Friday, February 13, 2009


It was my parents 40th wedding anniversary party. They had moved to Salt Lake just a month or so before. In fact, shortly after we moved into our house, Dad had parked his motor home in our driveway and lived there until Mom could sell their house in California.
I remember the party so vividly because it was the first one I had really enjoyed in years. Always before, I had felt like ‘odd man out" as I would look at my siblings with their spouses and children, but now I had my own wife--the most beautiful of the lot and I felt a feeling of sweet contentment.
Many years later, I was working for a fellow with a wonderful collection of Mormon books. Among them I found a history of the Ensign Stake. I looked through it and there I was shocked to see the name of the current (at the time of publication of the history) of the 5th ward, Carl Okleberry, with a picture of his family. I began to weep silently as I gazed at the picture--a handsome young man with a beautiful wife and 5 angelic looking boys. I felt almost as if his loss of life had given me the courage to get my own. As a I looked at the picture and remembered how much of a push it had been for me to ask Shauna to marry me, I muttered silently, "Thank you, Carl Okleberry."

Romance--X Our Wedding Night

X. Our wedding night; in which I explain why I have never written a best-selling book.
Every now and then someone will suggest that I should write a book. This, I feel is an excellent suggestion. I’m sure I would be very good at it, having gotten an "A" in penmanship in Mrs. Rowe’s 3rd grade class. But there is a real snag. If I were to go all the trouble of writing a book, I would, of course, want it to be a bestseller. The problem is that the bestsellers are always about--well, to be perfectly blunt, after all, we are living in the up-to-date age--well they are about, well, to be perfectly candid, they are about the thing that almost rhymes with the 6th letter in the numbering system--you know, the one between 5 and 7. I have no doubt that I could write a very interesting, very informative and most helpful book on that subject, except for one small problem. I know almost nothing about it. The reason for this woeful lack of information is what I am about to relate--and it is a very sad story indeed.
I was sitting in Priesthood meeting--as I always did on Sunday morning since being ordained a Deacon, but at the time about which I write I was a Priest, i.e. considerably advanced in age and in outlook from the time I first began sitting in Priesthood meeting on Sunday morning. I was thinking about such uplifting topics as what my mother would likely be serving for lunch, when our Bishop, Bishop Chester Dorsey, (we Priests, because we felt we were close to him and could be more informal when we talked with him called him by his first name--"Bishop", except my friend Richard, of course, who called him "Dad"), after first dismissing the Deacons--and you will be able to figure out why he dismissed the Deacons when I tell you the topic, which I will do about 3 pages from now--announced that the Teachers and Priests would have a special guest speaker, Dr. Lloyd Call.
We all knew of Dr. Call, of course, and admired--or more correctly, envied him, the reason being that he was married to Beverly Call. Although, she seemed a bit too old for us personally to have married her (she was probably 9 or 10 years our senior but at Priest’s age that is like a couple of generations removed), we all hoped to marry someone like her. Beverly was the Pocatello equivalent of Jeannette MacDonald, that is, she was very attractive and could sing, although, unlike Jeanette, who went in more for Hammerstein and Herbert, Beverly was more into Verdi and Wagner. In Pocatello, at least it seemed to me, that most ladies who could sing Wagner, tended to look like, well, like Wagner.
At any rate, we all respected Dr. Call. We could visualize him coming home after a hard day’s work of separating innocent children from their tonsils and saying, "Honey, I’m really tired. I need something to pick me up." To which Mrs. Call would reply, "Sure thing, dear, I know just the thing. I’ll sing you an aria from Madame Butterfly."
"No, no." We could hear him protesting. "I’m not up to Madame Butterfly tonight." To which she would respond, "I have it!" She would then don a grass skirt and sing Annette Funicello’s latest hit, "Pineapple Princess" (in, of course, her best Wagnerian style--a sort of Class with Grass). (As an aside, I just wanted to point out that I thought of that, i.e. "Class with Grass" all by myself which proves that if I did write a book it would be loaded with all kinds of clever tid bits like that one).
But as I mentioned, we all admired Dr. Call and were, therefore, impressed that Bishop Dorsey could get him to speak, since he wasn’t in our ward, or for that matter, even in our Stake. (As another aside, this may come as a surprise, but back in those days Pocatello actually had more than one Stake--in fact, it had several--a condition that I doubt exits today, because we were constantly being admonished to leave the world behind us, which most people in Pocatello interpreted to mean that as soon as you possibly could somehow manage it, you should move north to Idaho Falls or Rexburg or south to Logan or Provo.)
Bishop Dorsey then announced that Dr. Call would be speaking to us on the subject of "the birds and the bees". The announcement of that subject brought both relief and excitement to me.
It brought relief because all too often medical doctors--even speaking in Church--tend to wax professional. Of course, if they confine this professional carrying on to the sniping of tonsils, it didn’t much bother me; since having been separated from mine at an early age, I didn’t take the talk personally. But all too often they would get carried away and start talking in a most unseemly manner about kidneys, livers, hearts, and worst of all, blood. As soon as any discussion began drifting in that direction I could prevent a most horrible attack of nausea by only two methods. The preferred method was to stick my fingers firmly in my ears and lay my head on my desk. If that was too embarrassing, I would concentrate with all my might on the most pleasant thing I could think of--usually our family’s most recent trip to Yellowstone Park. I would revisit every geyser and hot pool (I loved them) mentally and then count the bears we had seen. Usually, by the time I had done that, the danger was past.
I was excited about the topic, "the birds and the bees" because I felt I pretty much knew all about it, the topic having been covered very thoroughly by my 9th grade Seminary teacher, Richard Clark, in his lesson on Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. I can still remember how eloquent he was as he told about how wonderful Joseph had acted when Potiphar’s wife had grabbed his shirt (or whatever it was they wore in Egypt back then and no doubt still do today). His voice still rings when I remember his stirring "he got him OUT!" (He really hit the "out" hard). Of course, he used this story to make it clear about the whole "birds and bees" thing. First, if we were ever working for an attractive, rich lady and she started to pull on our shirts, we were to "get us out". Which, of course, we promised to do. But he went far beyond that. Realizing, I suspect, that the number of attractive, rich lady employers (especially attractive, rich lady employers with the shirt-pulling tendency) in Pocatello was severely limited, he made it quite clear that if we were alone with any girls and she started to pull on our shirts, or even if we started to feel like pulling on our own shirts, we were to "get us out" and quickly. Well, of course, I can’t tell everything he said, but I can say that I felt very well grounded in the whole "birds and bees" thing, as I mentioned above.
