Columns

Still dating after all these years

33579913_1791932027512083_2242687516580773888_n[2]

Glancing at the clock, I fastened my earrings and scanned the room for my gold sandals. My date was on the way to pick me up, and I didn’t want to keep him waiting.

Honestly, he wouldn’t complain too much if I did. He’s kind of used to it. We’ve been dating for 33 years.

Yep. My husband and I still date, and with our nest gradually emptying, we’ve resumed dates that actually involve leaving the house and going someplace other than Home Depot or Albertsons. Dates that require advance planning which translates into eager anticipation.

When our boys were little, date night meant putting them all to bed by 8, enjoying a candlelit dinner at our dining room table and renting a movie from Hastings. It also only happened once a month, due to sheer busyness and exhaustion.

This year, with more freedom in time and budget, we’ve instituted weekly dates. Dinner and a movie are nice, but we’ve upped the ante on our adventures. As a result, we’ve been exploring and enjoying our hometown.

For example, late this spring when the Spokane River was at its peak, we dined on the patio at Clinkerdagger’s, shopped in the Flour Mill, spied on the marmots scampering on nearby rocks and snapped a selfie with the river behind us.

But dates don’t need to be spendy. One hot sunny Saturday, we played tourist and explored Manito Park in all its glory.

We encountered some real tourists in the Perennial Garden.

“Spokane is just like a mini-Seattle!” one of them exclaimed.

Them there is fightin’ words to this hometown girl, but Derek distracted me by pointing out a large butterfly perched nearby.

We skipped the Duck Pond because many years ago, our son, Alex, took an unplanned dip in the pond’s murky waters during a family picnic. We’re still traumatized by the memory of trying to clean duck poop off the kid in a park bathroom.

“I told him not to run on those rocks. They’re slippery, I said,” Derek muttered as we skirted the pond.

See? Traumatized.

Our weekly dates have also included local attractions that we’ve always meant to get to, but never had the time – the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, for one.

When we read the museum was hosting a traveling Smithsonian exhibit, “Mail Call,” we took a Friday afternoon off from work and checked it out.

The exhibit tells the history of the military mail system and featured personal stories of service and family bonds, told through documents, photos, audio recordings and handwritten letters.

We were charmed by the unique museum and its friendly staff.

Last Saturday, we enjoyed a lingering summer date in the West Central neighborhood.

We started the evening with appetizers at The Wandering Table in Kendall Yards, and then wandered across the street to the Maryhill Winery tasting room.

The Maryhill patio, liberally dotted with umbrella’d tables, is quickly becoming our favorite spot to unwind, enjoy a glass of wine and soak in the spectacular views of the river, downtown and the Centennial Trail.

From Kendall Yards, we drove west to a Spokane landmark – Doyle’s Ice Cream Parlor. Though he’s lived in Spokane more than 40 years, Derek had never been to the iconic seasonal shop.

We sat in the red Adirondack chairs out front, enjoying huge scoops of licorice ice cream and watching the steady stream of people ebb and flow from the busy shop.

As we savored each bite, we had our usual marital discussions of what the work week ahead looked like, the status of our August vacation plans, and where we’d like to go on future dates.

We’d saved the newspaper’s guide to area parks and plan to start working our way through a list of parks we want to explore. Sunday’s story on city staircases gave us some new destinations to contemplate.

Sure, sometimes dates are simply Netflix, pizza and jammies at home, but going out on the town adds intentional enjoyment. Especially, when you have the day circled in red on your calendar.

Anticipation. That’s what makes dating so much fun.

Advertisements
War Bonds

When Opposites Attract

She was an only child. He was one of seven.

He was a Catholic. She was a Protestant.

She joined the Air Force. He joined the Navy.

He’s an extrovert. She’s an introvert.

The adage “opposites attract” certainly applies to Becky and Harry Flanigan.

They met as children growing up in the same neighborhood in New Albany, Indiana. But Becky had no intention of dating Harry, two years her junior, let alone marrying him.

Harry, however, had other ideas.

In their Kendall Yards apartment, he grinned as he recalled his first sight of Becky. His speech has been impaired by a stroke, but he communicates with hand gestures and short sentences.

