Crunching birthday apples on a summer afternoon

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 22, 2001

One of my wife's most treasured childhood memories is that of sitting on the garden swing with her grandma, crunching apples as loudly as possible.

"Apples taste so much better when you crunch them real loud," her grandma had told her.

This is typical of the simple joys by which Mary Anna stole my heart so many years ago. Now she, too, is a grandma, and this week she is celebrating her 60th birthday. She still loves the simple joys, and she continues to steal my heart.

As my birthday surprise for her, let me tell you about the first date I had with my all-time favorite coffee companion.

Mary Anna caught my attention – or should I say, caught me – while we were studying Greek together at Houghton College, a small liberal arts school in western New York State. This was back in the early '60s.

The usually strait-laced college – they held to the "six-inch rule," that is, unmarried students of the opposite kind were not permitted to get closer to each other than six inches – had an annual tradition of celebrating Sadie Hawkins Day: the gals chased the guys, and if they caught one, they treated their captive to a picnic. There was one condition, however: no catching guys inside buildings.

I had become aware of Mary Anna's intention to make me her Sady Hawkins trophy. When the big day came, I teased her by sitting right next to her as Professor Stockin lectured our class on Homer. But she wasn't allowed to catch me there – oh, no, I was within the safe zone of a building. The moment class was over, however, I gave her a run for her honey (I mean, money), around the desks, out the window – fortunately, the classroom was ground level – and down the path.

I'll tell you, it wasn't easy to run fast enough to get caught! But caught I was, and Mary Anna and I took our first walk together at that picnic. We then broke the six-inch rule repeatedly over the next months by walking hand-in-hand through old Farmer Clark's meadow above the campus. And eventually we walked together down the aisle, even though she'd come down with measles the day before the wedding.

(Quite frankly, it's a miracle our journey ever got beyond that first date, considering that, the evening after that first picnic, when I introduced her to my house parents, I introduced her by the name of the girl I had taken out the night before!)

Well, we've continued to walk together for going on 40 years, now. Not only is Mary Anna my lover and best friend, but my inspiration, sustainer, consultant, confidante, and prayerful companion.

She still loves the simple joys of life, and this summer once again she stole my heart with one of them.

For a long time Mary Anna had a vision for a certain kind of backyard garden park she wanted to create. When our sons and their families teamed up to give her a three-seat garden swing this past Mother's Day, she knew the time had come to realize her dream.

She took a 10 m square plot of scruffy, disorganized ground and did for it what she's been trying to do with me throughout our marriage: she made it into a thing of beauty. Starting with the rich soil and some lush rhubarb plants we inherited from the former owners, she added paths, flower and vegetable plots, a lilac bush and black ash tree, a circular rockery with lanterns – and a most special place for her new garden swing.

And if she gives me a big hug and kiss for writing this column, I'll join her on that swing, and together we'll crunch apples as loudly as we can.

I love you, Mary Anna. I'm so glad you're my wife. Happy birthday!

© 2001 Warren Harbeck

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