But the reason I was excited to hear Dr. Call talk about the subject, was the thought that maybe he would bring something up that Br. Clark had left out of his lecture. Although he was no longer my teacher, I saw him frequently hanging around the seminary building, and I thought that if I did get some new insights, I could pass them on to him. While his lecture was very powerfully convincing, these seminary lectures can always do with a bit of sprucing up. Well, for example, Br. Clark never did make it really clear whether it was Joseph or Mrs. Potiphar who was the bird or the bee, so I was never quite clear who was which, in fact, I’m still not too clear on that point.
So anyway, I was sitting back listening attentively to Dr. Call, when it suddenly became painfully apparent to me that Bishop Dorsey had not been sufficiently explicit when he was drawing up the contract about the subject. Dr. Call was not talking about the birds and the bees at all. He was talking about the red corpuscles and the white corpuscles. Desperately, I began trying to focus on our last Yellowstone trip, but it was too late. I was not even to the entrance gate at West Yellowstone, when I felt myself falling.
The next thing I remember was the feeling that all the fire engines and police sirens in Idaho were sounding in my ears. I felt that my head would split. Then the noise died away suddenly and I felt such a feeling of peace that I have never experienced before or since. Through the welcome quiet, I heard "Merrill, Merrill, are you OK?"
It turned out I had fainted. The Bishop took me into a classroom where Sister Comstock was preparing her Teacher Development lesson.
"Please keep an eye on Merrill. He just fainted", he requested of her, and handing me a glass of water, he returned to Dr. Call’s lecture, leaving Sister Comstock to eye me nervously.
At any rate, that is how I missed out on learning all about the birds and the bees and hence, how I came to lack the necessary information to write a really juicy bestseller.
However, I mention all this because the extreme importance of having heard that lecture struck me forcibly as Shauna and I finally arrived at the Little America motel where I had made reservations. Here I was going with a beautiful young girl into a motel room and one or the other, probably both, were bound to begin taking off his/her shirt. And yet, it suddenly dawned on me that Br. Clark’s advice to "get thee out" didn’t seem entirely adequate--or even appropriate and I found myself wishing desperately that I hadn’t fainted at that crucial moment in Dr. Call’s lecture. Of course, it was as much his fault as mine--maybe even more--for letting his professional habits ran away with him and getting sidetracked by corpuscles. But, naturally, at that time assessing blame was the least of my problems.
You, the patient reader are doubtlessly asking yourself, "Faced with this terrible crisis, what did you do?"
The answer is, fortunately, I married Shauna. She has her master’s degree in Child Development. Those people know all about that "birds-and-the-bees" stuff, so she knew just what to do; actually, she knows just what to do most of the time anyway. The proof of that is the fact that exactly 9 months and 1 day later we had our first child. Of course, I suspect that the 1 day is somehow significant, and I’m sure that Shauna, with her master’s degree in Child Development could explain it all to you if you ever asked. I never have.
But I will say this--and I say it with some conviction--if you happen, for whatever reason, (hopefully not due to fainting) to miss Dr. Call’s (or whoever the officially designated "birds-and-the-bees" lecture giver in your community happens to be), as I say, if you happen to miss that lecture, then by all means, take my advice, and marry someone with their master’s degree in Child Development.
Of course, I am sure you are asking yourself, "Why doesn’t Shauna write the book?" Well, actually, she has thought about it, and even mentioned that she might do it, but, what with having to take care of 7 children (8 counting you-know-who) and having frequently to manage on rather slender resources, she has been rather too busy. But what with the children leaving, she still may get around to it--and a very interesting and enlightening book it will be too, but, (and I don’t mean to boast) I can’t help but feel that it won’t be quite the outstanding book I could have written if only I had heard the rest of Dr. Call’s lecture.

Romance--IX Our wedding.

IX. Shauna and I get married.
On June 29, 1978 I was married and sealed to Shauna H. Bowman in the Salt Lake Temple.
Some days before I had noticed my roommate, David Lamb, pressing his pants before going on a date. This, it had seemed to me at the time, was rather disloyal, probably un-American, and certainly in violation of some sort of rule. After all, all pants and shirts sold in America state specifically on the label, or somewhere that they are non-wrinkle and need no pressing, so no matter how many wrinkles they might appear to have, by definition, they have none. But since it was my wedding day, and since my suit pants did appear to have a good many wrinkles, I decided that on this one special occasion, it would be permissible to follow my roommate’s example and press my pants. (I hasten to add, should this manuscript fall into the hands of an enforcement official of The American Ladies Garment Union, that I have never pressed anything since then). This took rather longer than anticipated since I had not done it for several years, but I still managed to finish the task in time to get myself to the temple on time for the wedding.
The wedding itself, what little I actually remember of it, was wonderful. All my immediate family and much of Shauna’s extended family were there.
The man who performed the sealing was a stranger to both of us, but he had all kinds of wonderful advice. As soon as she could get alone for a minute or two, Shauna took extensive notes on that advice, an example I wish I had followed. The reason is that, not remembering anything he said, I never am able to say for sure whether Shauna is living up to all that advice. She, on the other hand, is always bringing up little tidbits of admonition that she implies I shook my head in agreement to in those moments of rapturous anticipation. It is the recognition of these little "if-only-I-had-acted-more-wisely-at-time insights that make one realize that life had more bumps than are absolutely necessary.
What I do remember perfectly--other than the obvious fact that I married Shauna--was that the man who married us was the guest speaker at our ward the very first week after our honeymoon. This was much too much of a coincidence to be one. It was clearly meant as a sign. I must confess, however, that I have never quite been able to figure out what it was a sign of.
