At 20, I got pregnant, eloped, dropped out of school, and followed my husband to an Army post in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he was in Officer Candidate School. It was 1968, near the height of the Vietnam War. Miniskirts were in. My boyfriend told me the popular song, “Sunny,” reminded him of me.
When I called my parents to tell them I’d gotten married, my Mom said, “So, I guess this means you’re pregnant, then.”
My birthday’s in July. I spent the summer I turned 20 in Switzerland, studying French. My boyfriend picked me up in New York City when I returned and I realized I wanted to be near him. He’d graduated from Michigan State University, where we met, the Spring before, but I had made no arrangements to follow him to the Washington, DC area, where he’d been hired by IBM. I spent the Fall interviewing colleges in DC, so I could transfer.
I applied to George Washington University and was accepted. I only had to wait an extra month after the end of Fall quarter at MSU for the second semester at GWU to start. Over the Fall, my boyfriend and I were seeing each other every other weekend. Sometimes, he’d leave work and drive the 12 hours to East Lansing, Michigan to spend a day and a half with me before driving back. Sometimes, I’d take the bus to DC.
On one of my trips to DC, he had to get a physical for the U.S. Army Selective Service requirement. He knew it would only be a short time until he received a draft notice. In November, he tried to initiate a conversation to see how I felt about long engagements.
Misunderstanding, I cut him off. “Don’t even start such a conversation unless you’re serious.” I thought I was saying, “Ask me to marry you or don’t, but don’t just start a casual conversation about it. It’s too important.” I thought he was toying with the idea of marriage, the way women sometimes play with writing their imaginary married name, “Mrs. Boyfriend’s Name.”
He thought I was saying, “If you ask, the answer will be No.” Years later, on hearing this story, my younger son, Jonathan, said, “Mom, guys don’t start casual conversations about marriage.” Right. Where was he when I needed him?
In January, all the pieces aligned. He called to tell me he’d received his draft notice. I told him I might be pregnant. We arranged for me to leave home, where I was waiting out the start of second semester, come to DC and find out where we stood.
We found out on Monday that I was pregnant. We married, in a private ceremony, with just us and the minister, on Wednesday. On Friday, I drove him to Baltimore so he could fly to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, for Basic Training.
By May, I’d finished my Junior year at GWU. He’d finished Basic and Advanced Training. We met in Lawton, Oklahoma, where he had two weeks off before starting a six months Officer Candidate School.
Our first child. Living together. A year in Vietnam. Those would all come the next year and the next.
This past January, we celebrated our 47th anniversary.
What were you like at 20? Have you shared your stories with your children or your grandchildren? I am a member of the Association of Personal Historians (APH), a group whose members record, preserve and share people’s life stories. APH is celebrating its 20th anniversary, May 20, 2015. (personalhistorians.org)