Engagement Day

Fifty-nine years ago today, on April 14, 1964, Linda and I became engaged.

Back on January 30 of that year, the spring semester of our senior year at Wheaton College, we had talked about getting married. But I was not ready to say yes. I told Linda I would tell her when I was. 

On a Tuesday evening in the middle of April, we went to the library to study together. Here is Linda’s account of what happened, which I found only a few months ago at the end of the journal she wrote for a course in creative writing she had taken the previous semester.

Engagement Day April 14, 1964

“A cool night in April. The sky was a rich blue, and a few bright stars were sprinkled through it. The slender crescent moon was clear and white.

“Under these beautiful heavens, as brilliant and fresh as the springtime below them, Cliff asked me to promise to marry him, and I whispered ‘Yes’ from my heart.

“I had felt lonely for Cliff while we were studying. It wasn’t the loneliness of separation, but rather that yearning to belong to the one you love. I wrote Cliff a note. A few minutes later, he asked me to take a walk. Of all the silly things, I said he didn’t have to! We did go for a walk—we walked to front campus, and under the stars with pines and tamaracks reaching far above us, he proposed and we pledged our love to each other for the rest of our lives.”

Afterwards, we went back to the library to study. (We were both study nerds!! Linda got all A’s except for a couple of A–’s.) But we could not study very well. We wrote each other notes, and we wrote out an Engagement Day pledge:

“I promise to marry you, Cliff, and to love you always . . . I promise to take care of you. . . .”

And below this:

“I give my promise to marry you, Linda. I promise to love you forever. . . . I promise to love you better as we grow and live together. . . .”

We signed our first names, Linda’s above mine, and she drew a heart around them.

I did not, however, have a ring I could give to Linda. I was broke. I don’t think I had more than six or seven dollars in my pocket at a time. I skimped on lunches and suppers, which I ate in the Stupe on campus, so as to make it through the semester. (I lost some weight because of that.) Becoming engaged could not wait for money!!

During the last week of classes, though, Linda and I went to the student center to pick up our mail. I had a letter from my great uncle Albert. Why was he writing me, I wondered. I had never met him. 

Linda was beside me when I opened the letter. Out popped a check for $100. My first reaction was to exclaim, “Oh, boy! Now I can buy you a ring!!!” Linda’s eyes glistened as she got a huge smile on her face.

We went to a jewelry store in Chicago, by train, that had advertised in the student newspaper. On June 4, 1964, I paid $90 for a modest ring, plus $9.00 and $2.70 in taxes. (I don’t know where I got the extra $1.70 or money for train fare.)

Linda wore the ring until the day she died this past August 5, 2022, just sixteen days short of our having been married for fifty-seven years. At some point before she died, she said, out of the blue, “You can have my rings.” They are now in a little, round, decorative, wood box, along with a snippet of her hair. It sits on a small table at the end of the living room couch, where I often sit when I read.

I am deeply thankful for all those years with her.

Posted April 14, 2023

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