55 and still alive
April 28, 2011By Bill Skiff
Fifty-five years ago last Thursday, I spoke the best two words I ever said: “I Do.”
I was in the army, and stationed at Valley Forge. The general at the time was not Washington, but rather General Temple. I was a social worker assigned to the psychiatric wards at Valley Forge Army Hospital in Phoenixville, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia. I counseled men returning from the battlefields of the Korean War.
One night, I made a phone call and asked a question. The answer came back “YES!” And the rest is history!
I met Ruth when I was a graduate student at Springfield College and she was the assistant to the director of our department. My fellow classmates said I was attracted to her because she was pretty, kind, could spell, type — and had a car.
I don’t know what I had that attracted her to me but I’m sure glad I had it. She was the nicest woman I ever met and I did all I could to garner her attention. It took some doing because she was so busy. Eventually I think she felt sorry for me when she found out I couldn’t spell and typed with two fingers (which I still do).
Our romance continued after my graduation — she and a girlfriend drove from Westfield, Mass. to Fort Dix, N.J., where a buddy and I were stationed for basic training. She brought the best fried chicken dinners any soldier could wish for. After basic training, I was assigned to Valley Forge Army Hospital; it was there I made my phone call.
For me to reach our wedding day — Saturday, April 21, l956 — took some planning and a little luck. The captain of our unit agreed to give me a pass, but not before a lot of fanfare, which included spreading the word about how I planned to spend my leave. A couple of old sergeants tried to talk me out of it, based on their marital experiences.
Then luck appeared. My pass did not start until midnight on Friday, April 20. The train I needed to catch out of Philadelphia to make it to the church by 2 p.m. on Saturday left at 10 p.m. I boarded the bus at the army base at 8 p.m. — four hours before my pass was legal.
At the Military Police guard house, the officer of the day came on the bus and asked to see everyone’s pass. When he arrived to check my pass, he said, “Soldier, your pass doesn’t start for four more hours. If I let you go now, you will be AWOL.” Then he asked, “Why are you in such a hurry?” I had to tell him — in front of everyone on the bus — that I was leaving to get married. Sweat streamed down my back while he and everyone else on the bus offered me their thoughts on marriage.
Finally, the officer turned to everyone and said, “What do you think? Should I let him go?” They all cheered: “Yes! Yes!” With a red face and an anxious heart, I made it out of the base to begin the best years of my life.
After the wedding on Saturday we drove to Hartford, Conn., then back to Valley Forge on Sunday. No honeymoon for us: Monday we both went to work. I returned to my unit and Ruth began work for a base doctor.
Some would say that 55 years is a long time to be married. But as I look over those years, they have gone all too fast. They have been filled with hard work, companionship and love. It does take a lot to make a marriage work. Even though I do not have any magical advice on marriage, I know that without Ruth my life would have been much different and very empty. Instead, our house was filled with four children and is now filled with six grandchildren — life doesn’t get much better than that.
On my dad’s 25th anniversary, he expressed his feelings on marriage through this poem, which I believe is a tribute to the meaning of a long and loving relationship. Mom and dad spent 62 years together. I feel blessed to have experienced 55 with Ruth — and we are not done yet.
“Silver Wedding”By Glenn Skiff
Twenty-five short years, swift run,
Brimful, pressed down, and running over
Of well remembered days,
Each one a strong, yet slender thread.
That weaves the variegated fabric
Of which our lives are made.
A fabric which beneath our hands
Has leaped to threefold life
Wherein we live again
The sweet short years of youth,
Think not I have forgotten them,
The years we’ve shared since first we met.
They are a part of all I am,
And all I ever shall be.
As slower, sometimes faltering hands,
Weave on, and on, and on
A pattern, which I know not now,
I only know it will be strong and good,
And filled with warmth and love,
If still I may, please God,
Weave side by side with you
Who are my friend,
And so much more than friend.
Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at [email protected]