Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"So how did you guys meet?"

As some of you know, Joyce and I celebrated our forty-fourth wedding anniversary yesterday, 20 December. Some of my FB friends asked how we met ... and it is a good story, one that I've told before. In fact, on 10 November 2008 I spoke about it during a speech at Western Reserve Academy. Joyce was in the audience--but she had no idea that I was going to be talking (and singing) about her. It was a speech on the school's theme for the year--"The Power of One."

Here's the text of that speech--a little long, I know: Deal with it!  Oh, and I am so grateful for WRA student Hunt Hearin, a talented pianist, who played for me that day, making my sorry self sound halfway decent.

Daniel Dyer
Western Reserve Academy
Morning Meeting, 10 November 2008 
            I lured my wife here with … well … with a little white lie.  She would never have come if I had told her that she was going to be the focus of my Power of One talk.  But so she is.  And now she can’t leave without drawing attention to herself—which she never likes to do.  Sorry, J …
            Shall I tell you a story?
            It was the summer of 1969.  July.  About a month before the Woodstock Festival and all that Sixties’ hopefulness about how we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden …  Richard Nixon was in the White House—he’d defeated Sen. Hubert Humphrey that past fall.  The United States was bogged down in a war in Vietnam.  The big movies that year: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (a James Bond film), Alice’s Restaurant.  On TV the top three shows were Laugh-In, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza.  Still in the top twenty … The Beverly Hillbillies.  The best-selling novels in steamy 1969 were Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, and  Jacqueline Susann’s The Love Machine.
            Just that past winter, the Browns had lost the NFL Championship game; the Indians were in the middle of a miserable season, a last-place finish in the American League East, 46½ games out.  The Cleveland Cavaliers did not even exist; their first season ever as an NBA expansion team was a year later, 1970–1971.
            That summer of 1969, I had just finished my third year of teaching.  Aurora Middle SchoolAurora, Ohio.  Seventh grade English—no, “Language Arts,” we were calling it then.  That summer I had decided that I would take another couple of courses in graduate school.  I’d started work on my master’s degree over at Kent State University, just a dozen miles away from my Aurora apartment, a tiny single-room-with bath—no shower.  My bed folded inside the couch.  After I pulled the bed out, there was hardly any room at all to move around the apartment.  It was a room much smaller than the smallest room in The A.  My rent was $110 a month plus utilities.  It was home.
            And in that home I was lonely.  A couple of years earlier my parents had moved out to Iowa to teach at Drake University.  Both of my high-achieving brothers, older and younger, were at Harvard.  My little brother was an undergrad; my older was working on a Ph.D.  (He never finished his!  Ha!)  I was teaching seventh graders about subjects and predicates, action verbs and linking verbs, trying to keep them from killing one another at recess, trying to shovel a pathway through the snowdrifts of papers that obstructed my life every week.  I taught six classes a day.  About 200 students.  I was busy.  Tired.  Stressed.  Poor (my salary that year was $7062.93).
            And lonely.
            Very lonely.  At age 24, I was definitely no “love machine,” not a functioning one anyway.  I was broken down, out of gas, ready for the junk heap—so much so that I had just about given up hope of ever finding anyone.  Back in my own school days, I’d gone with a girl for a long time—from seventh grade through spring break of my freshman year in college.  When she dumped me.  An old story.  Another guy.  I cried for a while—oh, about five years or so.
            I’d had a few random dates since then, but nothing really steady—not even in college.  And since I’d graduated and started teaching, I’d had even fewer dates.  Once or twice I went out with a young woman who is now the aunt of Alison Monroe.  She was great—but she was living far away.  I rarely saw her.
            At Kent State that summer I wanted to take some sort of course in American literature—one of my loves in the literary world.  But the course I wanted—whatever it was—was full.  Closed out.  All that was left was a course in American Transcendentalism—not my favorite period.  Lots of Emerson and Thoreau and Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller and other 19th-century folks with big vocabularies and no sense of humor at all.  Oh well.  I went ahead and enrolled.
            On the first day of class that June—as was my custom in those lean and lonely bachelor years—I was watching very, very closely as the women entered the classroom and took their seats.  Some were as old as my mother (generally not a good plan); some were with their boyfriends (buh-bye); some were, well, pulchritudinously challenged.  But one—oh, yes! one!—now, she was different.
            In the days that followed I listened to her in class, recognizing hers as a special intelligence.  (Okay, I also thought she was hot!)  But I already understood that making a move on her would be foolish.  Self-destructive.  Psychological suicide.  I’d made that mental calculation—the one all guys make (don’t we, guys?).  We look; we evaluate; we calculate; and sometimes we realize that this person, well, is beyond us.  And so, to save face, to prevent from tearing that flimsy tissue of early manhood’s self-respect, we step back; we don’t even try.  Better to remain at a safe distance than get too close and feel rejection’s sharp blade once more slicing between our ribs, probing for that trembling, vulnerable heart.
            I never saw her outside of class, either.  There were two ways to exit the classroom building, and she never went out the way I did.  Never.
