MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 20 - Graduation – 1962
As the day for the commissioning parade for the class of ‘62’ drew near, Billy was noticeably gloomy since he would not be graduating with his class. He had about 20 hours to make up between missing the second quarter of his freshman year and several classes he dropped failing.
Michael had been born the week before finals, and instead of studying, Billy was pacing the floor waiting for his son to be born. Then once we brought the baby home, a crying, colicky newborn kept him awake at night. Amazingly, he did not fail any of his exams, but if he could have studied more, he would have done much better. His part-time job was far too lucrative and necessary, not just for the paycheck but more for the benefit of discounted groceries. He could not and did not want to give it up. We ate very well because of his job, much better than the other married students did.
I look at photos now of that summer, especially those taken the day of Michael’s christening, and Billy actually looked ‘chubby’ because his face was not as lean and long, but more filled out. I thought he looked even more handsome, but I would have thought that regardless, and knew, as we grew old together, he would always look the same to me – that handsome cadet with the dark hair and deep blue eyes who stole my heart.
He also liked working for Mr. Moore who was kind to both of us. Mrs. Moore had even paid a social call when Michael was born, bringing a gift. Of course we belonged to the First Methodist Church where the Moore family had always been generous benefactors, and as the wife of my husband’s employer, her surprise visit was simply old-fashioned Southern good manners. I remember that day so well because the baby was not very old, and I was still bleeding heavily. I had been sitting in the rocking chair visiting with Mrs. Moore when I heard Michael cry, and wanting to show off our beautiful son, I rose rather suddenly to retrieve him from his bassinet. Suddenly I felt strangely wet, and a large blood clot slipped down my leg onto the floor.
I was humiliated, but this lovely, gracious Southern lady, just said, "Please don’t be embarrassed, I have had babies and I know some things just cannot be helped."
She offered to hold the baby while I cleaned up and all I could think about was what if he threw up on her exquisite silk dress! Thank goodness, he did not and she had even changed his diaper when I came back into the room. At that time, she became one of several role models, and I hoped I could always be as lovely, kind, and gracious as she had been to me that day. We did not see her often but when we did, she always made sure she came over to greet us, and to ask about Michael.
Summer school consisted of cramming as much information as possible into a 2 hr. class and a 1 hr. lab, and after supper, Billy studied late into the night. Often I would slip the book from his hands after he had fallen into a deep sleep, gently wake him just enough to get him to the bedroom where he would almost fall into the bed.
There was not much I could do to help him with his studies, and I was not particularly astute in any of the sciences, but I could and did type his papers. They were gibberish to me, and all the formulas made absolutely no sense at all, but I typed away, careful not to make any errors. Actually, Billy’s grades continued to improve as we both began to adjust to our new role as parents, in spite of him having a part-time job.
One night, while typing another paper, he was staring at me, and all at once he said, "You know, little girl, you are the best thing that has ever happened to me, and now I could not imagine life without you, or our son. In fact, I can barely remember life before you, and that’s good too."
Once he said he became a bit puzzled when someone used the term, A.D. when quoting the date of a historical event, since he often said A.D., to him, meant ‘after Diane’.
Neither of us had functioned very well when we were apart, dwelling on what the other was doing when we should have been concentrating on our tasks. He particularly had a difficult time the short while I moved back to my parent’s house and admitted he had worried that my old boyfriends would call not knowing I was now married. He also worried that his charm could not reach to Sandy Springs and I might decide being married was not what I wanted to be at this moment in my life. Of course, his worries were in vain since my heart belonged to him from that very first kiss, and I never, ever wanted to be with anyone except Billy.
With most of his friends and classmates receiving their commissions in June and leaving for basic officer’s training at various forts all over the United States, I knew for Billy that the campus would be lonely without them. He had roomed with Bill throughout his years at North Georgia, and he and Tommy had been friends for that long too, but I hoped having a wife, and now a son would be some consolation for him, and we were – we had become his new life.
The night before the graduation parade Billy and I went to the Sweetheart Ball while Jimmy and Kay kept Michael. Relieved that I was already down to my pre-birth weight, I was able to wear the expensive white bouffant dress I had worn for my high school senior prom. Billy arrived home from work that evening carrying a white florist’s box that held a yellow rose corsage, although I knew we could not afford it. I fussed a bit, but taking me in his arms, he told me he did not want me to be the only girl there without flowers so he chose my favorite. Lovingly I replied I did not need a corsage to feel special, after all, I would be with him.
Holding me close he whispered in my ear, "Little girl, you always know just what to say to make me fall in love with you all over again."