“I was 4 years old when I met her. I was 11 when I knew I wanted to marry her,” he said.

It seems when he was 4, a button popped off his snow pants, and Becky’s mother sewed it back on for him. That’s how they met.

At 11, he was stricken by polio and from his bed near the living room window; he watched Becky and his older brother walk to school each day.

“I told Mom I was going to marry her,” he said.

But marriage would have to wait.

After high school, Becky went to nursing school at Ball State University. When an Air Force recruiter came to talk to the soon-to-graduate nurses, she and three friends signed up, and were soon sent to Minot, North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Harry, who hoped to be a doctor, attended St. Louis University until he ran out of funds. After working for the Army Corps of Engineers for a couple years, he enlisted in the Navy.

In 1966, he was attached to the Marine Corps unit in Chu Lai, Vietnam. He and his fellow corpsmen sent up and ran the field hospital there. He doesn’t talk about his experiences in Chu Lai.

When asked if he lost friends during the war, he hung his head and buried his face in his hands.

Becky said, “He brought home a machete and once I asked him where he got it. He said, ‘You don’t want to know.’”

One of the first things he did after returning home was to call Becky and ask her for a date.

“I said yes,” she recalled. “Then I told my mother, ‘What have I done?’ I’m older than he is. I’m taller than he is. And now he knows I was sitting home alone on a Saturday night.’”

It was March 25, 1967, and when Harry picked her up, she was relieved and surprised to find he’d grown.

“He was 5 feet, 2 inches tall, the last time I’d seen him,” she said.

Her mother waited up for her, and when Becky returned she told her mom she’d had a nice time, but wasn’t interested in seeing him again. Harry planned a career in medicine, and she definitely didn’t want to marry a doctor.

The next day he brought her an Easter card.

“He was charming as all get out,” Becky said, smiling.

He must have been, because they got engaged on April 16.

Coming from a large family had its disadvantages – namely little sisters.

“I had no idea he was going to propose,” Becky said. “But we stopped by his house and his little sister said, ‘Do you like your ring?’”

There went the surprise.

The boisterous Flanigans were a bit overwhelming.

“He invited me to a family party, and there were 100 people there,” she recalled. “I wanted to run away.”

She didn’t, and they married Aug. 12.

“His mother told people at our reception, we wouldn’t last six months,” Becky said.

Then she grinned.

“She did eventually apologize, but it took her 30 years.

Harry enrolled at Indiana University, but was disappointed when he wasn’t admitted to medical school. Even though his grades were excellent, he was told the university had no interest in retraining him from his military experience.

He studied business instead and took a job with Union Carbide after graduating in 1970.

Becky gave birth to their daughter, Amy, in 1971, and the family embarked in a series of moves across the country as Harry rose in rank and responsibility within the corporation.

Tragedy struck while they were living in California. Harry, age 46, suffered a stroke. His carotid artery had dissected and life as they knew it changed forever.

The stroke affected his speech and partially paralyzed his right side.

“The last thing he said to us was ‘I’m sorry,’” she recalled.

His prognosis was grim, but Becky said, “He felt since he beat polio, he could beat this.”

Harry, a driven, Type A, workaholic, channeled all of his energy into recovery, making it his full-time job. He learned to walk, to drive and to care for himself, though speech remained an issue.

But despite his amazing strides, he couldn’t resume his career.

“The worst day of his life wasn’t the day of his stroke, but the day they retired him,” Becky said. “He loved his job, the people, the travel. …”

Harry nodded.

Their daughter was attending law school at Gonzaga University, so they decided to move to Spokane. They’ve never looked back, because soon they had three grandchildren to dote on, including a grandson who is now attending the United States Air Force Academy.

When he could speak more clearly, Harry told Becky, “I think the stroke is the best thing that happened to me. It slowed me down, brought me to a stop and allowed me to appreciate my family.”

With his left hand, Harry, 75, gestured upward.

“My grandkids and Amy lift me up,” he said.

As to his wife of 50 years, well, he’s always believed marrying her was his destiny.

He curled his left arm into a muscle-flexing pose.

