Rose and Jim, married 50 years.
We spent yesterday evening at the Denton Country Club celebrating the golden wedding anniversary of family friends.
Fifty years is a long time. Not a lot of marriages enjoy that kind of longevity, for one reason or another. Sometimes love fades. Sometimes people grow apart, or problems that were insignificant at first begin to grow like a cancer. And sometimes the Unexpected Visitor comes a-calling. But none of these problems (keyn ayin hara) had befallen Rose and Jim.
Rose and Jim - like me and SWMBO - are a Geographically Diverse Couple. She came from the wilds of the Bronx, he from the open spaces of Texas, and they met thanks to the good offices of Mike, one of Jim’s Army buddies, back in 1953. Seems Mike had been trying to set up Jim up with his sister Rose for some time, and Jim was dragging his feet. Then, one weekend, the two of them were to go out on a double date, and Mike’s girlfriend failed to line up a date for Jim. Perhaps that had been the plan all along; in any case, Rose got drafted for the job. The rest, as they say, is history.
Shortly afterward, Jim got sent to Desert Rock, Nevada, where the U.S. Army was conducting yet another in a series of above-ground atomic bomb tests. Operation Upshot-Knothole, this was, and the objective was to see how combat could be conducted on an atomic battlefield. Soldiers would sit in trenches less than 5,000 feet from ground zero as an atomic bomb would be set off. They would then jump out of the trenches and run toward Ground Zero. Jim was one of those soldiers, and in his pocket he carried a letter from Rose.
April 1953: Test BADGER, one of the Upshot-Knothole series. Imagine being less than 5,000 feet away...
Back then, the Army and the AEC were less than candid about the risks attendant upon exposure to radioactivity. The soldiers at Desert Rock were never given a choice, never told about what might happen to their germ plasm. It was all about fighting the Commies in those days, and many of these soldiers contributed their lives to the cause, dying of various mysterious cancers many years after Upshot-Knothole was a faded memory. Not only soldiers. One of the Upshot-Knothole tests sent fallout drifting over St. George, Utah, where John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and Agnes Moorehead would shortly afterward film The Conqueror, in which the Duke played a young Genghis Khan (!) in what may have been his worst film ever. He, Hayward, Moorehead, and at least 88 others of the 220 people of the cast and crew later succumbed to cancers that were very likely caused by radiation from that fallout. Unlike the Duke et al., Jim was lucky: He survived, although he would never sire children.
After Jim was mustered out of the Army, he and Rose got married. It was shortly after that when they met Bill and Ceil, SWMBO’s parents. They became fast friends. And eventually, Rose and Jim had a happy, chaotic house full of kids...all adopted, of course.
Alas, Bill did not live to see Rose and Jim celebrate this occasion. He’s been gone 21 years now...and this evening made his absence hurt all the more keenly. I watched as SWMBO and her brother Morris William clutched each other in a tearful embrace, happy for Rose and Jim but wishing their Daddy were here to celebrate with them.
There was dinner, and there was dancing...and there was Jim, telling the story of how he and Rose met. And then he pulled a faded letter out of his pocket, the same letter that he had carried with him into the heart of the atomic mushroom cloud. It was the letter Rose had sent him, 54 years ago. And I thought I could see it glow just a little...with a half-century of love.