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CFOR303/PSYC303 Marriage and Family Fall Semester 2016, Distance Education Instructor: Hiob Ngirachimoi, Lead Instructor: Howa...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Plain text version of Howard &Kathy's story,

How A Guy Like Me Was Able to Marry a Girl Like That

I first met Kathleen Marsceau when I was in third grade.  (If you want to hear me tell my story, accompanied by a few illustrations, click here) to continue reading click the link below.

My mom, my siblings, and I had been attending church about five or six miles away from our home.  Since my dad generally didn’t attend church with us, mom didn’t drive, and Dad had to work on some Sundays, Mom decided to start taking us to a church about a mile from our house.  Kathy was the pastor’s oldest child.  As a third-grader I had no interest in the red-headed second-grader.  Over the next few years we became friends.  It was a small church so we were often in the same Sunday School classes, etc.  Even when I began to look at girls “differently,” I had no romantic interest in Kathy.  She was just the preacher’s kid.
An interesting detour, at this point in our lives:  I think it was when I was in eighth-grade and Kathy in seventh, we both sang in a choir.  Kathy had taken piano lessons and had been encouraged to sing all during her growing-up years and so was quite musical.  I had an OK voice and enjoyed singing but there was a problem.  My thirteen-year old voice had not yet changed in the fall of 1963.  I sang soprano.  Kathy is a natural alto.  Other girls in the choir had even deeper voices than hers.  I was somewhat embarrassed to be singing ”La,la, la,” when these girls, including Miss Marsceau, were singing “La, la la.”  I quit.  I didn’t sing in a choir again until my second year in college.  I stopped short of becoming a bass, I sang tenor.  Kathy was in the same group and was still an alto, so all worked out OK.
Before I noticed what a lovely young woman the preacher’s daughter had become, the love of my life was Donna Swagmann; unfortunately, or so I thought at the time, I didn’t prove to be the love of her life.

(Cue the music to the Girl from Ipanema. 

