I Do—For the House
Tekla Dennison Miller
My decision not to remarry didn’t interfere with dating, when a good man could be found. I even had my engagement ring reduced to fit my pinky finger as a constant reminder not to get too close to another man. So I wasn’t surprised that my first date with Grant was not as romantic as it was shocking.
Encouraged by my girlfriend Carrie, Grant called me every week trying to persuade me to meet him by reading a horoscope he made up that clearly stated we were meant for each other. So after those calls and several failed attempts to get me to meet Grant, Carrie, had finally convinced me to accept Grant’s invitation to a casual dinner party at his house. Carrie thought Grant and I were made for each other, but I had my doubts because of his roommate, Paul, Carrie’s not so appealing boyfriend. I wasn’t sure anyone rooming with Paul would be a man I wanted to meet. After years of supporting Paul, Carrie finally threw him out of her apartment, but foolishly continued to date him.
On the night of the party I pulled my car to the curb and examined the address on the sheet of paper in my hand. It read 907 Sunshine Lane. I looked back at the house to confirm the address on what appeared to be a newly hung sign. Nine zero seven painted in large black numbers stared back at me. How could it be? It seemed odd to have a date with someone who lived in the house I had desperately wanted to buy with my former husband. Apparently Grant, my blind date, owned the two story brick colonial house located in the perfect quiet old neighborhood. I drove by the residence nearly every day when I was house hunting hoping it would go up for sale.
Noticing several cars parked outside, I knew the dinner party was well under way. A strange sensation rushed through me as I approached the front door to my dream house. What kind of man owned MY house? And what really brought me to that destination?
Before I could ring the bell, a man pushed the front door wide and announced, “Hi! I’m Grant.”
Grant whose mass of curly reddish blond hair hung well below his ears, had a bushy mustache and engaging grin. He stood in the doorway barefoot and shirtless, wearing cutoff jeans exposing thin legs, and holding a jug of hearty burgundy wine. I suddenly felt overdressed in my T-shirt, overalls, Birkenstock sandals and wearing my hair in two long braids. The outfit had been planned to discourage Grant from further attempts to date me. As I stood taking in Grant’s appearance I realized my effort to ward off his advances didn’t go as planned.
Grant, I discovered, was divorced and had three sons. I, on the other hand, had a small mutt named Wellington, age six months, and an orange Volkswagen Bug.
I also discovered that Grant had no intention of improving on his manner of dress. He picked me up for our first real date the following week, dinner at Trini and Carmen’s Mexican restaurant wearing clean white jeans with the hem out on the right pant leg, a blue plaid shirt with two buttons missing, and graying white tennis shoes filled with holes. The restaurant had been temporarily closed because of the largest food poisoning episode in the history of the U.S. at the time and once reopened took the name, La Familia Martinez.
Although Grant was an automotive design engineer, he drove a newly purchased red van with only one seat in it—his. I sat on an ottoman so low to the floor, I could hardly see out the windows. My nose just reached the top of the dash board while my eyes could barely peer over it. The stool rolled over every time we rounded a corner, causing me to careen in all directions and occasionally to the floor. Without taking his eyes from the road and in one smooth motion using his right hand, Grant lifted me back in place. Grant promised that the passenger seat would be installed soon.
When we arrived at the restaurant, Grant pointed to the new name, La Familia Martinez, and announced, “It has to be the safest place to eat since the owner just got the ok to reopen.” All the employees wore black T-shirts that had Survivor written in red across the chest. I should have taken that inscription as a premonition of my relationship with Grant.
Our second real date was the annual Blizzard’s Ski Club party. For me it climaxed when one of Grant’s rather inebriated friends threw me fully clothed into a pool. Chivalrous Grant swam to my rescue. He lifted me out of the pool, but released me before I had braced myself, causing my jaw to hit the concrete siding. Suddenly I was surrounded by helpful party-goers pressing wet towels against by bleeding mouth until Grant got dressed and drove me home.
Although I broke a tooth and I felt somewhat nervous about what would happen to me next, I dared to go to a family picnic with Grant the next day. All during the party at another friend’s home I held an ice pack on my swollen and bruised face while Grant fed me Jell-O saying, “Don’t try to chew, just let it melt in your mouth.”
Grant later made arrangements with his dentist to repair the tooth which meant having it capped. He also graciously paid for the repair even though I said his friend should. “He didn’t mean to hurt you,” Grant proclaimed as though that was enough to exonerate him.
Although it was clear that a life with Grant could be dangerous to my wellbeing and even after dreaming that I was wearing the ‘Survivor” T-shirt, I continued to date him. His charm and engaging smile that I discovered when we first met had me hooked.
Grant asked me to marry him about six months after we met. “I’ll marry you,” I responded. “But, you have to get the yellow kayak out of the master bedroom and the dirt bike out of the living room. And remember,” I teased, “I’m only marrying you for the house.” From what I had observed of his housekeeping habits and wardrobe I also realized Grant desperately needed a wife.
We married during a January blizzard in the home of a minister, Grant’s colleague, who purchased his church and title through the mail. Before taking our vows that night, I confirmed the marriage would be legal. The minister’s two children and my dog Wellington stood as witnesses. Grant and I were dressed in blue jeans and T-shirts. Actually, he was wearing denim bell bottoms that he still owns and oddly have come back in style.
We celebrated our marriage by having dinner at a new restaurant, breaking our Friday night tradition at La Familia Martinez. We were the only couple among a few male patrons hovering at the bar who braved the blizzard that evening. I felt uncomfortable with the way the waiter rushed our order and the others in the eatery stared at us. I believed they probably wanted to close the restaurant and get home before they were snowed in. Our celebration meant nothing to them. A few weeks later we learned that the restaurant was a newly opened gay establishment. The confused stares and the waiter’s awkward behavior became understandable.
I decided that any couple who began their relationship the way we did had to have a happy marriage. I held onto that belief even when Grant introduced me as his wife, “Mary” (Grant’s first wife) to a very proper British couple we met on our Cayman Island honeymoon. We laughed, but they frowned as they looked at my ringless fingers. After that, as a joke, I introduced Grant as, “My current husband.” We later purchased a wedding band as part of our honeymoon mementoes.
One day shortly after we were married, Grant tried to answer our front door. Our dog Wellington had the bad habit of jumping up and down in an attempt to see who was on the other side of the storm door’s window. Grant ignored my warning, “Don’t pick up Wellington.”
So while the paper boy watched through the window of the closed storm door, Grant rushed to pick up Wellington who jumped as I had cautioned, hitting Grant in the jaw with his head and knocking Grant to the floor. As I pressed a wet cloth against Grant’s bleeding mouth, now minus a front tooth, Wellington continued jumping and barking. The shocked paper boy announced, “I’ll come back later to collect,” and scrambled away.
As I knelt beside Grant and recalled my lost tooth, I said the only thing that came to me, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
Grant didn’t think that was funny. Our dentist and Grant’s friend, whom we persuaded to leave a tennis game, didn’t think it was funny either.
Undaunted by our challenging courtship and our unusual marriage events, and despite the tooth comment, we’ve remained partners through forty years of marriage, three houses, three grandchildren and seven more dogs. I still introduce Grant as my current husband.