To which I replied, "Oh, but I have had lessons from the master."
I will have to admit I knew what to say to him, and how to say it, but I meant every word, and in some ways, I could not even find the words that expressed how very much I loved him.
We had a great time at the dance, probably our last formal affair at North Georgia before his commissioning in December. We danced as we always had, his chin resting on the top of my head and my face against his chest while again his heartbeat seemed to beat in time with the music. He held me as closely as he had before we were married, and before we became parents, but he still would not let anyone cut in, not even his best friends. I belonged to him and he belonged to me, hopefully for eternity.
One for my friends commented that it seemed as if we were not even married, just in love, and I explained that being married we were more in love than ever, and now that we were a family our joy was complete. It was so easy to forget our fights and our disagreements when I was in his arms, and now, just as quickly as one of us lost our temper, it was never very long before someone would say, "I’m sorry." Then all would be forgiven and forgotten. Marriage had been good for both of us, offering us security and someone who loved us more than any other, and I was going to hold onto my handsome husband ‘til death us do part’, and that would be for a long, long time.
Sunday when the class of 1962 received their commissions, Billy could not recite the officer’s oath with his classmates, but received the honor of ‘Outstanding Platoon Leader’ for 2nd Battle Group. I could not have been more proud! He looked so handsome in his heavily starched fatigues bloused over jump boots laced with white laces, so shiny I could see my reflection in them. He wore his white helmet liner, carried his officer’s saber, and looked the epitome of a soldier with his strong features and his back ramrod straight. When Dr. Hoag pinned the medal on him, I wondered if he remembered the night he made a visit to Fertile Valley not so very long ago. If so, I am sure he was pleased to see a married officer receive such an honor.
As tears of pride rolled down my face, Lucia took the baby from my arms since, for the moment, all of my love was down on the parade field with Billy. I knew he felt it too. Now I knew why he insisted that I come to the parade and bring Michael. I dressed the baby in one of his many little blue suits and wrapped him in a soft white blanket with blue trim, my friends took turns passing him among them, and Michael, like his father, charmed them all.
After the parade, Billy found us and was excited to show him off to all of our friends who gathered around, mostly to see the baby. He was such a proud father and I rejoiced that he wanted everyone to see us together although sometimes that old low self-esteem ‘bug’ came back to bite me. This day there was no ‘bug’ while Billy, with his medal pinned on his uniform, his arm around my waist, showed off his newborn son, and it was obvious he was a happy family man now.
His parents rarely came up to the college for parades anymore as they did when Billy was single and living in the dorm. I think it was because of Helen’s insane jealousy of me. She could not abide seeing us together and obviously very happy, so she simply stayed away since she could not bring herself to say a civil word to me! Now that we had a son, she realized our marriage was not going to go away, and that made her angrier than ever. I truly believe she thought Billy would tire of me as he had so many girls in Griffin, and she never stopped to think that perhaps he really did love me ‘more than life itself’.
Now with his best friends gone, Billy signed up for every class that he needed during summer school and worked as many hours as possible, but he always came home – to me, and I was waiting with open arms. He had a lot of ground to cover between June and December, but I knew he could do it, and I vowed to do everything possible to help him in any way I could. He could not afford to fail or drop another course. He had to finish and pass all of them, and my job would be to keep our son entertained, our home conducive to study, and to type his papers.
The day of the parade, he turned to me, as we walked to the car, and said, "Mrs. McConnell, we have a lot of work to do, but as a team we can’t be beat! Just six more months and we will be on our way to Ft. Benning, and the time will pass all too quickly."
I knew most mothers thought the time their children were babies passed swiftly, and I imagined it would be the same with Michael. It would be difficult to leave our beloved mountains; however, we had things to do, places to go, and adventures waiting for us around every bend in the road! We both would leave a part of ourselves on this beautiful campus, just as everyone does who feels the ‘magic’, but we would be together, and that was all that mattered to me! We were one small happy family ready to take on the world. It was time to get on with the show and take one day at a time, but for right now, until the first session of summer school began, that meant full time employment for Billy, and more money for our little family!
Tommy was leaving to marry Sarah Jane, Bill fell in love with a freshman and they were already married and having a baby in a few months. Diane and Nicky eloped and moved into our small apartment in the valley, and they too were having a baby in the fall. Lucia would be about the only one of my friends living on campus coming back next year. Other than Kay, Jimmy, Diane, and Nicky, we knew no other married couples, but the valley’s small apartments remained occupied, as usual, and there would be another harvest of ‘summer camp’ babies next spring. Yes, while everything changed, nothing changed, especially my love for my handsome husband.