Once when I was young I was married to a beautiful girl from South Dakota.
When we wed I thought it would be forever, but our eternity was spent as quickly as our youth in a mere 23 years. This is our love story:
DeAnn Joy Galbavy came to Springfield from Sioux Falls, South Dakota in the fall of 1970 to start her first semester at Baptist Bible College.
I was in my fourth year at Southwest Missouri State College, editor of the campus newspaper and an assistant manager at Bonanza Sirloin. When first we met, Dee was just one of several BBC students working part time at the popular steak house, but something in her outgoing personality and self-confidence set her apart. “I’m not conceited, just convinced,” she liked to say. It did not escape my notice, either, she was quite attractive.
At the time, I had started casually dating another bus girl, Nancy, a student at Drury College, though work and school didn’t leave much time for a social life. As I best recall, Dee and I first went out over the Christmas break, while Nancy had gone home for the holidays. In fact, it wasn’t a regular date. While sharing supper before our shift at Bonanza I cajoled Dee, a good BBC girl, into inviting me to go to church with her. It was actually a pretty typical bashful boy/pretty girl tap dance. I was smitten, and she knew it — not “conceited, just convinced.”
I was 22, Dee was 18.
It caused more of a stir than I realized when this good BBC freshman girl brought to her Baptist church this reprobate prodigal, a senior direct from the courts of Babylon — SMS — and a Methodist, no less.
It raised eyebrows, too, when I brought Dee out to the farm within a few days of our first church date. I’d never brought a girl home before, but I was mostly oblivious to what anyone thought.
It was a bit of a scandal when Dee and I began spending most evenings together. Baptist Bible College had strict rules governing dating. It wasn’t allowed except on certain nights, and otherwise girls were not to be unchaperoned in cars with boys. Bonanza had dealt with that rule when night managers offered girls rides back to their dorms after work, but we ultimately persuaded BBC the girls were much safer being shuttled home after closing, rather than waiting for a city bus outside the liquor store at the corner of Glenstone and Grand Avenue.
Dee and I quickly progressed from church dates to almost constant companionship. Most afternoons she would catch a bus from the BBC dorm to the SMS campus and meet me in the SMS Standard office, and from there we’d go to work at Bonanza or hang out for the evening before I drove her back to the BBC girls’ dorm — all of which flew in the face of her college rules. Because she was not supposed to be out with a boy most nights, I routinely dropped Dee off a half-block from the dorm, then followed slowly in my car as she walked the rest of the way. I doubt we were fooling anyone, but we were trying.
At about the same time as Dee and I began our whirlwind romance, the Dallas County draft board let me know I was being reclassified 1-A. Juggling work and the student newspaper job, I hadn’t carried enough hours to retain my student deferment. I would soon be hearing from Uncle Sam. That didn’t leave much time for courtship.
Dee left BBC and over the next couple of months rented two different rooms near SMS. In the same time period, I moved from one house to another near campus.
I don’t recall a storybook proposal or the exact sequence of events in January, but by February we were making wedding plans. A lot was happening at the same time. Certain I would be drafted, I’d visited with recruiters and settled on joining the U.S. Air Force but hadn’t yet signed the papers. I went back the day Uncle Sam’s “Greetings” came in the mail and inked delayed enlistment papers. I was to leave for basic training in May.
Meanwhile, Dee and I went to Zale’s on the Springfield square to pick out engagement and wedding rings. We also called my Mom, a medical technologist at Cox Hospital, to see if she would meet us in the coffee shop. I’m not sure of the exact date, but I recall the precise moment I knocked over my coffee cup and Mom asked, “Well, are you married or planning to get married?” I didn’t think I’d given a hint of what we had to tell her, but I reckon she had it figured out even before we did. Moms are smart that way.
We talked about a traditional June wedding, but that was too far away; besides, I didn’t want to wait until after basic training. We talked to our preacher and settled on March 6, then set about making all the plans and arrangements ourselves. Traditional notions of what each family was to pay for were meaningless. Dee’s dad had died when she was 14 and her mom still was raising two of her six children on a widow’s income back in Sioux Falls. I had long been making my own way and didn’t figure on anything from my folks, either. I still had two brothers at home, too, as well as one living with me at college.
None of that mattered. It was our wedding, and no one else’s.
It was on a cold, Saturday night we said our vows before a couple of hundred friends and family at Lakeview Baptist on Grant Street Road, among them Dee’s mother, who I met for the first time just a day before the wedding.
It was spitting snow as we loaded gifts in the trunk of my 1963 Ford and headed down the road we would share for the next 23 years.
The ensuing months would take us a thousand miles or more from our Midwestern roots and families, often find us almost penniless, but never desperate or alone as long as we had one another. It was, in a word, the first great adventure of my life, the first great love.
Many miles and two children later, down both smooth and rocky roads, under both sunny and stormy skies all families experience, our journey came to an end on Sept. 30, 1994, in the house I yet make my home with another I love as dearly. The last few miles were the most difficult, as we faltered under the weight of losing a daughter and Dee’s body was weakened by cancer.
Yet, in retrospect I count even that suffering all gain if that’s what it took to share more than two decades of my youth with my beautiful South Dakota bride.
Hamilton is a freelance writer in Buffalo. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.