Funny you should ask ... Tim Gamble

How did you meet Sandy?
When did you know you wanted to marry her?

I was in my second year at ASU. I was living at the College Inn in Tempe. At the time, it was a private dorm for men only, most of whom were underclassmen. I had the same two roommates as I did the year before — Jim and Greg. Greg was a year ahead of me in the College of Architecture. Jim was a junior studying finance and was the RA for our wing at the College Inn. It was September 1968. The social committees from Manzanita Hall, a women’s dorm of mostly freshman and sophomores, and the College Inn were sponsoring a “mixer” for the second weekend of the new school year. I didn’t go. I was already mired in homework but my roommate Jim, who was on the social committee, had volunteered me to help with the cleanup after the dance.

A little after 11pm I walked down to Manzanita about a half mile north of the College Inn and met with Jim who was already busy giving out assignments. The dance was just getting over and there was quite a bit of work to do to get everything ready for the first breakfast shift in the morning. Manzanita held about 800 students and the cafeteria was huge. We got busy setting up the old industrial style lunchroom tables and benches which had been folded up and moved aside to make room for the dance floor.

We could have used a lot more help. There were only a few of us, but we were making good progress. The cleanup committee from Manzanita started restoring the tabletop odds and ends. Before my wandering eyes appeared a little yellow bird carrying a tray of salt and pepper shakers on the other side of the room. She wasn’t really a yellow bird, but she was wearing a canary yellow jacket. I made a beeline straight toward her. I introduced myself and asked if she needed any help. I don’t remember exactly what she said. I wasn’t really listening. It must have been something like, “Down boy, not happening, in your dreams, leave me alone.” She then proceeded to finish putting down the salt and pepper shakers along the row of tables.

Dauntlessly, instead of just admiring the view, I picked up an empty tray and proceeded to follow her, picking up all the salt and pepper shakers from the row of tables she had just completed. She turned around and stared at me, either in disgust or disbelief, I wasn’t exactly sure which. I hadn’t learned to speak Sandy yet. In any event, I helped this mystery girl distribute the rest of the salt and pepper shakers all the while trying to cajole her into giving me her name and phone number. After several rounds of coy banter, she finally relented.

I called Sandy a few days later. We had a nice conversation. In the end, I asked her if she wanted to go to a small “get together” with some of my friends on Friday night. Surprisingly, she was very amenable to the idea and to me. I went to her dorm to pick her up. She came downstairs, saw me sitting there and seemed a bit surprised. She met more than one Tim that week and I was the other Tim. Sandy was well dressed and ready for an evening. This wasn’t the same Sandy I met the first time, the one who rolled out of bed to help clean up the cafeteria. The first version was a cute feisty sprite, someone who could stand toe-to-toe and return serve. This version was beautiful, graceful, and about to be disappointed. I told her it was great to see her again, but she might be a little overdressed for the party we were going to. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind changing into some jeans or slacks. She said OKAY and went back upstairs to change. After about 20 minutes, Sandy sent down an emissary to inform me she had changed her mind and wasn’t coming back down. Sandy’s friend explained the Tim mix-up. I asked her to try and convince Sandy to reconsider. Sandy eventually did.

We went outside to the parking lot and walked over to my motorcycle, which, by the way, was the reason I asked her to change. She took one look at my bike, and said, “I’m not getting on your motorcycle.” I said, “If you prefer, I think we can get my roommate’s car.” Things were not going well at this point. Sandy and I differ on what happened next, but after a bit of wrangling, we finally made it to Sylvia’s apartment and joined the party in progress.

Sylvia was studying to be a teacher and at the time was living with her parents just off campus about a half mile from Manzanita Hall. Sylvia’s parents moved close to the campus so Sylvia could still live at home and save on living expenses. Sylvia’s mom often opened her home to Sylvia’s friends. She was a teacher, retired, and liked having the kids around. I met Sylvia the year before when she was dating my roommate, Jim. She introduced me to the girl I dated for a while the year before and virtually everyone else at the party.

I introduced Sandy to my friends. She was still a little skeptical about the way the evening started but seemed to be more at ease and having a good time. She especially enjoyed Sylvia’s mother, everybody did. After a while someone suggested we give Mom a break and take the party to a local nightclub. I wasn’t much of a drinker. I never developed a taste for alcohol or the desire to suffer the hangovers which inevitably followed. I do like music and socializing with my friends though, so we jumped into one of the cars and off we went.

