The 1987 Flanders Family Update
Okay, I admit it. We didn’t actually send a Christmas update the first year we were married. We were too busy going to school, planning a wedding, and keeping house to think about recording any highlights from that moment in time for the sake of our posterity. But now, some twenty years later, we’ve compiled our recollections of those days so that our family history might be complete.
January of 1987 began as have so many years that followed—with a resolution to get more exercise. To that end, Doug and Jennifer both joined President’s Health Club. It was really just an excuse to spend time together, since we were still pretending that we didn’t date. Neither of us needed to lose weight: Doug was a rail at 6’3″ and 160 lbs, and Jennifer had already shed the pounds she’d gained in college (they fell off as soon as she graduated and moved out of the dorms, away from the greasy meals served in the school cafeteria).
It’s just as well that weight loss wasn’t the goal, as there was a Dunkin Donuts across the street from the health club, and we stopped in after every workout to split an assorted dozen. We’d sit in the parking lot feasting on apple fritters and chocolate éclairs while reading the works of Charles Spurgeon, debating the points of Calvinism, comparing our views on family planning, discussing the merits of home schooling, and evaluating all the exciting possibilities that the future spread before us.
School was back in full swing by February. Doug was working on his bachelor’s degree at Dallas Baptist and waiting tables at Café Acapulco. Jennifer was working on her master’s at SMU and teaching business calculus labs. The separation seemed almost unbearable. Doug would sometimes skip his own classes to come sit in on Jennifer’s, partly because he missed her, partly to stake his claim. When one young man under Jennifer’s tutelage kept bringing her roses (hoping to improve his grade), Doug told him in no uncertain terms that such behavior would not be tolerated. “She may not have a ring on her finger yet, but it’s just a matter of time….”
The time came sooner than expected, when we went to Corpus Christi the following month to visit Doug’s grandparents. As soon as we told them we were planning to marry, Nanny reached over and patted Jennifer on the knee. “Then we’d better get the ring sized,” she enthused, slipping the wedding set off her own finger and dropping it at Taylor Brothers that very afternoon. It was ready on March 18th, and Doug formally proposed on bended knee in his grandparents’ living room that evening. Nanny and Poppy served as witnesses and provided what coaching they deemed necessary. (Incidentally, Doug’s grandmother was not ringless for long. She soon selected a replacement that looked just like the one she gave away, only her new diamond was bigger and set in platinum).
Our excitement mounted in April when we were chosen as contestants for The Nearly-Wed Game at a “Bridal Event” hosted by Macy’s Department Store. We were certain we’d win — after all, we knew everything about each other. Hadn’t we spent the past twelve months baring our souls to one another? Unfortunately, the emcee eschewed philosophical inquiries in favor of frivolous ones, and we finished dead last. We were given a consolation prize to make up for our embarrassingly poor performance: two full sets of monogrammed bath towels (our color choice), plus a $50 gift certificate. First place winners got a tiny clay pot for simmering potpourri.
One of Jennifer’s professors summoned her to his office in May to chastise her for crocheting in class. She’d been doing needlework for years to improve her focus. All through high school, college, and graduate school, not a single teacher had ever called her on it. Now this instructor was commanding her to cease and desist, as he found the habit terribly distracting. Jennifer burst in to tears. “I won’t be able to hear a word you say if I don’t have something to keep my hands busy,” she blubbered. “I’ll be a million miles away — getting married!” Already, her head was full to bursting with cakes and dresses and flowers and invitations and the thousand other details jockeying for her attention. That poor professor hadn’t expected such an emotional response. He stammered an apology, told her not to cry, said he didn’t realize she had “a problem”, and agreed that she could “keep on knitting,” provided she sat in the back of the classroom to do it. So she did.
Doug and Jennifer had been attending EMT school at Baylor University Medical Center on the weekends (another ploy for spending time together). By June, we were both certified as Emergency Medical Technicians. Doug was already working full-time as an ER clerk at Baylor, but promptly took a second job driving an ambulance for the Mesquite Rodeo on the weekends. From his perch beside the starting box, he could lay one hand on the rump of a bull and another atop the television camera that broadcast the event. It was lots of fun — until a rider got stomped. Then it was terrifying.