Donna was tall, I’m guessing about five-foot, ten inches, and, Oh, I thought she was so lovely, and when she walked by I said, “AHH.”
For me it was “Tall and tan and young lovely, the girl from Mozart Street goes walking.”
Donna had long hair that would partly cover one eye, when it drooped down.  Though it was long before she had been drawn, it was kind of like Jessica Rabbit’s, and when it drooped down like that, she used this little toss of her head to put it back in place.  I thought that was about the cutest thing I had ever seen.  I had a Honda 50 Sport, a little motorcycle that was barely more than a moped.  I used to ride it to Donna’s house every chance I got.  That winter we had the biggest snowstorm of my childhood, it shut school down for at least a week.  I remember Donna and I getting out and walking in it.  I walked her home, she didn’t want to see me leave so she walked back toward my house with me.  We got down to the end of her street, and when she turned around to go home, I didn’t want to see her go, so I walked back to her house. 
About now would be a good time to say “Awww.” 
She sent me a card about then.  It was written so when you read the words it sounded like a little child saying,
“I like you better than chock-lat covered grab-crackers. 
And I like chock-lat covered grab crackers a lot.”  
Nobody had ever compared me to graham crackers, much less with chocolate on top.  I was smitten. 
Soon, though, I didn’t hear from Donna.  She had started hanging out with an older man—he was at least eighteen, and he owned a pick-up truck—Alan Hahn.  The rest of Sergio Mendes’s ode to the lovely girl from the beach in Brazil came crashing down on me:
“Yes I would give my heart gladly,
But each day, when she walks to the sea
She looks straight ahead, not at me”
For at least two days I purposely rode my Honda around with no glasses on.  That way people couldn’t tell whether it was Donna or the wind from the bike that was causing my tears. 
One day I rode the little Honda over to Kathy’s house.  It was only about a quarter of a mile from Donna’s.  What a Romantic setting, as I remember Kathy was taking the trash out.  I asked her to go with me to a big banquet that our fellowship of churches had every spring as an event for teens.  It was a big deal.  Girls wore formal dresses and the guys would often rent tuxedos.  Kathy turned me down.  It seems another guy, Danny, had asked her to go.  Kathy didn’t want to go with him and had turned him down.  She told me that she was concerned that if she went with me it would hurt his feelings.  Danny was a friend of mine, but I would gladly have seen his feelings get hurt. 
The next time that banquet came around my little brother and I spent the day cleaning up my dad’s 65 Pontiac.  It was beautiful, but not nearly as pretty as Kathy.  We were really disappointed that we had to leave that car in the driveway and ride to the big event with Kathy’s parents and her little sister.  In spite of the lack of wheels we had a nice evening. 
That was the only “date” I had with Kathy for more than a year.
Kathy’s folks had decided that they didn’t want her to date me.  There were several reasons:
·         She is the oldest child in her family.  Unmarried guys, just know that no one is ever good enough for a man’s daughter.  When she is his first-born, even more so.
·         No doubt I didn’t handle myself as well as I should. There were good reasons why a man who loved his daughter might not have wanted her to marry me, or even date me.
·         Part of the opposition that Kathy’s dad had toward her building a relationship with me was based on prejudice.  My family is from the South, Kathy’s from the North. 
I hung in there.
When a guy goes away to college, my observation is that the life expectancy of the girl back home is about six weeks.  There was no internet, no email, and no cellphones.  In fact the only phone available for we guys to use was a pay-phone down the hall.  Not only did you have to pay to use it, you had to wait in line.  And then on the other end Kathy’s folks didn’t want her talking to me.
We wrote regularly.  When I would get a letter from Kathy I would vault up into the top bunk, where I slept, and hungrily read it.  Often I’d read it again.  That year Kathy became my younger sisters’ piano teacher.  My mom had a picture of me on top of the piano.  I’m told that piano lessons often included crying sessions, because all three of them missed me.
I didn’t get to come home very much.  On the few occasions when I did, we managed to get together for some group events, and I’d hang out at Kathy’s house as much as I could, but our opportunities were still severely limited. 
Let me interject, at this point that from the spring of 1967, when I first asked Kathy out, until the summer of 1972 when we were married, we were apart a lot.  During the 68-69 school year I was in College in West Virginia and she was finishing high school in Illinois.  During the summer of 70 I was doing an internship in Pennsylvania, and Kathy was on tour with a music team, then back home in Illinois.  In the 71-72 year, Kathy was ­­­­­­­ still at ABI in WV and I was at Baptist Bible in PA.  Still no cellphone or internet.  I stayed in Pennsylvania through most of Christmas break so I could work.  I developed a great liking for a John Denver tune.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vrEljMfXYo.  Even when we were home, and only lived about a mile apart, our opportunities to see each other were still quite limited, so during the five years just before our marriage, we were probably apart more than we were together, in the usual dating sense of being together.  Not being able to be together as much as we wanted to be, or as much as most of our friends were able to be with their romantic interests, was hard—sometimes it was very hard—but it was good.  Being apart forced us to build the foundation of our relationship on spiritual realities and not physical attraction.  In those days Appalachian Bible Institute had a strict “no physical contact” rule.  We kids called it the “six inch rule.”  Dating couples could only be together on Friday nights, for about half an hour on Wednesdays, and Sunday afternoons.  We got pretty good at “just happening” to walk down the hall when we thought the other one might be headed that way. 
To get back to the chronological record, in the fall of 69 Kathy joined me at ABI.  For the first six weeks of the semester new students—that would be Kathy—couldn’t date.  It sure felt good, sometime in October, to go up to Des Plaines Hall and walk Kathy over to the dining room for Friday night supper.  For the first time we were able to be together without anyone telling us we should be apart.  It was wonderful. 
Shortly after that Kathy broke up with me. 
I was quite convinced that I should marry Kathleen Marsceau.  She wasn’t convinced she ought to marry Howard Merrell. 
It works best if you marry each other.
Two interesting stories (at least interesting to me) about this time:
Because of the rules we lived under and our personal standards, I had never kissed Kathy.  The trip from ABI back to our home town was about twelve hours by car.   Neither of us had a car so our options were limited.  On this trip, Kathy and I ended up sitting in the back seat of a car, side by side, for a number of hours.  A couple of months before I would have loved to have been in that position.  No six inches between us here!  We weren’t mad at each other or anything, in fact we were friends, but being in that position with someone that I wanted to be romantic with, yet couldn’t, was awkward, to say the least.  To make things even more interesting, it was snowing.  The roads were quite slick.  Paul, who was driving at the time, was having trouble keeping the car under control.  It was dark.  I whispered in Kathy’s ear, “If it looks like we are going to have a wreck, I’m going to kiss you before I die.”  I was slightly encouraged by the fact that she didn’t slap me or object too much.  Shortly after that the car slid off the road and Paul was driving us down a ditch, like a sled going down a bobsled run.  I was so scared that I forgot to kiss Kathy.  That had to wait a while.