I had no idea where we were going. We already passed all the places we usually went to, all the nightclubs that catered to the college crowd. We drove and drove until we were in the middle of nowhere. Sandy asked, “Where are we going?” Scott, who was driving exclaimed, “We’re here.” “Here” was a country-western bar. It was the only thing around with an outside light on for miles. We went in. The bar was dark and dank and smelled like spilled beer and sweat. Sandy said, “Take me home.” I said, “I don’t have a car. We’re here, you may as well relax and enjoy the music.” She did for a little while. She wouldn’t have anything to do with me after that. She sat at another table and danced with everyone else in the bar until one rough looking cowboy came over to her and started to get too friendly. I don’t know what he said but it scared her, and she got up, scurried back to our table, and sat in my lap, faced me, and put her arms around my neck. She said, “It’s getting late, and I need to be back to the dorm by the midnight curfew.” I said, “Okay. I’ll let Scott know.” He said something like, “Well, we’ll miss you.” I told him he was our ride. He said, “Okay. We’ll leave in a few.” A few what, minutes, hours?

We finally got back to Tempe. We’d blown right through curfew. I apologized to Sandy and told her she could crash at my place. She said, “Fine, but no funny business if you want to stay out of jail; I’m only 17.” I said, “Not a problem, when’s your birthday? I’m only a boorish cretin before midnight.” “That’s not funny, she said miffed. She did agree though, not only to stay the night but that I was indeed a nitwit. I occupied my time at my drawing board, working on a rendering that was due on Monday all the while we talked. At one point, I showed Sandy how to use one of the drawing pens and she helped me with my drawing. The radio was on in the background. We were listening to my favorite top 40 station. They were running a call-in contest to win keys to a speedboat. Sandy said her dad had a boat and she loved to water ski. I told her, “I’d love to take you, but I have to win the boat first.” I don’t remember if we won any more keys that night. I told Sandy I’d already won several keys during the week. It seems that no one else but me was ever listening to this radio station in the wee hours of the morning. The drawing for the boat was on Sunday in the Sears parking lot on Camelback Road and she was eager to see if we won. It was nearly noon on Saturday before she woke up. I asked her if she wanted to get something to eat and see where the day takes us. She agreed but insisted I get her back to the dorm in time for her next date. Busy girl.

I did get her back in time for her date. It was with her boyfriend, a topic that hadn’t come up yet. Sandy and Johnny were sweethearts in high school. Johnny was a year older and a sophomore attending a different college in Phoenix. I was at Manzanita that Saturday night dropping off another one of my friends when I saw Sandy and Johnny coming up the ramp to the front door. They passed right in front of me. I smiled at Sandy, and she looked at me with a dagger-like stare that said, “Don’t you dare!” Sandy came back outside after Johnny left and asked what I was doing there. I told her it was perfectly innocent and coincidental and asked her if she wanted to go hang out. She said she had curfew and couldn’t. The next thing I knew she came back outside, and we were off. We talked most of the night and in the morning went to Sears to draw my keys from the fishbowl. We waited in line for a chance to try our luck, but a big cheer came from the crowd. Someone ahead of us won the grand prize. I was a little disappointed, but Sandy reminded me, in her inimical way, that I would look pretty silly dragging around that big boat behind my motorcycle. Deflated and winding down from our whirlwind first date we headed back to Tempe and went our separate ways.

We spoke on the phone with some frequency after that, sharing what we’d both been up to. We became friends and all was forgiven for those missteps on our first date. I did ask her out again. She said Friday nights only. The second date was unremarkable. By the third date, and there were no third date social morays in those days, I thought I’d better plan something a little more memorable if I expected to keep Sandy’s interest. The only restrictions on my imagination were my finances. I didn’t have much money. I was a full-time student paying for school with funds from a small insurance settlement, so any grand gesture still had to fit within my budget. I asked Sandy to meet me after class on Friday and be ready to go. She asked, “Go where?” I said, “It’s a surprise but wear something you wouldn’t mind if it got wet.”

I borrowed my mother’s car, picked up Sandy and drove to the old Terminal A at Sky Harbor Airport. In the sixties air travel was simple. Drive up, park, show your ticket, walk up the gangway steps and board the plane. In less than an hour we arrived at the Orange County airport in southern California. We took a shuttle to the amusement park at the beach on Balboa Island. We strolled on the beach barefoot through the surf then sat in the sand and watched the sunset. It started getting chilly, so we walked back to the midway, played a few carnival games and tasted the local fare. The evening was enchanting and a welcome diversion from school and a welcome change from our first few encounters. Time flew by and before we knew it, we had to head home. We made a mad dash back to the airport just in time to catch the last flight back to Phoenix. When we landed, we ran to the car and raced back to the dorm. Sandy slipped through the front door just before curfew.

Later that same month, I asked Sandy if she’d like to go with me to the homecoming football game. A group of us were going and then meeting up at Sylvia’s afterwards. Sandy said it sounded like fun, but she had other plans. I assumed she meant her standing Saturday night date with Johnny, but I thought I’d give it a shot anyway. The Thursday before the game Sandy called me and said that she changed her mind and that she would like to go with me to the game. I told her that I was sorry, but I’d already asked someone else. She said she was in a bit of a bind. She told her parents we were dating and that they could meet me at halftime. I said, “Well, maybe we can. Greg doesn’t have a date and you can go with him to the game. We’ll switch dates at halftime, meet your parents and then switch back afterwards.” Seeing no other option, she agreed.

