Sunday, August 8, 2010

Marriage: No Easy Business

Katja Exits the Antioch Student Union in her Wedding Gown

Dear George,

Katja and I recently attended the wedding of a friend’s son at a suburban Methodist Church. The minister didn’t pull any punches. He started right off telling the couple that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Then he told them how difficult marriage is and how much work it requires. He must have gone over that five times, adding in a personal anecdote each time. By the time he was done, the bride and groom looked a little glum. They finally brightened up when he pronounced them husband and wife. I didn’t know quite what to think, but I finally decided it’s probably best to go into these things with one’s eyes open.

Katja and Dave Open Their Wedding Presents

Katja and I got married in the Quaker chapel on Antioch College’s campus in Yellow Springs on August 28, fifty years ago this month. Our nondenominational minister, whose name, believe it or not, was Howard Johnson, wasn’t as confrontational as the Methodist minister we saw recently, perhaps because the divorce rate wasn’t sky-high yet. Nonetheless, getting married was still a turbulent process. Katja and I had had a terrible senior year of college, undergoing what seemed like a never-ending onslaught of academic, personal, family, and whatever other categories of calamities college students might face. By year’s end we were clinging together for survival, and we desperately looked forward to our upcoming wedding as the start of a new life. Though excited beyond reason, we still had some family tension to contend with. Though we’d been together as a couple for several years, Katja’s parents, Helen and Buck, remained dubious. This was some mix of concerns about Jewish-gentile intermarriage, the mismatch of Katja’s extroversion and my excessive shyness, and a basic deep-rooted reluctance to let go of their oldest child. Our two sets of parents apparently hashed some of this out before the wedding because my father took Katja and me aside and told us very grimly that members of our family never have and never will divorce. While we agreed fully, it still made a big impression on us. (Nowadays I think my father’s speech helps explain why we are celebrating our fiftieth anniversary this year.)

Steve, Vicki, Doris, and Peter – Dressed for the Occasion

The families arrived in Yellow Springs the day before the ceremony, and my parents, Vic and Doris, treated everyone to a rehearsal dinner at the King Cole restaurant in Dayton. The King Cole was Dayton’s top-ranked restaurant, and Katja and I held romantic memories about it for many years after. Our younger siblings – Ami and David from Katja’s family, and Steve, Peter, and Vicki from mine – were excited to be there, had fun meeting one another, and did the customary joking and fooling around. Handsome Steven was the best man, and beautiful Ami was the maid of honor. My folks drank quite a bit at the King Cole, as they normally did, and Katja’s drank very little, as they normally did, and the parents eyed one another one another warily.

Antioch students were nontraditional, and the campus norm was to compose one’s own unique wedding ceremony. Howard Johnson gave us a binder with dozens of ceremonies from previous years, and we snickered as we read them. Katja unilaterally decided that was the writer in our new family. She gave me a couple of suggestions, then left me on my own at the typewriter. I stayed up almost the entire night before the wedding, struggling to draft and redraft a ceremony. It never really came together, and I suddenly appreciated the reasons for tradition and religious ritual.

The Mothers: Doris and Helen

On the day of the wedding I was sweating nonstop and went to the local drugstore, asking the pharmacist for a pill which would eliminate perspiration. He said there wasn’t such a pill, and he counseled me to try to be mentally strong. I returned to the Antioch Inn where our parents were staying. By mistake, I walked into the bathroom between adjoining suites, not realizing that my mother-in-law was in the midst of using it. Even though sedated with Valium, she screamed at the top of her voice, and I had a dreadful feeling that things were rapidly going downhill.

Katja in her Gown

The wedding itself proceeded without a glitch. Katja looked very beautiful in her gown, and I wore my new suit that we’d bought. It was a pretty small wedding. We’d stayed in Yellow Springs to work for the summer, but nearly all of our friends had left campus in June. Katja’s teachers from the French Department and mine from Psychology were there, as well as a couple of close friends and all our family members. Mrs. Boren, one of my parents’ acquaintances in her 80’s, had been driven down 600 miles for the occasion, much to everyone’s amazement. We treated her like she was the queen. The minister read my amateurishly written ceremony with utmost seriousness, and he even pronounced a passage in Hebrew with a perfect accent that he’d acquired in his seminary training. We exchanged the $19 gold wedding rings that we’d bought from a street vendor in Dayton the month before, stepped on a crystal goblet, and suddenly we were a married couple.

Katja, Vicki, and David Cutting the Cake

Our reception was in the conference room at the Antioch Inn. At Howard Johnson’s recommendation, Katja and I had refrained from kissing at the altar, and Katja’s mother expressed her disappointment. I gave Katja a good kiss at the beginning of the reception, but it didn’t really remedy our omission (which seemed like a bad omen). We had a total budget of $50 for the reception, and, after we had paid the room rental and a waiter’s salary, we had just enough to purchase a white wedding cake, a bowl of punch, and one bottle of champagne which we poured into very small plastic cups. Our family members were in a good mood though. Katja’s mom said she’d never seen her so happy, so, she decided, this must be the right thing after all. My favorite Psychology professor, who I revered, took me aside and showed me a photo in his wallet of his bikini-clad girlfriend who he spent time with when his wife wasn’t around. As a brand new husband of less than an hour, I was taken aback.

The Wedding Party: Dave, Howard Johnson, Katja, Steve, Ami, Buck

I’d been working as a research assistant at Wright Patterson Air Force Base for the summer, and I arranged to take Monday off for our honeymoon. I had found a downtown hotel in Dayton which offered the best rate available, and we drove there after the reception. The hotel was old and had seen better days, but Katja was thought it was distinguished and elegant. Nowadays she remembers it being the Hilton, but it definitely wasn’t. We were both ecstatic to be married, and, after many travails, we felt a huge amount of relief. We spent one more week in our tiny, non-air-conditioned apartment in Yellow Springs, gave away our cat to a neighbor, and left for Ann Arbor for grad school. It was the beginning of many life adventures.



G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L (8-10: Hi Dvd, What a treat! You two were (and are) so beautiful. It's so great to have pictures and a narrative around an event that my shy 13 year old self could only vaguely comprehend.I do remember thinking Katja was the most sophisticated person I'd ever met; and while I was somewhat attuned to the inter-family tensions, I had no real understanding of the dynamics or the cultural differences. The two of you were so supportive and such anchors for me as a young Freshman at the U of M. I remember Katja helping me with my French homework (when

she worked at Faber's Fabrics) - it was like having an honest to goodness older sister. What times. Thank you again for refreshing our history. Love, V

-Linda C (8-9): Beautiful in every way!

-Donna D (8-9): Great pictures david. what bliss!

-Phyllis SS (8-9): Dave, What a lovely account of your wedding - a real love note to Katja. pss

-Jennifer M (8-8): This is sweet and funny. :-)

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