David Grieser as told to Sarah Kay LeBlanc and Tony Leys | Des Moines Register
Editor’s note: David Grieser first told this story on stage at the Des Moines Storytellers Project’s “Love: Stories of companionship, desire and commitment.” The Des Moines Storytellers Project is a series of storytelling events in which community members work with Register journalists to tell true, first-person stories live on stage. An edited version appears below:
My story begins in December 1968 in Brookings, South Dakota, when I met Jude.
We considered one another polar opposites. For example, I liked summers. She liked winters. She was on the quiet side, whereas I liked to party.
All our differences, though, represented a kind of excitement, and I could envision our being in a relationship with one another.
There was only one problem. It was the diamond ring on Jude’s left hand.
I was a senior at South Dakota State University, and in another semester I would earn my bachelor’s degree. I had just broken up with my girlfriend, Jill, for no particular reason. As most other guys on campus, I guess I just wanted to “play the field.” In addition, going steady with Jill for too long, or with any girl for too long for that matter, could lead to something permanent, and I certainly didn’t want to deal with that.
The only exception? Jude.
Jude had completed her associate’s degree in laboratory technology, and during the previous summer had moved from northern Minnesota to Brookings to accept her first full-time job as lab tech at the Brookings Municipal Hospital.
My roommate knew her roommate, and these two women invited us to their apartment for dinner one evening. It was Dec. 14.
I liked Jude immediately, and after dinner we went to another room so that we could talk privately with one another. That was when I discovered that we had nothing in common, but it didn’t seem to matter.
The longer we talked, the more I felt that Jude easily could be the person with whom I could stay for a lifetime.
She thought that person was her fiancé. She was engaged to the same guy she had dated all through high school.
As we spent more time together, I wondered who would Jude marry?
Jude would be returning to Eveleth, Minnesota, her hometown of 5,000 people dedicated to everything hockey, for her wedding in March.
It was all set. The church was reserved; its pastor was ready; her parents had booked a venue for the reception; Jude’s five bridesmaids already had their identical dresses; and the newly-married couple would make their home in Eveleth, where they would live ever after.
Despite her plan to leave Brookings permanently, or maybe because of her plan to leave Brookings permanently, we began seeing one another every day.
We went to each other’s apartment. We went to movies together. We went to restaurants.
That engagement ring she wore may have let others know that she was off-limits, but I’d let them think that this poverty-stricken college student had given it to her.
After investing so much time in one other, we didn’t want it to end. I finally told Jude that she should get married in March — not to the man in Minnesota, though, but to me.
And one evening while we sat on her sofa and listened to “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra on a long-play vinyl record album, I leaned over and asked, “Will you marry me?”
If she said “yes,” she may at some time have wondered whether remaining in Eveleth with those she had known since childhood would have given her more stability.
If she said “no,” she probably would ask herself if she had missed any adventures or opportunities by not embracing a new environment.
There were opportunity costs for each choice.
We traveled out of town to find someone who would marry us
Jude backed out of her engagement and returned the diamond ring.
Her parents were stunned. Her fiance, now her ex-fiance, went into crisis mode and even boarded a plane to Brookings to talk face-to-face with Jude about the weather — whether he could convince her to marry him, as they had planned. And any residents of Eveleth who were prone to gossip had an entirely new topic.
Jude had asked her parents for permission for me to go home with her for a weekend so that they could meet me. But the answer was always the same: “It’s much too soon. You first need to give this community time to recover from what you have done.”
It was becoming clear that we were not going to have support from anyone, except from maybe our roommates, and by the beginning of February we had made the decision to dispense with inviting guests and hosting receptions altogether.
However, we did need someone to officiate our wedding, and a justice of the peace seemed to be the logical man to do it.
Whatever we did, though, had to be kept out of the Brookings newspaper. Otherwise, someone who knew Jude could tell her parents.
The solution was to choose an out-of-town justice.
Aurora, South Dakota, was a town of only a few hundred people east of Brookings — and it probably didn’t even have a newspaper.
So Jude and I drove to Aurora, went to the town hall, and asked to meet with the justice of the peace. The justice of the peace happened to be my former girlfriend Jill’s mother.
Whenever I think about Jill’s mom and her agreeing to officiate our wedding, I remember what seemed like an over-eagerness in her demeanor.
Then we eloped, exactly two months after we first met
Jude and I began questioning whether we should even wait until March for our wedding. February is a much more romantic month, and it was already Feb. 9. Her roommate would be the bridesmaid, and the best man would be my roommate.
On Monday, we found our ideal wedding bands and had our names engraved inside them.
On Tuesday, we secured our marriage license.
On Wednesday we completed the blood tests which the state of South Dakota required at that time.
On Thursday we bought a small wedding cake, one tier.
And on Friday, after her working and my finishing classes, Jude and I fought a blizzard all the way to Aurora and then waited an hour for our roommates to show.
It was Valentine’s Day. We had eloped.
Feb. 14 was exactly two months from the date that we had first met.
The next day I called my parents to tell them that they had a daughter-in-law, but Jude didn’t call her parents. She wanted to wait until they were ready to meet me, and that wouldn’t happen for another several weeks.
When they did consent, Jude told them in a letter that we already were married — a letter which would arrive on the same day that we would.
I felt that it was thoughtful of us: they didn’t have to make up two beds, after all.
I’ll always remember the day that the father- and mother-in-law met the son-in-law. It was what I later would call an incarnation of anxiety.
That anxiety, though, was temporary, and Jude’s parents and I developed a friendship before we returned to Brookings, and it became a much deeper friendship over the years.
The gossip continued. “When is the baby due?” The baby wouldn’t be due for another two years, a daughter. And two years later, we would have a son. And in an additional three years, we would have a second son. When one of my associates remarked how good looking my kids were, he added, “Their mother must be attractive.”
Today they are educated and have rewarding careers and children of their own, and Jude is credited with those good genes, too.
This story has no ending. I do want to share with you, though, one other comment from the gossip of 1969, the year that we were married — “That’s one marriage that won’t last forever.”
They could be right. Maybe it won’t last forever. After all, as of yesterday, we’ve been married only 53 years.
During our 53 years together I have come to believe that one genuine woman in an ever-evolving relationship offers more variety than several girlfriends.
I’ve also discovered that every day presents something compelling.
And among all the random events that have affected our lives, we have internalized the ones that have kept the two of us newlyweds.
ABOUT THE STORYTELLER: David Grieser of West Des Moines says his work in education, public television and insurance were fun, and his leisure activities, such as skiing and running marathons, have been work. As a freelance writer now, he tells stories about all of them.
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