Meeting Sandy’s parents was cordial and brief. We were about to leave and go back to our seats when Sandy’s father asked us to join them and watch the rest of the game from the two empty seats in front of them. Sandy quickly said yes. I knew I was in trouble. This was my first date with this girl, and she wasn’t keen on the idea of the switch when I sprung it on her at the game. She expected me back after halftime. I had no way of letting her know I was trapped and couldn’t leave without exposing Sandy’s deception.

We did make it to Sylvia’s after the game. My date was there sitting on the couch next to Greg. She gave me a very disapproving look. Sandy sat down next to Greg on the other side, and I sat on the arm of the sofa next to Sandy. Jim got up from his chair and said, “Somethings not quite right here.” He grabbed the hand of both Sandy and my date and had them switch places on the sofa. He looked down with his arms folded and said, “Yes, that’s better.” My date never spoke another word to me while we were there. On the drive back to her place I apologized and tried to explain but she was having none of it. I walked her to the door. She said, “I hope you’re not expecting a goodnight kiss. Lose my number. I never want to see you again.” I’m sure I deserved that but still, that was harsh. I did call her a few times after that to see if I could make it up to her, but she reiterated in no uncertain terms we were done.

My friends weren’t too keen on Sandy. They were obsessed with comparing Sandy to a girl I dated the previous year. The comments were unkind and had to end if I was going to continue seeing Sandy. I decided to do something about it. I concocted an idea to have a funeral for the old queen and coronate a new one. Now the old queen wasn’t my previous girlfriend but was instead the old incarnation of “Evil Sandy” and the coronation was for the ascendance of the new “Sweet Sandy.” I designed a bumper sticker on bright chartreuse paper with black lettering and a small daisy graphic. It merely said across the top in small lettering “Long live lovely” and along the bottom in large script “Sweet Sandy.” I had 200 of them printed.

There were about 8 of us. We held the funeral outside of Manzanita Hall in the early hours of the morning before school started. I gave a small speech about the death of Evil Sandy and resurrection of Sweet Sandy. Sandy’s first class was at the Education building on the other side of campus. I’ve walked her to class enough times to know the exact route she would take. We broke up into 4 teams, each team having a portion of path to handle. We plastered the sidewalks with Sweet Sandy bumper stickers from Manzanita to the Education building. The sun was coming up and I walked the path back to Manzanita to view how the team had done. Yikes! The ramp and railings and front door of her dorm were covered! It was a bit of overkill even for me. I watched from the parking lot of another dorm next to Manzanita as Sandy came out. When she saw the bright green mess in front of her, she made a noise I hadn’t heard yet. I think it was my name and some colorful language at such a high volume and pitch it was hard to decipher. Maybe I went too far this time. How did she know that she was the aforementioned “Sweet Sandy” on the stickers? And how did she know it was my handiwork? Okay the second one she probably could have guessed, but still. Sandy started ripping the stickers off the door and railings as fast as she could. She elicited some help from the girls walking by but there were just too many stickers. She started walking to class seeing more and more stickers along the way. She was furious. After class she stormed over to my dorm room and confronted me. I admitted it was me. I could hardly deny it there were a few stickers still in my room. I explained why I did what I did and that nobody but us knew it was for you. The campus custodians will probably have it all cleaned up by tomorrow. Uh, no. There were still remnants of those stickers when we visited the campus nine years later.

Skipping over several other calamitous dating stories, it was Spring and time to plan Sandy’s 18th birthday party. After all, she was turning legal. I treated Sandy with the utmost respect when it came to anything physical, but I did start teasing her with innuendo about what her future may hold. It was a surprise party at my dorm room. Everybody from our group was there and by now they accepted Sandy as one of their own. We had a cake with sparklers and some heavily spiked punch. One of the girls brought Sandy over to my dorm room and we all yelled, “Surprise!” After telling stories, laughing, and cheering, we sang Happy Birthday. Sandy put her arms around my neck and gave me a big kiss. She said, “Not only am I legal, but I’m also nineteen .” I sat down red faced and especially embarrassed from all the off-color remarks I just made about Sandy turning 18. All my friends were roaring. They laughed ‘til they cried. “I guess I really stepped in it this time. Looks like the joke’s on me, this really is a surprise party.” Quietly Sandy told me she wanted to tell me months earlier. She explained that she just wanted to get to know me a little better without having to fend off any unwanted advances. Sandy was still dating Johnny, and nothing was going to change that. This was the first time I met the real Sandy.

