She wasn't interested in dating me at first. She thought I was too serious. Arguably, she was right. I was 16 going on 30. Very introspective, a writer of poetry, and not particularly interested in all the things that interest a typical eleventh-grade High School student. I was working two jobs and maneuvering the recent breakup of my parent's marriage. I missed 35 days of school my senior year. It was an unstable situation to be sure.
But she caught my eye, and every time I asked her out she said, "I've got to clean my room this weekend, and clean my closet." I was convinced she had the cleanest closet in Jefferson County, KY, but I was also convinced that she was special, so I continued the pursuit. I finally scored a date and when I arrived to pick her up on my motorcycle I could see the angst in her mother's eyes as we rode away. I had just rebuilt the engine, but apparently unsuccessfully. Two miles down the road, the engine blew. (For you mechanic types, I'd forgotten to put the circlip in the end of the wrist pin when I installed the new pistons and rings).
We walked to my house and I borrowed my mother's '65 Volkswagen Bug. I took Linda to McDonalds, bought lunch and proceeded to find a picnic table in Louisville's Iroquois Park, but we were both too nervous to finish our hamburgers and fries. So it was on to the Louisville Zoo (I know, not too romantic). But it was a gorgeous day and we had a blast. She didn't want me to take her picture (still doesn't), so I chased her around the zoo all day trying to get a good photo with my Kodak Instamatic X-15 camera. I asked her out again a week later. She said "yes" and we went to Jerry's Restaurant on Dixie Highway and had pecan pie (still a favorite), $2.69, beverages included, as I recall.
I had started attending her church a couple of months earlier and joined the Youth Choir. As fate would have it, they positioned me on the risers just a row behind her at a 45 degree angle. This enabled me to watch her (while we sang gospel music) without her knowing it! A secret stalker; I was smitten. I'd never met anyone like her. That's true to this very day, 46 years later. She was, and is, the most selfless person I've ever known. Others-focused to a fault. Never one to seek acclaim, compliments or praise. She serves out of the limelight every day and wouldn't have it any other way. I love her with all my heart, mind and soul. As I often say, she's Jesus with a skirt on. She has taught me more about God than ten seminary classes combined. She makes little gifts all year long for people whom she believes God wants to bless, then sneaks in and delivers them, usually leaving them on the doorstep or in a mailbox. (She wouldn't want me to tell you that, nor any of this, to be candid).
We recently celebrated forty-three years of marriage. They haven't all been easy. I was a piece of work for the first ten or twelve years, angry and a controller. I came to the precipice of exhausting her reservoir of unconditional love; then God broke through and gave me a revelation of how and why I needed to change. It was his perfect timing--an act of grace to restore beauty for ashes and to heal the heart of his beloved daughter, my wife. That was nearly 30 years ago and what a marvelous journey we've had since. (Yes, working through beats walking out).
For a recent anniversary, our kids wanted to do something really special for us--send us on a trip or something. But we so seriously enjoy every single day together that we can't really fathom needing to go somewhere to be any happier than we are right here! And since every day is special, we really don't ever feel like there's a "special" day that's any different than any other day. (I hope many other couples experience this too).
So...43 down and only the Lord knows how many we have left. But whatever the number, each will continue to be a gift from God...a testimony to the power of sacrificial and unconditional love...and an ocean of kindnesses shared and lessons learned. This I know: I am a blessed man. I won the wife lottery, and later the "kids" lottery. I serve at a wonderful church, have great friends and good health. Yes, we've been in and out of the school of suffering many times, but we've always met Jesus there, and He's taken us by the hand and walked us to the other side of the pain. He does stuff like that for His kids. I'm sure you understand.
Well, onward we go. God alone knows the next chapter, but we'll write the script together. Linda Black...you complete me. Thanks for being you. And thanks for saying "I do" on July 27, 1974. It changed my life.