Jennifer spent the summer working on her wedding dress. When time came for her mother’s family reunion in July, she took scads of re-embroidered lace along with her to Oklahoma. Her aunts sat around the kitchen table all weekend and helped bead it while they visited. Progress had been slow at home, since Jennifer didn’t want Doug to see the dress before the wedding, but did want to spend every possible minute in his company. It took a second solitary week in Madill to get the dress ready for her bridal portraits. Even then, part of the lace was held on by straight pins. (The front motif wasn’t actually sewn on until a couple of hours before she wore it down the aisle).
At long last, Doug met Jennifer at the altar on August 15th. The setting was magnificent: First Baptist Church of Dallas with its stained glass, red carpet, tapered candles, fresh flowers, trailing ivy, and white satin ribbon. The music was incredible: organ, trumpet, violin, a contingent of forty voices from the Dallas Symphony Chorus. The ceremony was inspiring: taking vows, exchanging rings, sharing communion, lighting the unity candle. Yet none of these niceties guaranteed our marriage would endure. As we look back at our wedding pictures and video now, we are struck by how very young we were. What must our family and friends have been thinking as they watched the proceedings that evening? Did they wonder how long we would last? By God’s grace and mercy, our marriage not only survived, it thrived, although we confess there have been a few rough spots along the way.
For starters, there was the honeymoon. Jennifer’s father drove us to the airport, cutting across five lanes of traffic and jumping a median at 70 mph to get us there on time. He nearly missed his exit; we nearly missed the rest of our lives. Transportation woes followed us to Florida. Our vacation package included a rental car, but neither of us was allowed to drive it. Doug had a valid license but wasn’t old enough, Jennifer was old enough but had let her license expire (why renew in April when she’d have to change it again in August?) We ended up taking the hotel shuttle to Epcot and Disney World, then walking everywhere else (which meant, among other things, eating all our meals at a Denny’s across the street). We set aside one day for an ocean voyage, only to discover that was the one day the ship didn’t run. It sailed 364 days a year, including Christmas, but on the third Wednesday of every August, it was dry-docked so that the barnacles could be scraped off its hull. (Is it any wonder that Jennifer would become so compulsive thereafter about making meticulous itineraries for our family vacations?)
After settling into our apartment and starting back to school in September, we found out Jennifer was pregnant. This may explain why the rest of 1987 still seems a little foggy. Her morning sickness wasn’t bad, but the fatigue was overpowering. From sun-up to sun-down, all she could think about was sleep. That fixation didn’t set so well with Doug, whose mind was preoccupied with another consuming thought. Working two jobs and going to school full time hadn’t made a dent in his energy level.
By October, we were forced to face the facts: Dirty dishes don’t wash themselves. We could have made short work of the stack in our sink had we tackled them right away, but after procrastinating for six weeks, we had to deal with mold growing in the bottom of our milk glasses, a swarm of midges hovering over the mound, and a sour stench that permeated our entire kitchen. It was gross, but we learned our lesson: wash up immediately or, better yet, eat out.
November took us back to Corpus Christi to spend Thanksgiving with Doug’s family. We had planned to spend Christmas with Jennifer’s, but received word the following week that her Papa had passed away quite unexpectedly. It made us wish we’d alternated the other way around. We were shocked by the news and grieved to think that our children would not know their great-grandpa this side of heaven.
By December, Jennifer had almost finished writing the thank you notes for all our wedding gifts. Almost, but not quite. It would be another two months before she wrote the last one, for an Anchor Hocking storage set which had no enclosure. We never mailed that final note, because we never found out who gave us the gift. Nor did we mail holiday newsletters that first year, though we did send greeting cards to a handful of friends and family, which simply said: We hope you have a Merry Christmas.
Doug and Jennifer Flanders