Fast forward to the second half of the question, when did I know I wanted to marry Sandy? Well, we have to skip over the next 2 years which is too bad because they were even more eventful than the first. Sandy and Johnny parted ways in the summer of 1969 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps and left for Vietnam. Sandy didn’t discuss their breakup, nor did I ask. After that Sandy grew into a free spirit, a moving target, a “See you in September” kind of girl. She spent her summers disconnected and far from me, finding and dating new suitors, and generally enjoying her freedom.

We’d reconnect every year in the fall at school and share as many stories and as much detail as we could without destroying each other. That may seem a bit dramatic, but it was truly our “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement. To this day, we still have our little secrets. By the Spring of 1971 I knew our relationship probably wouldn’t survive another long summer separation and I did want it to survive.

Our college party days were over as well. Most of our friends had graduated, gotten married, and were off on their own adventures. We were the only ones left from the original group we socialized with when Sandy and I first met. We were in love. Not the kind of impetuous, crazy love where you’re head over heels and can’t bear the thought of being apart. Clearly, we’ve demonstrated our ability to hit pause and seek new experiences, but we were good friends, and we were better together. At least Sandy and I were toying with the idea of getting married but neither of us were ready. I had just started a new job and Sandy was still in school and it just didn’t seem like the right time. But still, in the back of my mind I thought I’m going to have to do something. I decided to buy an engagement ring and ask Sandy to marry me. If she said yes, at least we’d be making a commitment to each other, and we could start planning a life together. We could get married when she finished school and I’d have the time I needed to become more established at my job.

I went to my favorite jewelry store, Tentoni’s on Camelback and 36th. Mr. Tentoni had helped me out with several purchases when I was in high school. He showed me an assortment of engagement rings. I couldn’t afford anything I would consider buying and I certainly didn’t want to start off with anything that would elicit a response like, “What did you do with the gum?” I asked Mr. T if he would consider working a trade. I was wearing the nice graduation watch my mother had purchased from him. He told me that over the years he had both traded jewelry and sold jewelry on consignment. He looked at my watch and told me I’d need a lot more than what the watch would bring. I thanked him for his time and said, “Let me get back to you. I think I might have an idea.”

I went to visit my mother just a few miles away. I asked her if she had any jewelry, she was no longer interested in. I told her that I was trying to find a way to acquire a diamond engagement ring for Sandy. She said, “Let’s go through my jewelry box and see.” My mother had a few strands of pearls and assorted gold earrings and necklaces. She also had all the junk jewelry my brothers and sister and I used to chip in on for Christmas presents when we were little. There was nothing of note except the diamond wedding ring my mother no longer wore. My folks were divorced several years earlier. It didn’t end well. My mother took off her ring and never wore it again. I asked, “What do you think?” She wasn’t sure. It was a bittersweet memory. She did like Sandy the best of all the girls I’ve ever dated. I told her I would have the solitaire mounted on a different band and she could visit with her diamond every time Sandy and I dropped by. She laughed and said, “no that’s not it. I want Sandy to have it. It’s just that this ring is the last reminder of all the wonderful times I had with your father.” I said, “Well, maybe I should come up with another plan.” She said, “No, no, take the ring with my blessing.” I went back to Tentoni’s and he mounted the diamond solitaire on a beautiful small understated white gold V-pronged ring. I was all set.

I haven’t described much of Sandy’s family yet. They did their best to protect Sandy from anything that might befall her. They were particularly overprotective and suspicious when it came to Sandy’s boyfriends. I was well spoken, well mannered, and versed in all the social graces. I had no difficulty interacting with any of the parents of the other girls I’ve dated. To most I was a welcome sight. Sandy’s mother thought I might be an upgrade to her previous boyfriend, but she still had her doubts. I’d met Johnny on a few occasions, and he was a perfect gentleman. I could see why Sandy was attracted to him. He was soft spoken, gentle, and kind. As Sandy pointed out once in a discussion, “He’s not always so gentile, he just knows how to behave.” Sandy’s father was convinced she was too young and could do better, that I wasn’t going to be her final choice. If I was going to ask Sandy to marry me, I would have to ask for her father’s blessing first. Walter was the king of the castle and didn’t put up with foolishness especially where Sandy was concerned. I had a few hilarious slip-ups which incurred a few hilarious reprisals. This couldn’t be one of those episodes. I had to play it straight, dead serious. I went to see Walter. We discussed the idea. Walter didn’t believe Sandy would accept but said I had his permission to ask which is completely different from having his blessing.

Now it was a race to get to Sandy before her father had a chance to talk her out of it. Not by refusing to allow her to get married, that would have guaranteed an immediate “yes” response from Sandy but more with subtle manipulation and alternative suggestions. Are you sure you’re ready for this, that, and the other? Wouldn’t you rather blah, blah, blah instead. You get the idea. His “go to” move once when he and Sandy were at loggerheads was: “If you do as I ask, I’ll buy you a car.” I can honestly say, if he would have offered me a car to go away, I would have had to think about it. Maybe only for a second but I would have thought about it. I needed to get to Sandy first.

