BY NORBERT RUG
Last Friday, my wife Donna and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. A half-century ago, we were a pair of young, clueless kids. We went out into the world with everything we owned in the back of a Volkswagen “beetle” and drove 500 miles from home to establish a life of our own in Newport, Rhode Island. If it weren’t for wedding presents, we wouldn’t have had enough money for gas to get to Newport, which was my ship’s home port while I was in the Navy.
We first moved into a fleabag motel. Living there was depleting our funds quickly so we scoured the want ads in the local papers, looking for a cheap apartment. We didn’t have much money but we had our love to keep us going.
Then a shipboard buddy told us about some inexpensive apartments in Fall River, Massachusetts, just across the state line. We moved into this welfare development where your rent was based on your income. I was earning $64 a month back then. Our rent was $32 a month. Fortunately, our rent included heat and electricity. After I paid the rent, I had $8 a week left over for our phone bill, food, gasoline, and auto insurance. Heaven forbid my car would break down. All the money we had left from our wedding went into cheap, pressed wood furniture. We still have some of that furniture today.
We were living without the benefit of family nearby so we had no safety net and we had to do whatever it took on our own to survive. We learned more about self-dependence than we had ever known. It made us reliant on each other.
I was proud of Donna the first time I went to sea. She didn’t go home to her parents. The apartment we shared was now home to her, and with the help of a few friends who were close to us, she was able to stay in our place. I am thankful to our next-door neighbors, Millie and her family, for helping Donna out. Tony, Millie’s youngest, would spend more time at our house than his own keeping Donna company.
One of my friends, Cole, a boson’s mate and mountain of a man, would check in on her to see if she was OK during my absences and if she needed anything.
The neighbors would share their food with us and showed us how to apply for a monthly allotment of surplus food that the state gave to low-income people. Every month we would have a food exchange in the common area of the complex. We would meet up with whatever free food we didn’t want and swap it for food we did.
It was during this time we had two of our children. How crazy were we to do this, I don’t know. We figured, “How expensive would it be to have children?” Of course, this was in the days of cloth diapers, rubber pants and diaper pails.
As I look back on those times, I have to wonder just how we made it. Foolish as we were, we managed to survive. We were from the generation that believed when you made a promise, you kept it.
I think often about how much in love we were. How our marriage was made stronger by having to make it on our own in the early years. How we couldn’t run home to our parents when we had differences of opinion. How I learned the four phrases that helped keep us together: “Yes dear,” “You are right,” “I understand,” and most importantly, “I love you.”
Now, 50 years later, I think about all the problems we overcame together, standing back to back with our guns drawn, ready to take on whatever came at us.
I now send my wife a cheesy text every morning, professing my love for her to make her smile and to let her know that I am thinking about her. I also try to keep fresh flowers in the house just because. She is the best thing that ever happened to me and I love her with all my soul.
The first time I saw her, my heart whispered: “That’s the one.” Imagining my life without her is impossible and I am so lucky to be able to spend it with her.
Norb Rug is a writer from Lockport. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org where he welcomes comments.
As appearing in The Niagara Falls Gazette and The Lockport Union Sun and Journal, 8/11/2019.