In October 1959, I met the girl I would marry. I didn’t realize it at the time because, at age 19, I wasn’t exactly in the market for a wife. Instead, I was a gangly sophomore at Notre Dame licking my chops for a good time. So when a friend told me that I’d been fixed up with a freshman from St. Mary’s for the Victory Dance after the Notre Dame-Purdue game, I was both excited and apprehensive. I knew blind dates could be grim—like buying distressed merchandise with a no return policy—but back then there was no speed dating or meeting for coffee. A blind date meant you were stuck with whoever showed up for hours. Still, I was hoping for the best, based on how my date had been described.
I remember the ritual I went through getting ready. I wanted to make a great first impression. So after the game, I shined my shoes, put on my blue suit with my favorite red tie, liberally splashed Aqua Velva on my face and neck, slapped on some pit grease, looked in the mirror and headed off to St. Mary’s to pick up my date, Margaret Mary Scanlan.
As I hurried up the steps outside Holy Cross Hall, I don’t recall being nervous. I was curious about the person I would meet. How would she look? How would she react to me? Would we have anything in common? Did she like to dance? Would she bolt or feign illness and exit stage left if she didn’t like what she saw?
My thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a nun who looked me over like I was standing at inspection before asking me my name and the person I was there to pick up. After the formalities (I had passed muster), she instructed me to sit with the other sheep huddled near her desk waiting for their “Loretta Youngs” to make their appearances.
The wait seemed to take forever, but then the door opened, and my date stopped in front of me. I went numb. She was radiant. She was tiny—5-foot-2—in a perfectly-fitted hunter green sheath dress. When we were introduced, her bright smile was dazzling. Her big, blue-green eyes were engaging, her softly-coiffed dark hair reminded me of a Clairol ad.
I took her hand, led her down the steps and grabbed a cab to the Notre Dame campus. We danced all night to the Les Elgart Orchestra and talked about our families. She was from Blue Island, Ill. on Chicago’s south side, her dad was a dentist and she had a brother, Jim, six years younger.
At 11 p.m., the band promptly signed off; both schools had a midnight curfew. Arriving back at St. Mary’s, I walked Margaret up to the door and without reservation, leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. It was my way of saying, “Thanks for a terrific evening, and I hope you feel the same way.” It was the nicest evening I had ever had with a girl.
We dated for the next four years and were married on Aug. 10, 1963, on Marg’s 22nd birthday.
What started with a simple kiss on the forehead has evolved into a marriage of 50 years. I look at our long relationship with great pride in not only what we have accomplished as a couple, but also as the parents of two children who have given us both great happiness. Yes, there are things that I would do differently if given the opportunity. And I’ve learned that the foundation of a lasting relationship is based on good communication, candor, commitment, character and compromise.
After dealing with MS for almost four decades of our marriage’s 50 years, I now understand what Margaret meant in her vows when she said, “I, Margaret Mary, take you John for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.” Words that many take for granted until their world goes upside down.