Kathy may not have smacked me when I vowed to kiss her before I died, but she still wasn’t ready to give herself to me.  When we returned to school we began acting like people who were no longer going together.  For one thing there was the Christmas Banquet.  We weren’t going with each other, so I asked Joyce to go with me, and Kathy did the girl thing and let it be known that it would be OK if a guy other than me asked her out.  She ended up going with Neil.  About then my roommate—a guy committed to “playing the field”--and I constructed a device for deciding which lovely lady we were going to date next—a spinner made from a paper-plate & a piece of cardboard. 
At Christmas break Kathy and I were back at our parent’s homes.  We went separately, but we both ended up at our old high school to attend a concert.  We ended up taking a walk together.  It was a setting every bit as romantic as the garbage can meeting of a couple of years before, right outside the auto-mechanics shop.  I think Kathy took my hand and looked at me.  She said, “I can’t go on like this anymore.”
“Would you like to go for a ride?”
She said, “Yes.”
I had that same ’65 Pontiac that I had cleaned up for that date that hadn’t gone as planned.  I’m not sure how I kept that car in the road because I never looked where I was going.  My focus was on the lovely Miss Marsceau, who had just said, “I can’t go on like this.”  My list of who I was going to ask out when I got back to school vanished.  My mind’s paraphrase of what I heard Kathy say played in my head like a symphony, “SHE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT ME!”
I’m going to jump forward about twenty-five years at this point.  Kathy and I were once again sitting side-by-side in a vehicle.  She was in the middle of my pickup truck, I was driving, and our younger son, Chris, was riding “shotgun.”  It was toward the end of Chris’s senior year in high school.  He had been dating a cute little athletic gal, named Nancy, for quite a while.  He loved her.  He knew that in a few months he would be at Cedarville College in Ohio and that Nancy would be at University of Virginia.  He had seen his older brother and others go off to school.  He knew the life expectancy of the girl—or the boy—back home.  He was struggling.
I swallowed hard and told him, “Chris, you have to decide whether you want somebody else now, or Nancy later.  It is a matter of commitment.”  Kathy and I liked Nancy.  We trusted Chris, but those were frightening words.  I was proposing something that I knew could lead to what actually did happen, that Chris would marry Nancy.  Was that a decision that a high school senior ought to be making?
Back in our time, Kathy was still struggling with that decision.   She was attracted to me, but there were other guys that she found attractive, as well.  There were many reasons that other guys were attracted to Kathy, not the least of which was that most of them had good eye-sight.  How could she commit to me when she was attracted to other guys?  (I don’t want to give you the idea that Kathy went around lusting after every hunk she saw.  She didn’t.  But, she had spent time with some Godly young men and enjoyed her time with them.)
Fortunately, especially for me, Kathy did some office work for Bill Kennedy, Dean of students and a capable Bible teacher.  She sought his counsel and he told her that attraction was not the main point.  Love, and therefore loving relationships, are based on commitment. 
Our relationship grew.  Kathy was willing to commit to go forward with me.  Which gave me the opportunity that I wanted.  Obviously, she couldn’t resist my charms. 
I saw in Kathy a wonderful package.  She was (and is) beautiful in this soft, somewhat innocent sort of way.  The word is overused and misused, but I found her (and still find her) to be “sexy.”  Since way back when she was in high school, I had seen in her a powerful love for others, even others who weren’t all that lovely.  I remember watching her as she did visitation at a nursing home.  The way she reached out to those old folk with kindness and respect, impressed me deeply.  I saw an inner beauty in her that matched what I saw on the outside.  I can honestly say that I tried to not make this the basis of our relationship, but not only was my love for Kathleen Marsceau growing, but my desire for her was increasing.  I wanted her.
One thing that was not growing, however, was her parents—in particular her dad’s—acceptance of me.  If anything his opposition to my continued courtship of his daughter had increased.  There was an odd mix.  If you had asked Pastor Marsceau--that’s what I called him--“What would you like for a young man from your church to do to impact his world for the Gospel?”  His answer would have been pretty much what I was doing.  Likewise, I think if you had asked him, “What kind of man do you want your daughter to marry?”  I think with the exception of where my family was from, and a few other minor points, the description he was looking for resembled the resume’ I was building.  As I have said several times, I hung in there.  My tenacity became an irritant.  Kathy’s dad just wanted me to go away and leave his daughter, and them alone.  Obviously, my motives were not completely pure.  Samson famously said about the woman he wanted to marry, “Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well” (Judges 14:3, KJV).  No doubt, Kathy pleased me well.  In Twentieth Century America, however, parents didn’t “get” a wife for their son.  I had to do that myself.  And I was determined to do that.  There was, probably, also another motivation at work here.  I wanted to win.  In spite of our disagreement over his daughter, I respected my pastor, Kathy’s dad, but concerning this matter one of us was going to win and the other lose.  Either Kathy was going to become Mrs. Howard Merrell, or she would be married to someone else.  I was determined to win, or more accurately I couldn’t stand the thought of losing.
Years before this, back when I was in high school, I had come to the conclusion that if there was any one area of my life that I didn’t want to mess up, this was it.  Don’t mess up the relationship with the woman you marry.  (I put an account of how I first came to this commitment at the end of the week 5 lesson, “What I Learned in the Locker Room.”)  This was long before Joshua Harris (the author of one of our text books had “Kissed Dating Good Bye.”  Even though the Courtship Movement had not yet been invented, I believed, and was committed to one of its foundational principles—that is that fathers have a prime responsibility for overseeing and ensuring the welfare of their unmarried daughters.  I still believe that.  I don’t have any daughters, but I have five granddaughters, and I want my sons to care for them and guide their relationships.
I’ll be honest; there is room for disagreement, here.  I was, however, absolutely sincere in what I was trying to doI wanted to marry Kathy and was convinced that it was good for me to move in that direction.  This was a conclusion that was reinforced by the observation of a number of Godly people, some considerably older than us.  While Kathy was behind me in coming to the point of full commitment, and the opposition of her parents impacted her far more than it did me, there was a growing conviction in her heart that she should become my wife.  How could I, how could we, move toward marriage—something we wanted to do, and felt was right—while at the same time honoring the parental authority that we believed the Bible teaches?  This was my conclusion:  As long as Kathy’s parents continued to oppose our marriage, and she remained a part of their household, I would not marry her.  What that meant in our thinking was that if her folks continued to oppose our union then Kathy would take responsible steps to become independent of her parents.  When she was living on her own and supporting herself, then I would marry her.  Some may say that this was just young-love-romanticism.  Perhaps, but even after almost half a century of reflection, I don’t think so.  One thing is clear, we were determined to do what was right.  You may disagree with our conclusion about what was right, but we were determined to honor God as we moved ahead.  An important part of that determination was our commitment to obey God and honor Him in the way we conducted ourselves toward one another physically.  I, by this time I think I can say “we,” wanted each other, but more, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t mess this up.  (We’ll talk about this some more in a later lesson.)
Be watching, the conclusion I just stated, worded in an unfortunate way, will show up again in my story.

