I’ve been waiting for a special day to share this one, and today is that day. This is my very own story of true love and happily-ever-after.
In 1984, I found myself at one of those cross-roads in life. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, which may seem as though it should have been a carefree time of fun, but I was always old for my age, and at that point, I was tired of high school. Tired of the needless drama, tired of the games and ready for my life to really begin. After years of straight living and toeing the line of good-girldom, in my junior year I’d gone a little wild. Now, trust me, ‘a little wild’ in my vernacular and in the mid-80’s was not today’s wild. It involved a little bit of alcohol, a little bit of dating–but ONLY dating–a series of boys, but I never did anything that would negatively impact the rest of my life.
Still, in early August before senior year, I was restless. I was done with high school guys, I knew that. I didn’t want to party away my senior year. Craving something more solid and real, I returned two stalwarts that had never failed me: books and my relationship with God.
I remember very clearly standing in the local Christian bookstore, looking for something to read, when a small wooden plaque caught my eye. It was Psalm 37:5: “Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you.” That verse resonated with me that day, and I bought the little wall hanging. I remember clearly the odd sense of rightness I felt. As I drove home, I also realized I needed a hook for the plaque, so I stopped at a store I’d never visited before, even though it had been around forever in our town. Kandle Lumber and Hardware just had never been on my radar, but it was on the way to my house, so I ran inside to find what I needed.
The man who helped me was the owner of the store, and I’d met him before. Actually, I knew the whole family vaguely: their son had begun West Point the year before, and he’d come to our house a number of times to chat with my dad, both before he’d started at USMA and then after, to share experiences. But up until then, Clint had been just one of many cadets coming in and out of my house. My father mentored quite a few.
I don’t remember exactly what Pete Kandle said to me that day, but it was something about his son, hinting that I should consider seeing him the next time he was home for a visit. Did I say I would? I don’t know, but that day stuck in my memory as a turning point in my life. I thought about it over the next few months.
The Army-Navy game had long been a huge deal in my family, and we were pumped in early December of my senior year. For the first time in a long time, Army had a real shot at winning. My family had been invited to a post-game party at the Kandles’ home, and I brought along some of my friends, at Mrs. Kandle’s request. But what I remember most clearly was the hour I spent talking to Clint, leaning up against his dad’s desk in their den. The house was filled with people, and there was no place else to sit. Clint saw me on the floor and ran to grab a down-filled blanket to make me more comfortable. I didn’t know it then, but that was totally who Clint is: serving others, reaching out and giving of himself is at the core of his character.
I didn’t hear from Clint after that celebration, at least not immediately. But about a week before Christmas, he called and asked if I wanted to go Christmas shopping with him. He’d just gotten home on leave, and he needed to buy his mother a gift. What I remember about that day is that I’d never laughed more or felt immediately comfortable with any boy ever.
We went out a few more times over his Christmas break, but I wasn’t sure if we were just friends or . . . more. That is, until New Years Eve, when we went to a party at his friends house. As the clock struck midnight, ending 1984 and ushering in 1985, he kissed me for the first time.
Over the next months, we exchanged hundreds of letters, shared long phone calls (to the chagrin of Clint’s parents, who were footing his phone bill!) and I visited West Point as often as I could. He gave me an A-pin on March 1st that year. I was thrilled, and we were both deep in the throes of young love.
I started college that fall at the University of Richmond, but my heart was up in the mountains along the Hudson. Every Friday, I’d get on a train north, get off in Philadelphia, spend the night at my parents’ house, set my hair . . . and the next day, I’d drive three hours up to West Point, going to football games, dances or other social events, or just sitting with him in the lobby at the Hotel Thayer, doing homework and talking. The rules at West Point were very strict: no PDA, and no cadets were allowed above the mezzanine level at the hotel. Most weekends, Clint couldn’t leave post. But we always enjoyed just being together.
On Sundays, after chapel, I’d drive back home to New Jersey, repack and get on the train south, usually back in my dorm about midnight. It’s no wonder I failed calculus that semester, is it? I was miserable at college most of the time I was there. We knew once Clint finished at West Point, he’d be stationed somewhere in the world, and I’d still have two years of college left. At that time, this future seemed impossible.
And so we did what any two kids in love might: on Christmas Eve of my freshman year, after we’d been dating just about a year, Clint proposed and I said yes.
We were married in June of 1987, ten days after his graduation. We spent our first six months together in Richmond as he attended Officer Basic and I got in another semester at Richmond, and then we moved to Hawaii for his first duty assignment.
That was four children, one son-in-law, many cats, dogs, homes and almost 30 years ago. We’ve lived in Virginia, Hawaii, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Florida. We’ve lost all of our grandparents and all but one parent between the two of us. We’ve weathered parenting, illness, homeschooling, many different churches, changes in career, moves and so many challenges . . . but there is no one in the world I can imagine sharing my life. Clint has always been the first one to support me, the first one to tell me I can do anything I want. I know without a doubt that he would–and does–move mountains to make me happy. He’s still the same boy who will do anything to make me a little more comfortable.
And almost 32 years after that very first date, he still makes me laugh more than anyone in the world.
I’m more in love with my husband today than I was when we got married. Then, I had no idea what love really was. Now, I think I’m beginning to catch glimpses of it. I think we need at least another thirty years to really get it down. I pray that we have those years together. When you’ve lost parents relatively young, you realize that nothing is guaranteed, and so I am grateful for every day we have together, and I am also greedy for even more.
This is a real happily-ever-after. It’s not all sunshine and cloudless skies; as my grandmother told me once upon a time, you must have just enough clouds to make a beautiful sunset. There must be rain to enjoy a rainbow. But we’re living out our happy ending, day by day. That’s the very best kind of story in my book.