What I have since learned, having attended several weddings at the temple in the interim, is that, not only did I marry Shauna, but I did so--as is clearly pointed out in the ceremony--of my own free will and choice. Now whether I was aware of that fact at the time, I really don’t remember. I mean by that, whether I was aware that it was part of the ceremony. I was willing, and I feel, as eager as any bridegroom, and maybe more than most, but at the time, if I was aware of it, I would have it was most superfluous to bring it up. But since then I have known so many--mostly bridegrooms, but some brides--who after a few years of marriage announce that they no longer love their companions, and indeed, they never did. They claim at that point that they only married because they were "forced" to do it, usually by pressure from parents, or a Bishop or Stake President, or "the Church", whoever that is, I mean, it is hard for me to imagine "the Church" being able to apply much pressure. At any rate, I have heard this so often, that whenever I attend a wedding in the temple, I can’t help but look around to see if there is someone present with a suspicious looking bulge in this clothing that would indicate a pistol, a shot gun, or a pair of brass knuckles ready for use in case the party being "forced" should become recalcitrant. I am happy to report that I have never seen such. Indeed, I must say that at the marriages I have attended, the bridegroom has seemed, if not quite as willing and eager, almost as eager as I myself was on the occasion of my own marriage.
After the wedding, we (as in the royal "we", neither Shauna or I took any pictures) took pictures. We then went to the wedding breakfast. It was the custom (I believe it still is) for the groom’s parents to pay for the wedding breakfast. My dad got off rather easy because Shauna and her friends stayed up most of the night preparing most of the food for the occasion.
After the wedding breakfast, which I will admit I have mostly forgotten except that I do remember being impressed with the quality of the food, and was wondering why my father-in-law was so often frowning. I concluded that he was probably thinking how very expensive the breakfast might have been had Shauna married the doctor’s son, Herbie, to whom she was earlier engaged. At any rate, a good time and much good food was had by all before I went off to get the tuxedos for the reception.
The reception was, of course, mostly Shauna’s friends and family. A few people from my ward and my work came so I did know some people there. The most vivid memory for me was the U of U folk dance team (of which Shauna had been a member) weaving in and out among the guests doing an Israeli Snake dance. The most lasting memory was a picture taken by my brother-in-law, Allen, of Shauna’s grandparents. If I had painted the picture, I would have titled it "Love at Sunset". I later saw a copy of it framed in several of her family’s homes.
I enjoyed the reception, but was glad when it was over. Shauna and I went out to her VW and found the customary wedding reception treatment. We had to remove newspaper and confetti in order even to get in to it, but we left the cans dragging until we got a couple of blocks away. We kissed and headed off to the Little America Hotel, where we had reservations to begin our life together.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Romance--VIII I become engaged for real

VIII. Shauna and I become engaged--for real.
That night I got no sleep. It seemed to me that I was locked in a nightmare. "I thought I knew her so well, and then she does this to me." I thought as I tossed and turned. "It just goes to show you that no matter how well you think you know a person, they are likely to surprise you--especially at some crucial juncture of your life, like when you are proposing marriage."
I agonized over the whole situation all night, or at least, until early in the morning. Just before time to get up, the solution finally came to me--break the engagement.
I, of course, had heard of broken engagements. I had even had roommates who had broken their engagements. In fact, I had one roommate, (admittedly he was a bit strange) who broke three engagements in as many weeks (actually it was his finances who broke the engagements when they realized how strange he was). But in telling about him, I digress. The point was, people do break engagements. This it seemed to me was the perfect solution. Indeed, it was the only solution. I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it sooner. But, or course, under the tremendous strain occasioned by Shauna’s absolutely stunning (and, I thought, rather thoughtless) surprise acceptance of my proposal, the obvious solution had somehow eluded me. But with it firmly in mind, I slipped off into peaceful slumber for the few remaining minutes of night.
As is so often the case, what seems like a perfect solution to a terribly knotty problem when viewed from the perspective of the middle of the night in a sort of half-dream world, loses a good deal of its glamour when viewed in the cold hard light of day.
As mentioned above, I have personally known several men and women who had broken engagements. But it had not been easy for any of them. Furthermore, none of them that I know of had broken the engagement less than 24 hours after entering into it. But worst of all, I imagined what Shauna’s reaction might be. The worst case would be if she waxed tragic, like the end of an opera and went into the kitchen, took out a carving knife, and stabbed herself. Of course, worse still, would be if she stabbed me first. Almost as bad would be if she went into hysterics and began yelling, "You will hear from my lawyer!" As I thought of that scenario, I took some comfort from the fact that my father was a lawyer himself, but upon reflection, I realized that he was getting a bit impatient with my postponement of marriage, and might very well offer to represent Shauna in a breach of promise suit.
At any rate, no matter how I thought about it, the picture was not pretty. I decided that the very best I could hope for would be something like, "Well! I like that! One day you propose and the next day you change your mind. What kind of a jerk are you?" That, as I said, was the best I thought I could hope for. Worse were the responses described above and a dozen others, almost as bad, that I envisioned during the course of the day.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived. With a heavy heart and apprehensive demeanor, I went to Shauna’s apartment.
"How was your day?" she greeted me cheerfully as she opened the door.
"It had its ups and its downs," I responded trying to sound as gloomy as I felt.
"Oh, really. What were its ups and what were its downs?"
"Its ups were when I remembered that we were engaged and its downs were when I remembered that we were engaged."
The extremely perceptive reader will note that I was exaggerating, if not down right lying when I said that the day had its ups, but, I felt I had to say something that would soften the blow that was about to come. Having said that I broke into an impassioned appeal stating that being engaged so soon was too much for me. To my surprise--and delight--there was no blow to soften. Shauna just laughed. "Well, maybe it is a bit soon. If you want to date longer, that’s fine. Whatever you want."
It was at that moment that I decided I really did want to marry her--only not right away.
We resumed our previous dating pattern. For Easter, which came early--in March I believe--that year, Shauna went up with me to meet my sister, Loni and her family. Shauna found out about my bringing JoAnn up for Thanksgiving when my niece, Jenni, against the express orders of her mother, said, "I like you better than the girl he brought up at Thanksgiving."
