There is no danger in my wife Arlene seeing this column before it’s published in this edition because we get the Havelock News by mail. The paper doesn’t arrive in our mailbox in Swansboro until a day or two after it actually prints and is on the streets.
I wrote "danger" above because I don’t want Arlene to see this column before it’s published. This column is about her. That’s why.
Many of us celebrate Valentine’s Day in one way or another. But like many who choose to marry on or around Valentine’s Day, Arlene and I also celebrate our wedding anniversary this week. Our 21st to be exact. Lucky me, I was fortunate enough to win her hand in marriage in the old Presbyterian Church in New Bern in 1992.
Nothing was preordained about our meeting, let alone our marrying. First, I’m a double damn Yankee as I’ve mentioned in this column in the past. What makes me a Yankee is that I was born and bred in the great state of Ohio (about as far north in Ohio as one can get without getting wet) well north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
I’m a damn Yankee because I came to North Carolina for a "visit" (assigned here by the Marines) and then stayed.
And I’m a double damn Yankee because I had the audacity as a damn Yankee to steal a North Carolina gal as my wife. North Carolina gals, as anyone knows, and as General Johnson and the Chairman of the Board sang, are the "best in the world." I discovered General Johnson was right as he could be. Carolina gals are, in fact, the best gals this old nation rears up.
Second, these wonderful Carolina gals don’t just take up with any guy who comes sniffin’ around. Especially Arlene, who’s the daughter of a retired Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant who forbade her to date Marines when she was young. He knew the nature of Marines being one himself.
And she’s the sister of a onetime North Carolina highway patrolman and former U.S. Army CH-47 helicopter crew chief and Vietnam vet. I’m lucky to have not been arrested for "trespassin’ on sacred ground" from the perspectives of being a Jarhead and, worse, a damn Yankee dating his youngest sister.
Topping off her brother, Arlene’s identical twin sister — "the other half of the yolk" as she calls herself — is very protective of her twin. My bar to pass the twin "acceptability check" was very high indeed.
Third, I was a single father assigned to Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, nearly an hour’s drive away along lonely U.S. 17 and U.S. 70 to Arlene’s home in Havelock from my home in Jacksonville. Both of us raising kids by ourselves, a two-hour round trip was a long time to travel to visit each other. "Logistics" didn’t make our courting each other any easier.
And I repeat. I was a single father. With two kids. Little kids. Arlene had to become a mother to them. Not easy.
Finally and maybe most interestingly, when I first came to Eastern North Carolina, I threw away her address and phone number given to me by her best — playing Cupid — friend. I procrastinated months calling Arlene and figured it had been "too long" since her best friend had passed me her phone number. She was sure to be involved with someone else by now. So I discarded her phone number and address.
When later emptying the trash can, the piece of paper with Arlene’s address and phone number missed the paper bag into which I was dumping the trash and fell to the floor. I picked it up and looked at it. At that moment I made the best decision I had ever made. I decided to write her a letter explaining why it had taken me so long to contact her.
So here comes this damn Yankee single father Marine with two little kids in tow and this caring, wonderful, beautiful inside and out, "best in the world" Carolina gal gives me even the time of day? In fact, she gave me the time of day and so much more. She wrote me back. Amazing.
The rest of the story is, as they say, history. She has been and continues to be my wife and the light of my life. I’m fortunate beyond any words I could put down in this column to have met her and married her.
She’s a "best in the world" Carolina gal. And I’m happy and proud to proclaim it publicly: lucky me on this 2013 Valentine’s Day and 21st wedding anniversary of ours. Lucky me!
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.