“She’s strong,” he said.

Becky, 77, said, “People ask me if I’d do it again and I say, ‘Yes, in a heartbeat.’”

When asked why, her eyes filled with tears.

“I guess it’s just true love,” she said.

“Yes,” Harry said, nodding. “Yes.”

28279531_1691479704223983_1015308065099536062_n

 


War Bonds

This Young Love Didn’t Grow Old

25591901_1630383190333635_5262889521772883972_n[1].jpg

When a California girl with pierced ears met a black sheep boy in tiny Reardan, Washington, sparks flew. Sixty-eight years later, the fire still burns for Betty and Larry Plummer.

“She was a loner and so was I,” recalled Larry.

Though he said he missed more days of school than he attended, he did manage to escort Betty to the junior-senior prom.

“He was panting at the door to take me,” Betty said. “I was one of the first freshmen to go.”

Larry didn’t have enough credits to graduate, and found work in a nearby sawmill. He was sure of just one thing – he wanted to marry Betty.

“I only had one girlfriend. I couldn’t afford any others,” he joked.

At 17 and 18, they knew finding someone to marry them would be difficult, so they decided to elope to Reno.

They made it to Winnemucca, Nevada, where they stopped for gas.

“A guy at the service station told us to wake up the town clerk, so we did,” Larry said. “He gave us a marriage license for $2, and went with us to the justice of the peace. I gave him a $5 tip. The whole trip cost us about $42.”

He only earned $1 an hour at the sawmill.

The clerk asked them how old they were. Several times. That’s when Larry realized they were still too young to marry in Nevada. So they lied about their ages, and on Sept. 4, 1949, they tied the knot.

For their 60th anniversary, their children sent them on a surprise trip to Reno – with a stop in Winnemucca, of course.

In 1949, when the teens returned home, Betty’s mother told her, “Well, you made your bed, you lay in it.”

Their first home had no running water and was small enough to fit in their present Spokane Valley living room.

Larry was in the Naval Reserves, and they’d been married just over a year when he was called up. It was November 1950, and Betty traveled to San Diego to see him before he was sent overseas.

“I stayed at the Harvard Hotel,” she recalled. “I couldn’t afford to eat at the hotel, so I turned the electric iron upside down in a drawer and made soup on it.”

After her husband left for Korea, she returned home and stayed with her mom.

Following his discharge in September 1952, the couple moved to Spokane, where Larry worked at St. Luke’s Hospital as a house attendant in the psych ward.

One evening, as he made his rounds, he saw a box near the nurse’s dorm. He bent over, opened it and discovered a baby inside.

The newspapers dubbed her “Baby X.”

“You should have brought her home,” said Betty, as Larry told the story.

“I thought about it,” he admitted. “But we had our first baby on the way.”

Baby X was adopted by a local family, and many years later, she found the Plummers, and visited their home to thank Larry for rescuing her.

They welcomed their own baby girl, Rhonda, in 1955, followed by Rebecca in 1957. Daughter Ruth completed the family in 1958, and also got her father in the newspaper, again.

By this time, Larry was working the graveyard shift at Eastern State Hospital. Betty called to tell him the baby was on the way. He rushed home, but didn’t make it in time to get her to the hospital.

“Her water broke, and I delivered the baby on the front lawn,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been present at a birth.

“One time I got on the elevator with a pregnant woman at St. Luke’s,” he recalled. “There were two of us when I got on – three of us when I got off.”

Larry worked several jobs while attending Eastern Washington University. The boy, who didn’t get a high school diploma, earned an accounting degree from the university.

“It took me six years to finish,” he said.

After graduating, he worked for the IRS for seven years, managed a medical clinic for eight, and then worked for Spokane Public Schools for 17 years.

Meanwhile, in addition to raising their three daughters, for many years Betty was a foster mom to newborns.

“I kept them until they got adopted,” she said. “One baby stayed for three months. Then they came and got him at Christmas. That’s when we stopped.”

When she mentioned that she’d like to go to beauty school, Larry came home and told her he’d enrolled her.