I decided that if she could survive that, she could survive anything, so I asked her again to marry me. And again, she accepted. Except this time it was her turn to call up and change her mind--or so I thought. She says now that she merely wanted a more definite proposal, but whatever the case, once again, we were engaged for only one day.
We had resumed dating for only a couple of weeks when I noticed a large lump in a lymph node. The doctor said it was either tuberculosis, an abscessed tooth or cancer, since, he claimed, it was much too large to be due to bacteria. He sent me to the clinic for a TB test and to the dentist to check for an abscess--both of which I did with great promptness. And both came back negative. There followed a very agonizing week.
On the weekend I had a date with Shauna. Her old boyfriend, Herbie Ungricht, who was, by this time dating Shauna’s roommate, Yvonne, was waiting for his date on the couch. Since he was in his last year of med school, Shauna decided to get his semi-expert opinion on my condition. He felt my lump.
"Bad, very bad," he muttered. "I can’t say for sure if it is cancer, but if I were you, I wouldn’t start listening to any long playing records, or start reading any to-be-continued serials." On that cheery note, Shauna and I went on our date. I must confess to being greatly discouraged--not, of course, as discouraged as the night I first proposed to her--but greatly discouraged, nonetheless. I must also confess to being more than a little annoyed when the doctor announced that it turned out to be only a bacteria after all. He gave me an antibiotic and the lump disappeared the next day.
I was so relieved that I decided to celebrate, but rather starting to listen to a long playing record or reading a to-be-continued serial, I went over to Shauna’s apartment, and for the third time, asked her to marry me. This time it took.
A few days later it was my brother, Erin’s, graduation form BYU. Shauna and I along with my parents, my other brother, and my sister and their spouses had dinner and then went over to Erin’s apartment where everyone presented him with graduation trinkets. After that ritual, I blurted out that I had an announcement. I then reported our engagement. Immediately after making this announcement, Shauna and I left. As soon as we stepped out of the house, we heard and loud spontaneous, "Hurrah, finally."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Romance--VII I propose

VII. I propose, and learn that no matter how well you think you know someone,
sometimes you are in for a shock.
In the back pocket of my trousers I carried the small card I had filled out during the meeting described in the previous chapter. As the date on that card approached, as I mentioned, I realized that I had somehow gotten myself into a position that I could fulfill the challenge I had set for myself on that card and I determined that I would do it.
I was, of course, nervous about the whole thing. After all, I had only known Shauna for 6 months. We had only dated for 4 months or so and I had dated her exclusively for only a month and a half. There was, naturally, the possibility that she would react with absolute shock and say something like, "Don’t tell me that you are one of those nuts who goes around proposing at the drop of a hat? My answer is no! Absolutely not. Take me home right now. I never want to see you again." As I say, she could always say that or something like it, and I will admit that I would be hurt, deeply hurt, if she did, but, I confess that I thought it most unlikely.
I assumed that her most likely response would be something like, "This is a bit sudden. We need to date more and think about it while we get to know each other better." That, I felt, would be her most likely response, but I was determined to do all I could to prevent the first response. I made reservations at the restaurant rated by Utah Holiday Magazine as #1 in Utah, Balsam Embers. I sent her a dozen roses, and told her to be sure to wear a dress.
I picked her up and she was absolutely stunningly radiant. I think I said something terribly clever and wonderfully romantic like "You look nice", but I’m not sure I said anything that clever because I was terribly nervous. I probably said just "Hi."
At any rate, we went to the restaurant. I’m not sure what we talked about, or even what I said--if I said anything. As "the great moment" approached I became increasingly nervous, so much so that as I stood up to leave, I smashed into a trayful of glasses being carried by a waiter. Shauna burst out laughing, which was really a relief, because I was so nervous that were it not for the comic relief of the head-to-tray encounter, I’m afraid I might have crashed on the way to the chosen site to pop the question--temple square.
The plan was--i.e. my plan--to ask her to marry me as we strolled around, and gazed up at, the temple. Unfortunately, for my plan, as we stepped out of my car, we were met by Harold-----, a new convert from my ward. He was obviously glad to see us.
"Oh, you two came down to Temple Square. How wonderful! Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll just walk around with you. I’m sure you know ever so much about everything here."
Of course, I did mind, I minded very much, but what could I say? To my annoyance, Shauna was not only kindly, but encouraging. After walking around for a bit, it was evident that Harold had no intension of leaving us. Now, it is not always true, as they say, that three is a crowd, but when you are planning to propose marriage, it is.
After, what I deemed a rather decent interval, I said, "Harold, actually we are going to a dance, so I’m afraid that we will have to leave you." But, it became immediately clear that we were not going to lose Harold until we actually did leave.
They say that all the great moments of history--and of life--never turn out exactly as you plan. If Napoleon had not had a toothache at Waterloo, no one would even know who Wellington was, (of course, not many know who he was even with Napoleon’s toothache, but you get my drift). Anyway, just as a toothache botched Waterloo (for Napoleon, not Wellington), so Harold more or less botched my plan of proposing to Shauna as the two of us gazed blissfully up at the stars above the temple spires. But I was determined to go ahead with the proposal anyway. So just as I opened the door of the car and was helping her into it, I blurted out, "And by the way, will you marry me?"
I then closed the door, jauntily stepped around the car and braced myself for her response as I slid into the drivers seat.
"I can say it!" she exclaimed enthusiastically as she grabbed my hands. "I prayed that I would be able to say ‘yes’, and I can! Oh, yes! Yes! YES!".
When I was growing up going to school, occasionally I remember being shown a picture of a large hole in the ground. The caption below the picture reported that this was a large hole in Arizona where a meteor had struck. Someone in the class--possibly even the teacher--would say something like, "Just think. If you lived 300 miles farther south and 3000 years ago, you might have been struck by that meteor." This was undoubtedly true, but I must admit that I felt like this was not something I needed to spend much time worrying about. But I can honestly say that if I had actually been struck by that meteor, I would not have been more surprised than I was when Shauna said "yes" to my proposal.
