Ken said he always wanted to meet someone new ‘by accident’ and on September 10, 1961 he got his wish. I’d moved to Racine that June to join my sister, and that fall Marlene and I were both invited to weddings back home. The cheapest mode of transportation those days was train or bus, but little did we realize that both were about to be affected by major strikes and we would not have a way home!
Our Dad offered to drive us back and return to work the following morning but the thought of him chain-sawing trees the next day after no sleep nixed that idea. The only mode of transportation left that could get us back to work on time was a plane. Panic does not make for clear thinking – at least in our family – and so we quickly booked the airline tickets, without realizing the plane would land 35 miles from home.
We’d packed identical outfits because although I was 17 and underage, my sister at 21 was often mistaken as my twin and we’d discovered we could stay out after curfew by having Marlene drive so she would be the one asked for ID when we were stopped. It worked beautifully. I only got a flashlight glare and never was asked for proof of my age. As long as we were going on a plane, we decided to play it up, and wore striped blazers and shoes Ken swears looked like something stolen from Santa’s elves.
It was a blast. Marlene sat on the outside, ordered whatever we wanted, gave her ID, and I simply said make that two. Thus our first experience in the air delivered two giddy dressed-alike and almost look-alike sisters to Mitchell field in Milwaukee. First things first, so we explored every shop and restaurant and arcade – as excited as any first-time traveler to a foreign land, which it seemed like to us country girls. It was only after we picked up our baggage that it occurred we needed a ride home. Frantic phone calls and suspicious mothers ruled out anyone we’d met in the Milwaukee area. Marlene’s friend Jon from Racine knew that Ken had a car and might be willing to come get us. The pay phone’s ringing a few minutes later assured us that Jon, Ken and friend Don were on their way and would meet us by the escalator. There was an escalator? I’d never been on one before…and that is where Ken found me – going up the escalator one last time. “They are here,” Marlene informed me, and I turned to see three grinning fellows looking up from the bottom of the moving stairs. I recognized Marlene’s friend, and of the other two, I said, “I think I’ll marry that one,” pointing to Ken – tall and slim, wearing a white dress shirt, jeans, and black dress shoes with white sport socks.
The fellows invited us for a snack at a nearby restaurant that had tiny booths that fit either two or four. Jon, Marlene and I slid into one of the 4-person booths, then Ken and Don did the “go ahead” – “no, you go ahead” routine until we weren’t sure if both wanted to sit next to me – or neither. Finally Ken said I’ll sit here, and slipped into a half-booth across the aisle, facing us. Constantly I’d, glance up and catch him looking at me, then quickly and shyly ducking his head toward the food. Between talking to the others, I’d try to catch a glimpse of him as well, so he knew I returned his interest. He got up quickly when we went to leave and ushered me to the car, so I sat next to him in the front, and Marlene, feeling protective, slid in the front as well, leaving Jon and Don in the back.
I’m sure it was accidental Ken forgot to fill up the tank before they left Racine to pick us up, and consequently run out of gas a few minutes later. It was dark by then and the ‘back seat boys’ offered to go find gas so Ken could stay and protect the ladies. Once we were on the road again, Ken and I moved to adjust the radio at the same time, and our hands touched. Electricity! I wondered if that was really how Edison discovered it.
A week later Ken called for our first date, and we saw each other almost daily after that, frequently walking near the lake and past the downtown stores. One Saturday night a month later, I had my hair in rollers when Ken called and suggested a walk. I tied a scarf over the bristled curlers and we parked the car downtown and walked to the beach. On the way back to the car we passed a jewelry store with a very gaudy $29 set of rings featured in the window display. We were laughing and joking that for only $29 a couple could begin a new life together, when the door opened and a sales lady asked if she could show us anything. Ken raised his brows at me, and I gamely said, “Sure, the sparkly $29 set in the window!” Of course we both felt it was too gaudy and I expected to leave as she removed the set from my hand, but she turned to Ken and asked if he would like to see some simpler rings. His quiet agreement shocked me. Stunned, I continued to try on various rings, until the clerk apologized that the store was about to close. I sighed with relief thinking we hand an excuse to end our ‘game’, but she again turned to Ken asking, “Would you like to hold any of these on layaway?” I almost fainted when he said, “Yes” and pointed to the single diamond and gold band I still wear today – 49 years later.
We walked out of the store in stunned silence. We were both apparently asking our selves what had just happened. Did we just get engaged? We talked about anything else on the way home, and it wasn’t until the beginning of December that Ken told me the rings were off layaway. He gave me the ring December 4th, and we were married the following April. We had a lovely wedding and honeymoon, which included an accidental side-trip to the Kentucky Derby where we were invited out of the rain to sit in box seats with Colonel Sanders. It wasn’t until four months later, when a co-worker came in starry-eyed and sharing her morning proposal that I realized I’d never been asked. I headed home determined to prove our engagement wasn’t just an accident.
Though I had to agree with Ken that it was a little late, he still got down on his knee that night, and laughingly asked me if we hadn’t gotten accidentally engaged, if I would still have married him.
Though I’d already affirmed at our wedding months prior our belief that we were meant to be together, the giggly belated enactment confirmed our agreement with a quote by Friedrich Schiller:
There is no such thing as chance; and what seem to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny.
James 4:12 God is in charge of deciding human destiny.