            Until that once …
            Yes, one day in mid-July, I am trudging out the door, alone, when I feel someone fall in step beside me.  I look over.  It is she.  For a moment, my heart hits its pause button, then punches fast-forward.  She looks back at me.  Me!  I damn near pass out.  But as we step out into the sun—oh, that auspicious sun!—she speaks.  To me.  “Could you tell me,” she says, “where the library is?”
            I gulp.  Then say the smartest thing I’ve ever said in my life, before or since.  “Sure,” I croak.  “I’ll show you where it is.”  And off we go, together, toward the library, where, I will learn later, she’s already been going every single day after class.  Realizing that I am profoundly dense, she’s taken the first step herself—a move my poor, poor psyche is incapable of even imagining, much less performing.
            Fast forward one week.  Our second date.  It’s July 20th, her 22nd birthday.  It’s near midnight.  We are standing in her family’s living room down in Akron’s Firestone Park.  Her parents—finally!—have gone upstairs.  She says to me, “You know, I just got out of one engagement”—yes, she recently broke off with her college boyfriend; lucky me—“but,” she continues, “if you asked me to marry you right now, I’d say ‘Yes.’”
            Pause.  Talk about a Sadie’s question!
            Pause.  I’ve known her only a week!
            Pause.  This is insane!
            Pause.  Insane, yes … but being alone?  That’s more insane.
            And so I utter those immortal words, those eloquent words for all the ages, that lyrical mellifluous sentence that would have caused Shakespeare himself to bow in admiration.  I say … Let’s do it.  (I sometimes joke, telling this story, that she’d misunderstood me—by Let’s do it, she’d thought I meant Let’s get married.)
            And exactly five months later—December 20, 1969—we were married.  So … next month we will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary.  And Joyce Coyne—yes, that was her name—has been the single greatest influence in my life.  The Power of One—in this case, a manifold power, an enormously transformational power.  Let me list—quickly—what I’ve learned from her … what I owe to her.
            • I learned from Joyce how to work hard.  Until I met her, I thought I did work hard.  I didn’t.  Joyce never—I mean never—wastes time.  If I didn’t drag her off to the movies or a play or a concert on the weekend, she would sit up in her study, reading, writing, wrestling with words and ideas until sleep finally defeats her. She is focused, determined, self-disciplined to a degree I’ve rarely seen.
            • I learned from Joyce how to be more patient.  She will laugh at that one, tell you I’ve got a lot more to learn.  She’s right.  But I’ve seen that patience in her scholarship and writing; I’ve seen it during our son’s childhood (she was, simply, just the best mother); I’ve seen it in her teaching (she taught AP English here from 1979–1990—her picture hangs in the upstairs hall in Seymour—and since then she has been Professor of English at Hiram College).  I saw her patience when she dealt with her father’s cancer, her mother’s Alzheimer’s.   I’ve seen it in her boundless patience with me.
            • I learned from Joyce—am learning from Joyce—some of the most valuable things I know about writing.  She reads my every word before anyone else does—except these!—always cradling in one of her gentle hands my fragile ego; in the other, a scalpel.
            • I learned from Joyce how it feels to have someone absolutely believe in you.  It’s the most liberating feeling there is, to know—to know—you have an ally in life.  A permanent one.  Someone who gleefully hops in the car with you—as she does each summer—to go visit the homes and graves of famous dead writers, to drive to Stratford, Ontario, to see a week of Shakespeare plays, to hang out in a bookstore, to … well, you get the picture?
            • I learned from Joyce about forgiveness.  About how hard it is.  How rare.  How essential in this world full of imperfect creatures.  Some of you know that Hawthorne story “Young Goodman Brown,” about the young man who discovers the sins of his family and friends and neighbors and just can not forgive them.  And so he lives a long and unhappy life.  Do you remember the words that end that story?  [T]hey carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.  If you can’t forgive, you see, your laughter drowns in the acid of bitterness.
            • And, finally … hey, I could go on for a long time about this … I learned from Joyce the vast, unlimited dimensions of love.  She embodies, for me, what poets have said for centuries—that love has no end, that it has the power to transform, that it illuminates the darkness, glorifies the daylight, heals the wounded heart, soothes, comforts, makes bearable those moments that threaten, that injure, that damage, that sadden and depress.  When you are loved as I have been for thirty-nine years, you believe—even while staring into the grim face of death itself—that you are immortal.

            And now … the silly part …
            Tomorrow, I will have a birthday.  I will be sixty-four.  And so before I’m sixty-four, I want to enlist the talents our own gifted Hunt Hearin—and I want to apologize in advance to your ears as I serenade—in gratitude for her astonishing Power of One—Joyce Dyer.
            SING: “When I’m Sixty-Four” (The Beatles)

When I get older losing my hair,
Many [hours] from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine?

If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
[Tomorrow] When I'm sixty-four?

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oooo
You'll be older too, (ah ah ah ah ah)
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.

I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
[Tomorrow] When I'm sixty-four?

Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?


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