I consider myself a rather astute observer of the human condition, and admittedly, that rather astute observation has led me to the conclusion--which I arrived at after a great deal of looking around with close (and again, astute) observation of what was going on around me--that there are a great many women who have said "yes" to marriage proposals. It just never occurred to me that Shauna might be one of those.
The meteor had struck. I muttered something like "Oh, wonderful." Then, having seen in a movie, or, maybe a play, or something, that you should kiss the girl when she accepts your marriage proposal, I kissed her. But I can say with some assurance that if the kiss had been filmed, it would have passed the strictest censorship by early Puritans, or Amish or my mother.
We drove to the dance in total silence. I didn’t know what to say, but doubt that I would have felt like saying it if I had. I sensed that I was supposed to be happy, but I wasn’t happy. I was miserable beyond words. Only 2 months since my 35th birthday and I was engaged to a girl I hardly knew.
We danced in total silence. Shauna, who earlier in the evening, in my mind, combined the best looks of Maureen O’Hara, Jean Simmons, and Audrey Hepburn, now looked to me like the Wicked Witch of the West--only worse.
After a couple of dances, I suggested we stand the next dance out. While we were standing together a young man (who neither of us knew) came up and asked Shauna to dance.
"I’m sorry," she said. "I can’t. You see, I’m engaged."
"Well don’t let that stop you," I said quickly, almost insistently.
She shook her head. "I’m sorry," she repeated softly.
I felt a little foolish, but I suppose I was sort of hoping that he would propose, and, although I had the prior claim, I would, at that point, have very quickly surrendered it.
At this time, I simply threw in the towel. I took Shauna home, said "good night" with a very mild kiss, and headed home with an unbelievably heavy heart.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Romance--VI A brief interlude

VI. A brief interlude in which I explain why I proposed to Shauna after so short a courtship.
It was toward the end of August. I was sitting in the single’s ward in the Ensign Stake. We met in the old 20th ward building at 2nd Ave and J--a beautiful old building with antique stained glass windows.
My roommates and several others were waiting with me for Priesthood meeting to begin when Larry_____, the 2nd counselor in the Bishopric, walked in. "Hey, Larry," someone called out, "what are we talking about in Priesthood meeting this morning?"
We were a close group. We enjoyed a great camaraderie and even in Priesthood meeting exchanged a good deal of good-natured banter. Most of us were well into our thirties with a few even into their forties. All of us, I believe, wanted to marry, but were either frightened at the responsibility or for some other reason, just not ready for it yet.
Larry looked at us with a serious expression. "Take my advice and don’t try to joke with the Bishop this morning," he said. "He is nothing but dead serious. His best friend died this week. This is going to be one earnest lesson."
Our bishop, Bishop Stephen Nebeker, was so easy of manner, that I couldn’t help but feel that Larry was certainly exaggerating his seriousness. He wasn’t. Bishop Nebeker came in late--during the opening song. I, and almost everyone in that room, felt the sense of oppression in his manner.
After the opening prayer, Larry stood up and announced that the Bishop would be giving the lesson that morning.
"Brethren," he began in a very solemn tone of voice, "for some time now I have had the feeling that many of you are simply drifting. You are simply going no where, constantly postponing making important decisions. Ask yourself, ‘If I continue doing what I am doing now, where will I be in a year--in 10 years?’ I am not talking just about getting married--important as that is--I’m talking about every aspect of your lives. The lack of marriage is quite frankly merely symptomatic of the pattern of your lives.
"I feel deeply about this because this past week one of my dearest friends, Carl Okleberry, passed away from cancer. He was only 37 years old--younger than some of you. Was it because he was not living righteously? He was the Bishop of my home ward" (as he told us this, he was weeping). "He and I served together in the Young Men Presidency. He leaves behind 5 young sons and a beautiful wife."
Suddenly, he stopped speaking, paused for several moments, ceased weeping and looked out at us with a rather stern expression. "I don’t know why someone so young, so righteous, with so much to love for and so needed by family, Church and community would be struck down by so dread a disease, but this much I do know." Here he paused again, looked out at each of us individually, and then raised his voice and spoke slowly and deliberately, "Carl Okleberry may have lost his life, but he still has, and always will have, a beautiful wife and 5 wonderful sons, and the way things are going that is a great deal more than many of you will have unless things begin changing, and rather quickly, in your lives."
I wish I could convey the powerful spirit that was in that meeting. I have seldom, if ever, been so deeply moved.
Bishop Nebeker passed out cards & told us he wanted us to write down something we wanted to achieve in the next 6 months. I wrote that I wanted to meet someone that I could feel I could marry and that before 6 months passed, I would ask that girl to marry me.
As that 6 months date approached, I remembered the spirit of that meeting and I simply felt I had to fulfill my commitment. I realized that I had met someone I could feel good about asking to marry me, so I determined that I would ask Shauna to marry me.
Looking back on my life, I really wonder if would ever have found the courage to ask anyone to marry me without the tremendous push of that meeting. Bishop Nebeker was right--certainly about me, at any rate. I was simply drifting, postponing, dreaming, hoping, but doing very little.
And I was not alone. The counselor, Larry, was older than I, but the same pattern was, outwardly, at least, apparent in his actions. He had dated, probably dozens of girls in his life, but, as soon as things began to get serious, something, and I suspect his case was similar to mine and many others in that room, came up that ended the relationship. I doubt very much that without the impetus of that stern admonition that he would have changed course. He had dated, rather casually for several months, a particularly attractive English girl. She had an absolutely delightful British accent. After the meeting, he moved rather quickly (for someone in that group, at least) and within a month or so, he was engaged and shortly thereafter, he was married to the English girl.
