with all day. I hope there’s more traveling in the future for us… as there’s really nothing to tie us down except the dreaded grass that won’t stop growing!
I’m now looking forward to making even more memories!
To read more Family Stories… click HERE.
© 2021, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved