Happy apple-crunching 80th!

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 26, 2021

I first shared this story 20 years ago for my wife’s 60th birthday. Her 80th birthday this week seems like a great excuse to share it again.

One of Mary Anna’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 great-grandma –, still loves the simple joys, and 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 1960s.

The usually strait-laced college – they held to the “six-inch rule,” that is, unmarried couples 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: buildings were out of bounds.

I had become aware of Mary Anna’s intention to make me her Sadie Hawkins trophy. When the big day came, I teased her by sitting right next to her in Professor Stockin’s 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, 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.

Well, we’ve continued to walk together for nearly 60 years, now. Not only is Mary Anna my lover and best friend, but my inspiration, sustainer, consultant, confidante, and prayerful companion. And she still knows how to get my attention.

For a long time, Mary Anna had a vision for a certain kind of backyard park she wanted to create. When our sons gave her a garden swing 20 years ago, she knew the time had come to realize her dream.

She took a 10-metre-square former vegetable patch in our backyard 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 we inherited from the former occupants, she added paths, annual and perennial flowers, 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 for writing this column, I’ll join her on that swing, and we’ll crunch apples as loudly as we can.

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


© 2021 Warren Harbeck

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