And a good thing too. Within a year, he and his English wife had a child. Within another year, he was dead of a brain tumor, but he, like Carl Okleberry, would face resurrection knowing he had a family.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Romance--V--I make a decision

V. Christmas getaway during which I make a decision.
After the Christmas party problem, I did all I could to heal the breach with Shauna by taking her out before I went on my Christmas vacation. But, of course, I also took JoAnn out very briefly. Then, just before leaving, I dropped by each of their apartments and gave each her Christmas present form me--a music box playing a romantic melody--Somewhere my love--and a journal in which I inscribed a romantic note. I was so proud of the inscription that I used exactly the same one for each girl (changing the name in the "To _______")--a fact that would come to haunt me later.
I had a wonderful time on my vacation. I rode down to my parents’ place in Southern California with my brother, Erin, and sister-in-law, Janice. They seemed wonderfully happy, and I must confess that I rather envied them. It was also a welcome break from carrying on a double courtship while pretending to each girl that my real affections were centered only--or, at least, mostly--on her.
I decided that I could not continue with the duplicity in which I found myself, and determined to end one relationship, but which?
On my birthday, I received a telegram from Shauna wishing me a happy birthday. That telegram more or less tipped the scales. As soon as I got back, I went to JoAnn, confessed that I had been dating someone else and that I needed to break off our relationship. I may have misread her feelings, (I frequently did with girls) but it seemed to me that she was mostly disappointed that I broke up with her before she had a chance to break up with me.
I began dating Shauna exclusively, but it seemed to me that she was beginning to turn cold too. I was later to learn that she was being hotly and ardently pursued by her former fiancé, Herbert Ungricht Jr., who was in his last year of medical school and did not wish to go into residency in a far-off location as a bachelor.
Nevertheless, on Valentine’s day as I stumbled out the door of my apartment, I found a blueberry cheesecake and a lunch sack on my front porch containing the inscription "For Merrill. Happy Valentine’s Day. Shauna."
At lunchtime, as I munched on those sandwiches, I dreamed about how wonderful it would be to have that quality of sandwich every day--little suspecting that I was eating the only sandwiches Shauna would ever make for my lunch. But I have gotten a blueberry cheesecake every Valentine’s day since then.
As I ate my lunch, I remembered that I had promised myself and had made a strong commitment and the date for both was coming up. I knew I needed to follow through.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Romance--IV Our dating resumes--with an exception

IV. Shauna and I resume our dating where we left off--with an exception.
After Shauna passed her test, I was thrilled, of course, to be able to start dating her again. But I was also thrilled to be able to start dating JoAnn Parker again. I had dated JoAnn for over six months before she broke it off, which was shortly before I met Shauna. She had the advantage of being a returned German missionary. (Shauna had gone to France-Belgium on her mission.) And although, we never actually spoke German on our dates, I could visualize us sitting together, blissfully reading Schiller and helping our children recite "Das Lied von der Glocke". On the other hand, I couldn’t imagine Shauna getting very excited about Schiller and I was certainly not likely to get excited about Voltaire. But there were other things. The fact is, I loved being with each one. I loved Shauna’s laugh and cheery enthusiasm about so many things, but with JoAnn, well, there was always Schiller.
My life settled into a fairly predictable routine. I dated each girl twice a week--once during the week--a sort of quick, informal date-- and once on the week-end, in a more conventional, formal date--usually, a movie or a dinner.
I came to feel more and more sneaky about the whole thing. Oh, I made it clear that I was dating others, but that was the problem, I never had the courage to tell either of them that "others" was really "another". The once-only-on-the-week-end thing was tough. I implied to both girls that it was a sort of code--rather like the "Code of the Woosters", only the "Code of the Gees" that until you were engaged you never took a girl out more than once on a week-end.
For Thanksgiving I went to visit my sister, Loni, in Rexburg, but, I also visited JoAnn at her parents’ home in St. Anthony and met her parents. She came down and met Loni, Allen, and their children. We had a wonderful time together and by the time I was on my way back to Salt Lake on Sunday night, I was sure that I going to marry JoAnn.
But once back, my certainty began to evaporate. I was just so strongly attracted to Shauna that as soon as I talked with her, I fell right back into the old dating pattern.
Most worrisome was the impending problem of company Christmas parties. Both girls had asked me before Thanksgiving to go with her to hers, and I had tentatively agreed, but was nervous. What if they were on the same night? I was sweating bullets until JoAnn said hers was on the Saturday before Christmas. I pressed Shauna and breathed a sigh of relief when she gave the date, which was the Friday before Christmas. At that point I positively promised each that I would go with her. I simply couldn’t believe my good luck. Unfortunately, what I failed to reckon with was the fact that Shauna was as poor with dates as she had been with math (before I tutored her, naturally). In a sense, the problem of the two cans of orange juice had raised its head again.
A couple of days before the party, she announced that she had gotten the date wrong. It was actually on Saturday. I felt terrible, but I had to tell her that I simply could not go. What was worse, was that the date with JoAnn did not go well at all. I began to sense the same sort of coolness that I had sensed before we broke up with me at the end of the summer. I found myself wishing that I could have gone with Shauna to her party.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Romance--3 Out dating comes to a halt

III. Our dating career comes to a sudden and surprising halt.
I was sitting in my not-too-comfortable apartment on D street looking forward to the week-end and another blissful day with Shauna when the phone rang. As those of us who are punctilious about our grammar are careful to say, "It was she."
"I need you to help me", she said almost pleadingly and then added with a sense of urgency, "tonight."
We 34 year old bachelors on a roll with an exciting dating partner are always willing, and usually even eager, to help said dating-damsel-in-distress, especially since the age of dragons--and similar dangers--has pretty much past. "Certainly," I responded chivalrously, "name the time and place and I shall be at your service." Well, what I actually said was more like, "Ah-er--I suppose so. What do you need me to do?" But the intent was the same.
Shauna then launched into a long and, I’m afraid to say, tedious explanation, the gist of which (for the benefit of the impatient reader) was that she was hired to teach 2nd grade with the understanding that she had a teaching certificate. She did not have said certificate, because she lacked a math class, which, if she did not complete by October 31st (it then being early October), she would lose her job. The tedious part of the explanation, which, as I mentioned above, I have spared the reader on account of his/her impatience, had to do with how and why she was hired when she lacked the required certificate. Naturally, through all of this, I became increasingly eager to know how I was supposed to help, my teacher-certificate-awarding-capability being very very limited. When I finally mentioned this, she explained how I was to help. Fortunately, she explained, she did not actually have to complete the class. All she really needed to do was to pass a test challenging the class, which she planned to do the next day, with a little help from me by way of prep-study that evening.
