No, I wasn’t married in a Third World country.
No, I wasn’t pregnant.
No, we didn’t elope.
At seventeen, I was a college freshman because I’d skipped sixth grade. I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career, but I knew I loved my extremely smart, funny, compassionate, family-oriented guy.
My groom wasn’t much older than me—although Uncle Sam insisted my beloved man-child was old enough to go to war. When his birth date had come up number eight in the draft lottery, we knew it was only a matter of time before he’d be drafted into the army, learn how to kill people and get sent to Vietnam to do so.
We’d met and gotten to know each other while still in high school as volunteers raising money for the American Freedom from Hunger Foundation. Now a firefighter for the Forestry Department, he opted to join the Coast Guard. He wanted to save lives, not to end them, my hero. To serve his country in a different, but still dangerous, way.
A month after we started dating (nearly a year after we met), we had begun to plan a future together. For Valentine’s Day, he gave me a cedar hope chest. (Ask your grandmother what that meant.) When I graduated from high school, he gave me an engagement ring. Six months later, just a month before he was to report to Coast Guard Aviation Electronics Tech School on the other side of the continent, we married.
My parents liked my beloved. I know they must have had reservations about the marriage, but they showed us unflagging support, which meant the world to us. They married during WWII at nineteen and twenty, and they were still happily married and successful. As my own children reached the age of seventeen, I came to appreciate how hard it must have been for them to have me marry so young.
We were blessed to find each other and recognize the significance of that discovery at an early age. We were blessed with the support of our families. We were blessed with an adventurous life that helped us grow even closer over the years. Forty years, two college degrees, eight states, three children and ten grandchildren later, we’re still married.
I’m even more in love with my hero than I was at seventeen.
There are many roads to Happily Ever After.