Sandy was a Dance major in her third year at ASU. I met her after class in the early evening. We were walking through the gravel parking lot to my car when I asked her for her keys. I told her I had an extra car key made and I wanted to put it on her keychain. I slipped the ring and the key onto her keychain, tossed it back to her, and said, “Why don’t you drive?” She immediately saw the ring. And without a word she took it off the keychain and pitched it straight at me. That didn’t go well. Maybe I should have put it in a champagne flute like everyone else, but I didn’t expect that reaction. I stammered, ‘W-what did you do that for?” She looked at my face and said, “Oh my gosh, was that real?” I nodded, “Uh-huh.” We spent the next 20 minutes trying to find the ring hidden somewhere in the gravel. We found the ring and she said yes.

We started planning our wedding for mid-summer or should I say Sandy and her mother were planning a wedding. The simple was turning into the spectacular. I think they were having a lot of fun together planning and replanning and planning some more. Each time the affair grew more grandiose. I hadn’t seen them this happy together, ever. My best man was certainly willing to help but he and I hadn’t gotten very far. I think all we had to do, at that point, was show, up which turned out to be kind of important to the story.

My job was going well and turning into my career. In May, three months before the wedding, I accepted a promotion and a transfer to the Bay Area in California. I had a terrible dilemma, job or wedding. Doing both was going to be near impossible. I loaded everything I own into my van and headed to Huntington Beach for two weeks of training leaving Sandy and her mother to finish the details of the wedding. When my training concluded I called Sandy and invited her to meet me in Los Angeles, so we could make the drive to San Francisco together. We had a great trip heading up the coast highway. We stopped at San Simeon and took one of the tours at Hearst Castle, spent the night in a quaint little cabin at Big Sur and had lunch the next day in Monterey before rolling into San Francisco. On the trip I tried to gently persuade Sandy to postpone the wedding in favor of staying and starting our new life together in California.

My new home for the next six weeks was the Marriott Inn at the San Francisco airport. The very first night we were there we had a moment where we felt a kind of dizziness. We both sat down, looked at each other and at the same time said, “What was that?” What that was, was a small earthquake about 20 miles off the coast. The next morning Sandy was on a plane back to Phoenix. The earthquake had pierced the veil of my charm offensive, and she was gone.

As the wedding drew near, I was buried in work, in over my head, struggling to survive. I called Sandy and told her I wasn’t going to make the wedding. And like so many times before she had a bit of a reverse reaction. In no uncertain terms, we were done.

I heard from Sandy again about four months later. She was back at school, sharing an apartment with 3 other girls. I knew one of them. She was an ex-girlfriend of one of my old friends. By now Sandy would have learned all my secrets. Sandy decided to get on a plane and head for San Francisco to see if there was anything left of our relationship worth salvaging. I was living in Foster City with two coworkers who had also survived the last four months of our brutal assignment to open two showrooms at the same time. It was nice to see Sandy again. She was changed, older, more mature than I remembered. She found me not so much grown up but quieter and more subdued than she remembered. We left it casual and agreed to see each other around Christmas time when her semester at school was over. We didn’t have any other communication after that. I went back to work. Sandy went back to school.

I moved from Foster City across the bay to Hayward and was living in an apartment with another coworker when one day around Christmastime, there was a knock at the front door. To my delight, it was Sandy. She decided to surprise me and in the parking lot was a 40-foot semi-tractor trailer with everything she owned, surprise! This time she wasn’t going back home.

I couldn’t really afford the place I was in and decided to move to Castro Valley and share a three-bedroom apartment with a couple of other coworkers, Roger and Mike. It was a little farther out, cheaper and we could split the rent three ways. We didn’t have much in the way of furnishings. Roger and Mike lived like Spartans with just a mattress and dresser in each room. Sandy and I had the master bedroom which we furnished. The living room and dining room and kitchen were bare. Sandy needed a job to help with expenses. We lived at a light rail stop and she rode the train, getting off at each stop, applying for a job at every business, until she found a job at a bank in downtown Oakland.

After several months Sandy’s parents and her little brother came to California to visit us. They were staying at a luxury hotel in Chinatown across the bay in San Francisco. When they made the drive out to Castro Valley, they were appalled at the living conditions and how far Sandy had fallen. She was unmarried, sharing an apartment with three men, one small bathroom and no furniture to speak of. Sandy’s mother, Rene, came into the living room and sat down on the only piece of furniture in the room, the middle seat of my Volkswagen bus. Sandy’s mother was a very sophisticated woman who came from her own humble beginnings. She took it in stride without any comments. She pulled a cigarette from her purse and joined the conversation like everything was normal. As the ash on her cigarette grew longer, she asked me if there was an ashtray. I just couldn’t help myself. I looked at her and said, “Mrs. Werner, I think there’s one on the back of the car seat.” That got the party started. Sandy’s father was furious at the remark and the living conditions, grabbed Rene and Keith and Sandy and left.

The next day after calming down a bit, Walter invited me to join them at their hotel for dinner. I arrived about an hour late, missed the dinner reservations and decided to wait for them in the bar until they returned. They made it back around midnight.

I was drunk at the bar, something I rarely do, when Sandy and her mother found me. Sandy was going to again stay the night with her parents. I was in no condition to drive home so Rene suggested I spend the night with them and drive back in the morning. I don’t remember much. They had a room with two queen beds. Walter and Rene were in one and Sandy and her little brother were in the other. Sandy and her mom took the mattress off the bed and put it on the floor. Keith slept on the box spring and Sandy and I slept on the mattress. In the morning when I woke up next to Sandy in an unfamiliar place. I whispered, “Where are we?” Sandy quietly told me we were in her parent’s hotel room. I again whispered, “Where’s your dad?” From the other bed came a booming response, “Right here!” As the almost but not quite son-in-law, I was desperate to get out of there. I found my pants and, as I was getting dressed, Walter asked with a firm voice, “Where do you think you’re going?” I said, “I have to get back to the other side of the bay and go to work.” He said, “Not without breakfast.” I was already sick and hungover before we sat down for breakfast. Walter was really enjoying himself, taunting me with the food at the table. He knew I was about ready to hurl. “Here let’s get some syrup on those pancakes. Doesn’t that look good?” I made it through breakfast and was on my way back to Castro Valley when I had to pull over and share my pancakes with highway 101.

Sandy’s dad told her he would help her with rent and some furniture if we found a place of our own in a better neighborhood. I knew just the place. We moved back to the old complex we lived at in Hayward and rented a one-bedroom apartment. Many stories, some of the funniest ever would go here but, for now, let’s jump ahead.

I got a promotion and we moved across the bay to San Bruno. Sandy found new employment. It wasn’t easy in those days. The unemployment rate was over 12 percent. She worked with a temp agency and landed a very nice job. Both of us having new assignments made it not the time to ask for time off but Sandy’s dad called her up and asked us to join them in Mexico City for the holidays. December is the busiest time of the year in retail, especially between Christmas and New Year’s. I pulled in some favors and managed to get the time off. Sandy’s dad sent us the tickets and we jumped on the red eye to Mexico City. In the morning we were greeted by Walter and Rene at the airport. On the cab ride to our hotel, Walter wryly asked if I bothered to read the tickets. I said, “No. why do you ask?” He said, “They’re one-way tickets and if you want to make it back to San Francisco, you two are going to get married!”

The subject of weddings and marriage hadn’t come up again since the disaster I created a year and a half earlier. We were living paycheck to paycheck just trying to get by. Living in the Bay Area was very expensive. We started off with less than nothing and needed everything. We were slowly piecing together a household, but the few extra dollars were always spent on our wardrobes for work. Sandy took a reverse reaction to Walter’s demands, as she always did with her father. They argued all the way to the hotel. Sandy didn’t want to get married any more. I pulled Sandy aside in the lobby as Walter was checking us in and asked her to play along. I said, “Your folks obviously went to some great lengths to plan this and get us down here. Let them have their day and we can discuss what we want to do when we get back to San Francisco.” I wasn’t sure if Sandy didn’t want a shotgun wedding or if she never wanted to get married at all. I told Sandy that Mexico only recognizes civil unions and that whatever they have planned probably isn’t legal and won’t be recognized in the States. “Are you sure?” No, but it was all I could think of at the time.

Walter had planned a beautiful vacation; the wedding plans were a little more ad hoc. He figured if he got us down here, he’d figure out how to get us married. After we checked into the hotel Sandy’s dad suggested we settle in and rest before dinner that evening. The hotel was a beautiful wedge-shaped structure on the Reforma. All the rooms opened to a dramatic view of an interior courtyard. We had the suite next to Walter and Rene. Sandy was still in no mood to play. I suggested we jump into bed and well, you know. She said not on your life. My parents are on the other side of that wall. I said, “Okay, no problem” and started gently banging the headboard against the wall. Her eyes popped out of her head, and she quietly begged me to stop. Later that afternoon we started getting ready for dinner. Sandy ran a bath in what could only be described as a small swimming pool. We both jumped in. There was a knock at the front door. I stood on the ledge of the tub and looked out the small window at the top of the bathroom. It was Walter, all dressed and ready to go. I pushed the window open and asked, “What’s up?” He could see I was dripping wet and asked if we could be ready to go in about twenty minutes. I turned around, looked down and in a loud voice declared, “Your dad wants to know if we can be ready in 20 minutes.” Walter made an audible groan of disgust and walked away. Sandy heard it and sunk beneath the water. When she got out, she expressed her dismay and made me promise not to tease her dad anymore. Later that evening after dinner we were sitting at the table having a drink talking about how lovely the hotel rooms were when Sandy’s mom just offered up that she and Walter used to take baths together too. Walter just about spit out his drink. Sandy slumped, put her head in her hands and groaned while Rene and I had a good laugh.

The next day we were off to Chapultepec Park to the Museum of Natural History. The exhibits were all in Spanish. After looking around and not knowing what we were looking at, a guided tour caught up to and surrounded us. The tour guide was explaining in English what we were looking at. When the tour moved on to the next exhibit so did we. We got a fascinating glimpse into pre-Columbian culture. The guide spoke about “ja waars” at almost every exhibit. I looked at Sandy and said, “I hope we don’t run into any of those ja waars. They seem pretty tough.” At the end of the tour the guide pointed a very stylized stone sculpture of a “ja waar.”  I started laughing. On the plaque below in English was the description of the Aztec human sacrifice stone depicted as a Jaguar.

That night we ate at a restaurant overlooking the park. I can’t remember if it was Walter or me who had to borrow a tie from the concierge to get in, but let’s just say it was Walter. The full course dinner and the entertainment were superb. Sandy was in a better mood. Walter told us he’d hired a driver and tour guide to take us to the Teotihuacan ruins a few hours away. Henri, our new tour guide picked us up in the morning and we drove off to see the Pyramid of the Sun. It was a marvelous place full of magic and lore. It was a sacred place for the Aztecs who had taken it over from the Toltecs and had used it for religious ceremonies and human sacrifice. I learned that the day before. If I was ever going to run into any “ja waars” this would probably be the place. Sandy and I climbed the 248 steps to the top of the pyramid and were rewarded with an exhilarating view of The Avenue of the Dead. A few hundred steps may not seem like much, but it was straight up with no handrails and coming back down was even more exhilarating. After we managed our way back down, we learned that Walter and Henri had concocted a plan to get us married. We weren’t just stopping by a chapel and saying I do. Henri explained all the details of the process it took to get married in Mexico City. We needed a license, chest x-rays for tuberculosis, and an appointment to meet with a judge at the Ministry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages at The National Palace. We also needed to present signed debt and property disposition contracts before we could get married. How romantic.

Over the next several days we visited some of the most memorable places I’ve ever been with some of the most unusual encounters to match, all stories for another time. We explored The Great Pyramid of Cholula, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Rosary Chapel in Puebla, and the Secret Convent of Santa Monica just to name a few. Having Henri to show us what most tourists never see, we experienced some of the most fascinating scenes behind the scenes.

We stopped at the small silver mining town of Taxco so Walter and Rene could order a large sterling silver tea service. The price started in the five figures. Henri interceded and like Spanish at 78 rpm haggled until the price was less than $5,000. Meanwhile Sandy was shopping for a wedding band for me. She decided on a simple silver band with some engraved decoration. She asked, “How much?” The clerk answered, “For you $20.” Sandy finished the transaction and showed her mother what she’d purchased. Henri asked, “What did you pay for that?” Sandy told him and he replied, “I wish you would have let me know, I probably could have gotten the ring for $10.” Sandy replied, “Yes, but then it would be a $10 wedding ring. I like my $20 ring better.”

Before we got back to the hotel from Taxco. We stopped at a small rural clinic to get our TB chest x-rays. Henri said it would be faster and easier than trying to get it done in the city. The place we stopped at was filthy. On the small waiting room floor was an infant playing with a stethoscope. We were greeted by a boy in a white lab coat. He couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16 years old. Henri explained in Spanish why we were there. The boy motioned to me to take my shirt off and follow him into the next room. I did. He positioned me behind the glass and took the x-ray. It was Sandy’s turn. She went behind the curtain into the imaging room and soon there was some wrangling going on. Sandy stepped out without her shirt on and said, “I’m not taking my bra off!” Henri chimed in and soothed the situation and got things back on track. My x-ray was perfect, no spots. Sandy’s x-ray however did have some artifacts, some very cute artifacts. There were two underwires which created quite a giggle. “I like it!” I said, “It’s one of the only times I’ve seen you smiling since we’ve been here.”

It was New Year’s Eve and Henri had finagled 4 dinner reservations at the residential wing of the National Palace. It was a party hosted by the President of Mexico. There were about 75 to 100 people there. We were formally escorted to our table and we waited for whatever came next.

The tables were beautifully decorated for the event. At each place setting there were funny paper hats to wear, sparklers to light, and confetti poppers to shoot off at midnight. There was also a colorful balloon drop hanging from the ceiling. Rene put her paper hat on her head and Sandy and I did the same. Rene gave Walter his hat to put on, but he refused and said, “I’m not wearing that stupid hat!” Rene got her way and Walter put on his hat.