This was a time of growing love and intensifying conflict.  It wasn’t that we were fighting, we seldom did, but the opposition from Kathy’s parents intensified.  Since Kathy’s dad had long before concluded it was useless for him to oppose me directly, all the opposition was channeled directly toward Kathy.  It was hard.  Looking back over the blessing of being married to Kathy for forty-four years, I am very thankful, that she was willing to work through that hard time.  As I watched Kathy grow, I was more convinced than ever that I wanted this woman to be my wife.
On a late winter/early spring warm day in 1971, out in front of the girl’s dorm, I asked Kathy.  “If I ask you to marry me, would you say “Yes”?  She looked at me with those beautiful green eyes and said, “YES.”  To which I replied, “I just wanted to know.”  I had taken an off-campus job to pay off I debt caused by one of my foolish escapades.  I stayed on at the Dr. Pepper plant, after my debt was paid, so I could save money to buy Kathy a ring.  So, I suppose you could say her diamond is made out of old pop-bottles.  We finished that school year, I graduated, and we immediately left on a two week choir tour.  The tour that spring took the choir to the area around our home.  Our first concert was only about twenty miles from our hometown, so I made arrangements with our choir director to leave before the rest of group, go home, and then meet the choir in time to help set up for the concert.  I shared my intentions with Mr. Shepherd, the choir director,­­ and a couple of other trusted friends.  I asked them to pray for me as I went to talk to Kathy’s dad, and ask for the hand of his daughter in marriage.  I wrote to Pastor Marsceau, and told him I was coming, and why I was coming.  The schedule was tight, so I basically drove all night to get there.  The next day when I enquired at Kathy’s home, I was disappointed, and somewhat angered to find out that he wasn’t home.  He had gone fishing.  I can’t remember, it was several days or maybe a week later, that I was able to talk to Kathy’s dad.  It was tense, to say the least.  I made my request. 
He replied, “What are you going to do if I say ‘no’?”
In a response that has to go down in history as one of the most poorly phrased statements imaginable I said, “You’ll slow me down, but you won’t stop me.”  I knew what I meant, by now you do as well, but I am sure my words did not communicate that I was struggling to do right.  Rather they must have sounded to him, like the brash words of a head-strong young man, who unfortunately, from her dad’s perspective, was in love with his daughter.  I don’t recall that I ever heard him say why he went on to respond as he did; it wasn’t a scene that either of us wanted to revisit, but he gave me a reply that was a reluctant yes, and clearly not a no.  I’m still smiling.
When we returned from tour, Kathy and I had only a short time before we needed to go on to our summer assignments.  She was going on tour with a college music group and I was headed home to work for the summer.  We had a wonderful day or two together.  The Dr. Pepper ring had arrived.  I asked the question and she said yes.  Since school was out, Kathy was staying at an older friend’s apartment, and I was now a graduate, we were not under school rules for those few hours.  We walked around campus and kissed each other in every place we could think of, in the library, the laundry room, out in the yard, wherever we wanted. 
About fourteen months later I stood before an assembly of friends and family, and made my vows to Kathy.  She did the same.  We heard Kathy’s Dad, our pastor, say, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

I can’t say that we have live happily ever after, but mostly so.  We are very grateful for what God has done in our lives.

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