February 23rd – A Remembrance

“We do not remember days, we remember moments”

“Hi Sis, I’m getting married and I want the ceremony to be in Albany.” My sister Carole asked “What do you a need, a priest, minister or rabbi, and how soon?”. “A priest, and as soon as I can.” I responded. “I’m on it, see you soon.” I left my girlfriend’s car in my parent’s garage and we drove my father’s car from Philadelphia to Albany, New York because I was afraid my girlfriend’s sister, when she heard her sister was missing would call the police. And that’s exactly what she did.


At the beginning of my twenties, I was engaged to be married for a couple of years to a very nice woman named Vanna with no wedding date ever really discussed. We were very content in the relationship, but the passion level had diminished considerably. I was living in an apartment in suburban Philadelphia with a roommate from college when one night there was a knock on the door by a new neighbor who had no phone service and asked if she could use our phone. Her name was Margaret, but she requested I call her Margi (pronounced “Mar-gee”). I of course showed her where the phone was located and kept a discreet distance away but I could see her short-styled blonde hair, her eyes as blue as a clear summer sky, and a smile that could and did mesmerize. We chatted for a while as Margi explained that both she and her mother had just moved from upstate Pennsylvania and she was looking for an x-ray technician position locally.  For weeks I asked her for a date, until finally she relented and accepted to join me at a favorite bar located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, on the New Jersey side. I never mentioned the fact that I was technically engaged because I saw no benefit of unnecessarily complicating our first date. She ordered a Manhattan; I ordered a beer. A little while later she convinced me that I should try a Manhattan as I might like it. I did and I did. I enjoyed them so much Margi drove home later when I could no longer communicate intelligently. I recovered enough to stay up all night walking around and talking about everything  except alcoholic beverages and when we arrived at her apartment to finally say goodnight, I asked her to marry me (I know, I know, but complications were no longer on my mind). She looked at me seriously with those blue eyes, and then laughed out loud at my proposal. “The last thing I need or want is a serious relationship, so get any ideas you have out of your mind…goodnight”. The door closed, end of discussion. My two-woman engagement lasted about a month when I finally broke off the engagement by honestly telling Vanna  I had met another woman and fell in love and wanted to marry her instead. That was rough but telling Vanna  WHEN I proposed was definitely a mistake; the thought of honesty is always the best policy quickly evaporated under the barrage of expletives spewed in my direction. The next morning I found all my belongings and personal items out in the street exactly where she said they would be, and as I was loading my car, Vanna  came out under the influence of possibly the very potent Manahattans and picked up where she had left off, using very unladylike language for what felt like a long time. I took it like the weasel I was and left, never to see Vanna again.


Margi & Me 1967


Eventually my love won over Margi and we decided to elope and get married when I was home on emergency leave from my duty station in Korea to take care of assorted details as a result of my father having a serious accident. She wrote her mother a note explaining our intentions and letting her know we would call after we were safely married and we drove her car to my parent’s house to inform them of the elopement. My father was immobile because of a lower body cast resulting from falling down a set of stairs, so there was no way they could see us get married in Albany. I asked permission to take their car because I was worried about Margi’s family and how they would react to the news. My premonition paid off as I learned later that Margi’s sister did indeed call the State Police and reported a stolen vehicle. Her older sister was well-educated, very smart, and a little eccentric. And she did not like me. I was not a college graduate; my position was a lowly private in the United States Army with no discernible future plans. On that score I couldn’t fault her logic as it seemed every waking moment of mine was spent calculating how to avoid getting sent to Vietnam. My survivor skills were nil and I’m sure sister-dearest felt I would be an early casualty. Not that she would mind that, but not if it happened as her sister’s husband. And she was probably right on that score also as the Army tried to teach me to be a 50-caliber machine gunner on an Armored Personnel Carrier (miniature tank). I was such a woos, I couldn’t even cock that machine gun. But all this worrying concerned the future. All Margi and I knew was that we were young, in love and wanted to be married. The wedding date was set…February 23rd.

A few days after the wedding we drove back to Philadelphia to face Margi’s sister and mother. Her mother was not happy and refused to talk to us. Her sister was semi-hysterical having no problem yelling at us about how Margi had brought disgrace upon them by marrying “this…this…excuse for a man.” Excuse me? After our son Sean was born, we visited Margi’s family for the first time in upstate Pennsylvania. At our first sit-down dinner, the food was passed around the table until it got to the person sitting next to me, who then passed it back in the direction it had just been, thereby skipping me. My wife stood up, chastised her family and told them we were leaving. I explained that I really could not care how they treated me, but to treat their own family member with such disregard was unimaginable. Until their attitudes changed, we would not be coming back. And we didn’t. And a few years passed.


 Final Days at the Pentagon 1970

A second child was born, a girl, Heather and we lived happily in Arlington VA, Margi working part-time as an x-ray tech and I as a sergeant at the Pentagon, until I was discharged from the Army, and then in the Albany region of upstate New York. Margi’s family finally accepted me, found out that I was indeed likable and we all got along splendidly in the future years with the sole holdout of  the older sister. She never changed her opinion. Twelve happy years passed until on an April’s Fool’s day, Margi was diagnosed with chronic, progressive Multiple Sclerosis. She physically and mentally went down hill slowly for the next twelve years taking a terrible toll on everyone until she passed away in 1992 at the age of 43.  The children and I were slow to recover and it left emotional scars that never will fully heal for us.


Margi, Sean, Heather 1972


Margi proved for me that “love at first sight” was and is a real possibility. She took a chance on a man with no secure future and someone her family told her was a giant mistake. But as it has happened so many times over the years, it all worked out. We became young adults together, learned to be parents together, looked at the future together and smiled. It’s a tragedy her life could not have taken a more healthy turn and spared her from the ravages of a progressive disease. I fortunately found love again and learned how fulfilling a new life could be. My son today is healthy and happy and we talk long-distance multiple times a week We both look forward to visits. My daughter, for all I know could be best friends with my ex-sister-in-law due to the fact Heather and I  have spoken only sporadically over the last ten years. I can only silently wish her happiness and all good things. However, today on what might have been Margi’s and my 47th wedding anniversary I look back and remember her with love and affection and thanks as I try to tell one abbreviated story of this wonderful woman. Happy Anniversary Margi.


About Alan G Billingsley

My career has been varied, including time as a newspaper deliverer, lifeguard, bubble gum maker, door-to-door detergent promoter, telephone book proofreader, short order cook, private employment agency counselor and owner, office and credit manger, infantryman, pots and pans salesman, Chinese restaurant cook, Chinese restaurant owner, public employment counselor, budget analyst, tax analyst, grant administrator, radio announcer, radio and television show host, disk jockey, automobile valet, child advocate, and now retiree. I've seldom been bored.
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