I was happy to oblige.
Accordingly, a short time later, I found myself with Shauna in the Murray City library. She opened a math book containing a practice quiz and said, "Let’s start with some of these problems."
It was somewhere between 20 and 40 seconds into this training session that I realized that there was absolutely no hope that she was going to pass that math test. At this point I was in something of a quandary. I really liked Shauna and was, therefore, eager to be as helpful as possible. On the other hand, I felt certain that by associating myself too closely with the disastrous results of the upcoming test, I would be leaving an unpleasant association toward me in her mind. I decided, therefore, that the safest course was to be helpful from a distance. I told her that I felt it best if she worked alone until she had a question and that I would be looking over the library collection while she studied, and consequently, would be handy if she needed me. During the next half hour or so, she called me over a couple of times. Shortly after she called me the last time, a rather handsome fellow walked over to her and they began an animated discussion. I was just getting a bit annoyed by this when Shauna signaled for me to come over.
"This is my friend, Larry ______," she introduced as I approached. "He’s studying to be a seminary teacher." We shook hands and as we did so Shauna continued, "This is my friend, Merrill. He’s and engineer."
"Oh, I started out in engineering." Larry said enthusiastically (he was always enthusiastic), "but I decided that I am more of a people person than a machine person."
"Yes," I responded. "There are only two kinds of people; those who relate to people and those who relate to machines, but, of course, you can’t relate to both." I tried to sound ironical, but to no avail. Although I really don’t believe that you are either a people- or a machine-relater, I do believe that there are only two kinds of people--those who understand irony and those who don’t. Larry was one of the "don’ts".
"That’s really true," he said--as always, enthusiastically.
"Well, I guess I better get back to studying," Shauna said with a smile--and she did have the cutest smile. She tried to study for a few more minutes, but it was obvious that the conversation with Larry had broken her study pattern, so she gave it up and we went out for a snack and then home.
The next day after work I got a call. "You will never believe this, "Shauna almost sobbed. "I failed the test!" This, I felt, was one of the very few of life’s little shocks for which I was, in fact, amply prepared. "Now I have to take the class," she continued, "and I have to finish it by the 31st or I lose my job. You’ve got to help me."
We worked out a plan of attack and made an agreement. There would be no dating whatsoever between us while she was working on the class. Ours would be strictly an academic arrangement. She would come over every night and we would work through one chapter and she would mail it in.
And we did it. She completed all the assignments, took--and passed--the final exam, with, I believe, one or two days to spare.
Although we did no dating, this was the best dating investment I ever made in a most, as mentioned before, unillustrious dating career. We learned more about each other than we would have learned in many months of conventional dating.
Toward the end of October, I got a call from JoAnn Parker inviting me to go with her to a symphony orchestra concert. I took an evening off from math tutoring. JoAnn and I had a wonderful time and it was clear that she had reconsidered her previous rebuffs.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Romance--II Shauna and I begin dating.

Shauna and I begin dating.
Several days after the fascinating details recorded in the previous chapter, I was walking down the street with my usual jaunty gait when JoAnn Parker honked and waived at me as she drove by. From this action, I quite naturally concluded that she regretted breaking up with me and that she was quite madly in love with me. I, therefore, after a few days of working up the necessary nerve, asked her to go with me to a production of "The Merry Widow". She accepted, but from a certain coolness in her tone of voice, I concluded that the honk she had given me was not intended to convey all the meaning, or, at least, exactly the meaning, I had read into it. In fact, I rather gathered that she did want to see "The Merry Widow", but would have preferred to do so in someone else’s company.
I knew that if the date was as big a bust as our last one had been, that I would be depressed for at least a week--most likely longer--so I decided to take steps to shield myself against depression by getting a date with someone I could be excited about for the next night. The only such person who came readily to mind was Shauna Bowman. So accordingly, I called her and invited her to go with me to a production of "The Mikado" at the Promised Valley Playhouse. To my delight (and somewhat to my surprise), she accepted. Since this was Thursday night and our date was for Saturday, I was nervous that there would be no tickets left, so I dashed down to the box office.
"Do you have any tickets left for Saturday night?" I asked eagerly.
I breathed a sigh of relief and pocketed the tickets without even bothering to look at them. To this day, I am not sure whether that was a good thing or a bad, but it did result in a surprise--and not the kind we generally look forward to.
I had been correct in my assessment of the situation with JoAnn. The performance of "the Merry Widow" was delightful; the date was not. It became quickly apparent that JoAnn had accepted the date to (a) see "the Merry Widow" and (b) to make it clear to me that she most certainly and definitely did not desire a return engagement. At the end of the play, I suggested that we go to an ice cream parlor for a snack, to which she responded, Let’s not. It’s late and I’m tired. Let’s go home". Which, of course, we did.
I was somewhat depressed, but I was grateful, and even excited, that I had prepared myself against great depression by making the date with Shauna.
I found out later that I came very very close to an exceedingly bad case of double depression. Shauna had spent most of the day with Leroy Hannon, who had come all the way up from Texas to visit her. Just before our date, she decided that since he had come all that way that she really should spend the evening with him. She called over to my apartment to cancel our date, but, fortunately, I had already left.
She sent Leroy off to friends and was taking out her garbage, when she saw me clearing a spot in my car for her by transferring books and papers from the passenger seat to the trunk.
"Obviously, he isn’t anymore excited about this date than I am," she thought.
The date was exactly the opposite my date the night before. Although, I avoided the disaster of having the date actually canceled, the rest of the date was a series of disasters. But the overall date was, for me at least, delightful. The first problem was that Shauna assumed that when I had asked her to "The Mikado", that I meant the restaurant of that name and had, therefore, not eaten and was most hungry.