Betty did hair for awhile, but then took a job in housekeeping at Providence Sacred Heart, where she worked for 18 years, before retiring as a supervisor in 1998.

It wasn’t all work in the Plummer household. Larry bought a 1957 school bus and retrofitted it as a camper – complete with kitchen and bath. They loaded up the girls and took off for Montana, Colorado and even Disneyland.

“Buying that bus was the best thing I ever did,” he said.

As they talked about their life together, Betty frequently stopped to kiss Larry’s head, or rub his shoulder. She recalled how over the years, he’d walk in the door after working a graveyard shift and ask, “Baby, what can I do for you?”

When she worked at Providence Sacred Heart, he’d stop at downtown store to buy her a gardenia – her favorite flower.

And he kept busy, even after retiring from the school district. For 15 years he worked at the Coeur d’Alene Casino as a ticket seller, finally retiring at 83.

He smiled at Betty.

“The last 68 years have been the happiest,” he said.

She nodded; puzzled that so many marriages don’t last as long.

“Nobody works at it,” she said. “Something goes wrong and people look for someone else.”

She shrugged.

“We just assumed we’d be here together and here we are,” said Betty, 85. “He’s the best man that ever was. I think we’d do it again.”

Larry, 86, agreed, with one caveat.

“I might not have waited so long,” he said.

25550522_1630383277000293_2225425647765710929_n[1]

Columns, War Bonds

Who Needs Prince Charming?

I didn’t really think he’d show up on a white horse. I’ve never been a great rider and city streets aren’t welcoming to skittish steeds.

Instead, my Prince Charming borrowed his father’s Ford Tempo for our first date. “I’m in the middle of restoring a ’67 Mustang,” he explained.

Thirty-one years later, he’s still in the middle of restoring that same ’67 Mustang. I no longer sing “Someday My Prince Will Come;” instead I mutter, “Someday my prince will be done – with something. Anything!”

After three decades of marriage I’ve had ample time to rethink my original dreams of Prince Charming.

My prince has never waltzed me around glittering ballrooms, and I’m not in the habit of losing any shoes. But sometimes he sneaks into the kitchen while I’m cooking, takes my hand, and spins me into a slow dance across the dining room floor.

“There they go again,” one of our sons will say, groaning with embarrassment.

As if dining room dancing wasn’t enough, several years ago, Derek decided to add guitar-playing to his romantic resume.

“I’m going to learn to play ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love With You’ for your birthday,” he announced.

My birthday came and went. As did Valentine’s Day, our anniversary and Christmas.

Finally, I schlepped the two guitars and the amp he’d purchased downstairs, and shoved them in a closet. His musical ardor may have dimmed, but his passion for me has yet to wane.

I know this, because several times a month he’ll text me: Date night?

He makes reservations at one of our favorite restaurants. And we don’t stare at our phones over dinner – we talk about anything and everything. We’ve yet to run out of words.

It turns out my prince didn’t have a castle to offer me, but that’s OK . I’ve heard the upkeep on palaces is brutal. And I’ve never been a damsel in distress in need of rescue.

In fact, the demur, soft-spoken girl in white satin he married, grew up into a confident woman with opinions that often differ from his, and a newspaper column in which to express them.

Instead of being threatened, Derek applauded and encouraged my evolution. Willingly, he picked up the slack at home when my work took me out of town – or more often inside my head.

Writers are rarely easy to live with, especially when a new project swallows every waking thought and even haunts our dreams. But he is uncomplaining, knowing that my glazed eyes will eventually light on him, recognition will dawn, and I will invariably smile.

He hasn’t ruled a kingdom. His birthright is more plastic spork than silver spoon, but for over 20 years he’s run a successful small business. His reputation for integrity remains sterling, even in tough economic times.

When our children grew, and rebellion brewed with teens eager to topple the home regime, he handled those painful transitions with grace, dignity and infinite patience. Watching him parent our sons made me fall in love with him all over again.

Time has changed us. My prince has lost some hair, gained some weight, lost that weight and gained some wrinkles. And I’ve done the same, except my hair has grayed instead of thinned.