After everyone was seated, the President and his entourage entered the ballroom with some fanfare and took their places at the head table. The wait staff was busy getting everyone their drinks. They kept walking by our table without stopping. Walter tried to get their attention, but the servers wouldn’t even acknowledge him. He said, “For what I had to pay to get these tickets you’d think I could at least get a drink.” I know I promised Sandy, but I couldn’t resist. I looked at Walter and said, “Walter, nobody’s going to listen to you with that stupid hat on your head.” How prophetic, as soon as he ripped the hat from his head a server stopped to take his drink order. I looked at him and said, “See?”

Rene, Tim, Walter, and Sandy - New Year's Eve at the Fiesta Palace
Rene, Tim, Walter, and Sandy - New Year's Eve at the Fiesta Palace

The evening of fine dining and dancing was enchanting. What a way to ring in the new year. Toward the end of the evening just before midnight Rene gathered all the sparklers and stuck the stems into a dinner roll. She lit them as the countdown to midnight started. We all yelled “happy new year” as we shot off our streamers. The sparklers were too close together. The paper streamers came down and caught fire. The balloons dropped, adding to the confusion. Sandy’s mother quickly grabbed a glass of something from the table to put out the fire. The something she grabbed was a snifter of Courvoisier. Sandy stopped her just in time from throwing her 80-proof drink on the fire. The wait staff quickly came over and put the fire out. Walter looked at them and said, “Well that sure got your attention. Maybe I should have sent up a smoke signal when I was first trying to get a drink.”

It was now January fourth or might I say Enero cuatro. It was our last day in Mexico. We checked out of the hotel and headed to the Federal Palace to get married. When we walked through the door of the Ministry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages we were greeted by quite a sight. It was a small room. All the seats were taken. There were young mothers and babies everywhere, including the floor. Some were crying, some were sleeping, and some were nursing at their mother’s bare breasts. There was a tiny old man sitting behind a desk at the other end of the room. We made it across the sea of babies and met the two lawyers Henri had hired. One was his brother-in-law, and the other was I don’t know what. They were negotiating in Spanish and filling out documents. Henri introduced Sandy to his brother-in-law and said, “This is your attorney in this matter.” Then pointed toward the other gentleman and said, “Tim, this is your attorney.” They began their negotiations asking Henri to interpret if they had any questions. When they were finished talking, they shook hands. Sandy’s attorney turned to Sandy and offered her a pen with a gesture to sign the document. Sandy asked, ‘What am I signing?” Henri explained it was a property contract. Essentially everything that was Tim’s is now yours. Everything that was yours is still yours. All your debts now belong to Tim and all of Tim’s debts are still his. Sandy’s face lit up and she eagerly signed the document and handed the pen to me. I said, “Wow, you sure had a better lawyer than I did,” and signed the paper.

We were motioned over to see the judge. I think they had to wake him up. All four of us were lined-up side-by-side in front of his desk. The two lawyers were presenting their documents. Sandy was standing between Walter and me. She bent down to get my ring out of her purse so she could give it to me during the ceremony. As she was digging around in her purse, her dad nudged her and whispered, “Pay attention. You’re getting married.” By the time Sandy stood up it was all over. The judge was smiling and shaking everyone’s hand. Sandy missed her own wedding.

We left out the back stairway to the alley to our wedding reception. The scene was just perfect. There was even a vendor there trying to sell freshly beheaded chickens, every girl’s dream. Henri’s car was parked in the alley. He opened the trunk and pulled out some cups and a bottle of warm champagne. We had a toast to our nuptials, and then sped off to the airport.

Walter and Rene had bought us first class tickets home. The return trip wasn’t back to San Francisco though, but instead we flew to Arizona. It seems we had one more stop to make. Walter had arranged an evening out to include my mother who had no idea we were getting married. Heck, we didn’t know ourselves until we got to Mexico. When Rene told the story at dinner my mother laughed and understood why she wasn’t invited to the wedding.

We finally made it back to San Francisco. We still weren’t sure if we were married. Neither of us ever said I do. We had no copies of anything we’d signed. I told Sandy it would make things easy if we ever split up. No one could ever prove we were married. Five years later Sandy asked her father if what we did in Mexico was legal. He told Sandy it was and that he would send her the marriage license. He went on to say that he had our marriage officially registered in Arizona.” Sandy asked, “How come you didn’t give me the papers when I got married?” Her dad explained he just wanted them for safe keeping. I suspect he wanted to show his disapproving friends that his daughter was no longer living in sin.

Sandy and I have been married now for 49 years. I remember our trip to Mexico like it was yesterday, but every year, more often than not, I forget our anniversary. I tell Sandy that “Enero cuatro” never comes up on my calendar. So, the answer to the question of, “When did you know you wanted to marry Sandy?” Almost immediately.

Tim and Sandy 1983
Tim and Sandy 1983

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