When we got to the theater I presented the tickets and we were shown to our seats, but we soon noticed that a couple kept staring intently at us. At first, I assumed that the girl was doubtlessly one of 100 girls--as mentioned earlier--I had previously dated and was staring at us, annoyed that I had found so attractive a replacement, but it became apparent that such was not the case, because the fellow was, if anything, staring more intently than the girl. I was relieved, therefore, when they left, but shortly, they returned accompanied by an usher.
"May I see your tickets?" he asked. When I produced them, he continued, "You will need to come with me." He conducted us down to the lobby, but I noticed as we walked out that the couple, with a look mixed with relief and triumph, seated themselves in what had been our seats.
"I’m afraid that your tickets are for the wrong night. These are worthless," the usher announced as we stepped into the lobby. Sure enough, a glance at the tickets showed that they were for Thursday night. I can only imagine that I was so excited about the need for tickets that the ticket person assumed I wanted them for that very night.
I was about to have us leave the theater, when Shauna said, "Absolutely not! You bought those tickets and didn’t use them. She marched up to the box office and voiced strong objection to the ticket person, who finally relented and had an usher conduct us to two vacant seats at the back of the theater.
I am not a real "Mikado" fan, but the performance was enjoyable.
Afterwards we went to Snelgrove’s for an ice cream. I didn’t care much for ice cream, so I ordered the smallest one on the menu and Shauna, although, I am sure she was famished, followed suit.
I had a marvelous time on our first date and promptly asked her for a second. Indeed, there followed a series of absolutely delightful dates.
Our third date took us to Layton to her cousin, Jennifer’s, wedding reception, which was held at Shauna’s grandparents Harris’s home. Of course, I met them. They were a delightful couple and association with them was to loom large, not only in our courtship, but also in our early married life. I also met her father, whose first words to me were, "Come by the house sometime and we can have a beer together."
Our 4th or 5th date was to Tremonton where we attended her cousin, Cami’s, missionary report. I enjoyed the report and I enjoyed being with Shauna on the way back, but both trips were frustrating. The trip up because she had brought a French girl friend and they sat together in the back seat and talked only with each other. That was bad enough, but to add to the misery of the moment, I got a ticket for having an expired safety inspection. (In my defense, I had actually taken it in for inspection, but the mechanic had not gotten to it.)
On the return trip, the French friend stayed in the back, but Shauna sat up front so we talked, but we drove back in a roaring blizzard, which dampened the experience considerably.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Romance--1 How I met Shauna

Our Love Story
by Kaey Gee
I. How I Met Shauna
I was 34 years old. I had dated over 100 different girls through a long, but singularly unillustrious dating career.
I was sitting in my apartment on D street when the phone rang.
"Hello," a pleasant female voice said. "This is Shauna Bowman. I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but Pat Knaus gave me your name and said you might be willing to come to a swimming party."
"I love swimming, " I responded enthusiastically--a true statement, made more so by the fact that I had just recently learned to do it, and even more so by the fact that the female voice at the other end of the line was very alluring. "Where and when?’
"Well, my folks have a swimming pool, but we are not going to hold our party there. Instead, a friend of my folks is coming to our house and we are going to hers. It is this Saturday night. Can you come? I need to know because if you can, you have a food assignment."
I agreed after a few more questions that I would come.
"Then you need to bring two small cans of frozen orange juice."
"What if I bring one large can?"
"Absolutely not. It must be two small cans."
I agreed to come--bringing two small cans of frozen orange juice, and then promptly called Pat Knaus, a friend with whom I danced almost every week at the Thursday night LDS dances at the Terrace Ballroom. The whole thing sounded terribly fishy. Why go into a long explanation about the game of musical swimming pools? And why insist on two 6 oz cans of orange juice rather than one 12 oz. can? Of course, I know the answers now. The first was due to the fact that Saturday night was the weekly drinking party at her parents’ home. The second was answered by the fact that 6+6 = 12 was a bit of advanced mathematics about which Shauna did not care to give a great deal of thought--a fact that was to play a most important part in our courtship in just a few weeks.
But, of course, I didn’t know any of that at the time, so I called Pat Knaus, who assured me that Shauna--and the party--were on the up and up.
So accordingly, Saturday night found me wending my way--slowly, as Shauna is fond of pointing out--down a street in Sandy, looking for the proper address. When I found it, I pulled up and the car which had been following me down the street pulled in behind me. Three girls tumbled out and the driver, a short girl of very attractive figure and even more fetching smile, approached me.
"You must be Merrill," she said, revealing a row of perfect teeth behind that smile. "I’m Shauna. Did you bring the two cans?"
Assuring her that I had indeed performed my part, we went into the party. I very much enjoyed that party. Pat Knaus was there, but she was much too busy flirting with John______, a handsome MD doing residency, to spend much time with me. Becky Armstrong, an old flame of mine, was there and we spent some time together. Sherry Sieverts, a good friend of Shauna’s, spent much time extolling the virtues of her friend. So I decided to try to get to know her personally, but with very little success. I did get to speak briefly with her by offering to dry the dishes she was washing. But having done that she was off on some other task, making sure that everything was in order--a pattern that has not much changed in the intervening thirty years.
I was one of two--both boys--who actually did some swimming. Shauna, later made much of the fact that I wore my shoes and black socks out to the pool, but not having brought any red socks or other swimming-appropriate gear, I had no choice.
Since there was a Stake dance in my stake that same night, I left the party early. I rather hoped that JoAnn Parker--the girl I had been dating all summer--would be there. On our last date she had made it clear that she did not wish to date me anymore, but I thought that meeting her at the dance might be a way to rekindle the romance, but, as I headed for the dance, I realized that the likelihood that JoAnn, who hated to dance, would be there was tiny. So I went straight home.
The next day, I penned a "thank you" to Shauna for inviting me to her party, little expecting that I would ever see her again--a feeling I’m sure she shared, the only thing about me that she could even remember being my black socks.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Since February is Valentine's month, I have decided that I will post the story of how I met and married my wife, Shauna (with her permission, of course). It is only fair to say (as she does whenever I tell this story), that her version of how it happened is a little bit--and in some places, more than a little bit--different.