His unfinished projects still drive me crazy. The Mustang rusts in our driveway; the guitars gather dust in the closet, and the long-promised home office remains elusive. I never know what he’ll start next, but I’m confident it probably won’t be completed.

And just when my frustration reaches its zenith, I catch his eye across a crowded room (all of our rooms are crowded, now) and my heart skips a beat.

He holds out his hand to me. I take it and he pulls me into an embrace that still takes my breath away.

We sway together, and he hums in my ear. “Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you.”

I don’t need Prince Charming. Or a ballroom. I don’t really even need the tiara he bought me.

I just need this man.

And I’m profoundly grateful that our marriage is still an unfinished project.

23131848_1580341082004513_2624145754997905891_n[2]

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Spa Daze

Soothing music. Delightful fragrances. The absolute absence of ringing phones or pinging emails. And best of all, the only time anyone says my name is to ask me how I’m feeling.

There’s nothing like a spa day to refresh my soul.

The Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area is blessed with ample places to bliss out, and I’ve visited most of them. For work. Seriously.

A few years ago, I took on a bunch of travel writing assignments for several regional magazines. Interestingly, most of them wanted me to cover spas and resorts. It was a rough gig, but somebody had to do it.

Not all experiences delighted. At a media day at one resort, my masseur looked like Bill Gates, and sounded like him, too. I closed my eyes and tried to relax, but all I could think about were the questions I’d like to ask Mr. Gates. Like would he care to subsidize my writing career? And what the heck is up with the Blue Screen of Death?

And sometimes the choice of music in the massage rooms isn’t exactly restful. Many places use the sound of ocean waves or a tinkling stream. It may sound soothing, but isn’t if you’ve had a mimosa or a cup of coffee before your appointment.

One of my favorite spa experiences involved my husband. An airline magazine had asked me to write about fun local activities for couples including a spa day at a local resort.

Derek had never been to a spa and was a little apprehensive.

“I don’t have to get my toenails painted, do I?” he asked.

“Only if you want to,” I replied.

The couple’s package included a soothing private aromatherapy bath in a huge jetted tub, and then a candlelight massage.

Derek followed a male attendant to the men’s changing room, and I went to the women’s. Luxurious robes with our names stitched on the lapels awaited us.

The attendants then ushered us into a suite, lit by flickering candles. They poured lovely smelling things into a tub that could easily hold a half dozen of our closest friends. Then they gave us each a glass of wine and told us they’d be back in an hour.

As they closed the door behind them, we got ready to climb into the tub.

That’s when I knew Derek was out of his depth. He dropped his robe and revealed he was wearing swim trunks.

I doubled over with laughter. He says I hooted and shrieked. I say I chuckled softly.

“Hey,the guy said I could wear them if I felt more comfortable! I didn’t know we were going to be ALONE,” he said.

I may have giggled intermittently throughout the hourlong massage that followed, but it was just because I was having such a fabulous time.

While I enjoy massages, manicures and pedicures, there’s one traditional spa activity that I haven’t cared for – facials. Be they European, aromatherapy, collagen or paraffin, I just haven’t found the facial experience relaxing. For one thing, I’m pretty claustrophobic and having my face wrapped in a hot towel with only my nostrils exposed feels suffocating. And once, the aesthetician got a little exuberant with an astringent and splashed some in my eye. My skin looked pink and rosy. So did my eye.

But recently with a gift card to my favorite spa burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to give facials another try.

And you know, it wasn’t that bad. The aesthetician explained each application and treatment, was careful with the hot towel mummification and didn’t splash anything in my eye.

One thing gave me pause: Most of the products used, she said, were to help with “fine lines and wrinkles.” After hearing “fine lines and wrinkles” for an hour, I started to get paranoid. Just how fine were those lines? And by wrinkles, did she mean laugh lines or wadded up linen blouse tucked in a drawer wrinkles? I was afraid to ask.

However, the organic masks, toners and scrubs smelled delicious, delectable even. There were applications of strawberry-rhubarb stuff, pink grapefruit potions and liberal lime mistings. In short, a fruit salad was applied to my face.

While facials still aren’t my favorite spa experience, I’d probably do it again. Especially if I’m hungry.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.