Happy Anniversary Joe & Jan! Or Curby and Janis, as they are known to the grandchildren, all seven of them or simply, Mom and Dad. Happy 56th wedding anniversary!
I started this blog yesterday wanting to keep it simple, and then I began to have grand ideas of posting a few wedding pictures from December 27, 1960. But alas, the wedding album is in San Diego in a house of grandsons, sweet wild boys, so it’s impossible to insist that one or another of the adults wrangling the scene hit the pause button to haul out the album to snap some pictures to send my way.
Then Carrie Fisher died and hearts broke across the land.
I had recently shown Norah “Postcards from the Edge” and last week just listened to Carrie Fisher’s latest Terry Gross interview on her new book, The Princess Diarist. Her one woman show “Wishful Drinking” got me through a few lonely nights in Birmingham to the point where Norah asked, “What are you laughing at?”
In fact, last night here in Nashville I had my mother-in-law, Frances, my sister-in-law, Nancy, our twin nieces, Harriet and Frances, and Kiffen and Norah, all watch “Wishful Drinking” – and we made it all the way to the end without any major interruptions! A Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Lunsford miracle!
Whenever Carrie Fisher appeared in a film or a show – from Hannah and her Sisters to When Harry Met Sally to her interviews and one-woman show, and even lately, Catastrophe, my heart skipped a beat because I knew she was going to be real in all her funny, messy, bitchy humanness that was never without empathy or humor in the absurdity of it all.
She was bone-real. And honest about it. And made me feel like I could lay down the horrible mantle of capability and people-pleasing efficiency once in a while, because honestly, who cares?
I loved her fearlessness.
I also love this quote, which I just found yesterday.
“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” ― Wishful Drinking, 2008
I remember my mother saying, “Oh that poor Debbie Reynolds when Eddie Fisher ran off to comfort Elizabeth Taylor after Mike Todd died in that plane crash, and then Eddie Fisher left Debbie Reynolds with those two little children. It was shocking!”
And of course I loved Carrie Fisher’s emotional support animal, Gary, because I have one too.
Anyway, back to my parents 56th wedding anniversary!
Maybe I’ll be able to post pictures of the real day – December 27, 1960 to this post down the road, but for now Happy Anniversary to Janis and Joe Madden, my beautiful parents.
I was lucky enough to get to talk to them yesterday and ask them questions about the day. I do wish I had a picture of their wedding anniversary napkin, which said something like “Follow Jan & Joe on the Green Wave.” The wedding napkin had the basketball schedule of Father Lopez High School Green Wave team. Dad thought interested wedding guests could keep the schedule on hand come basketball season.
They were married on December 27, 1960 between football and basketball season.
Here are some of my questions.
Who married you?
Dad: Father Patrick Irving Nugent from Ireland. Young priest.
Mom: Yes, he was a young priest who had a broken leg so he had to perform the ceremony crutches. I don’t know how he broke it but he was on crutches.
Dad: He’d hired me to come coach at Father Lopez High School in Daytona.
Mom: Your father’s first coaching job.
Who paid for the wedding?
Mom: I did. I ordered a keg of beer and champagne punch and finger sandwiches. With my teaching salary, I decided a wedding at high noon on Tuesday sounded great. The woman helping me plan the wedding frowned on the keg, but that was just the way it was.
Dad: My father was annoyed that he we didn’t have an open bar. He said he would have paid for it, but hell, I didn’t know. I drank beer. Me and my buddies drank beer. A keg was fine with us. But in retrospect we should have had an open bar.
Mom: We were on a budget with Daddy’s coaching salary and my teaching salary.
Dad: Your mother planned it all. She did everything. Truly.
Mom: Your father went to the airport a lot right before the wedding to pick up all his friends who were flying in.
How many people came to the wedding?
Dad: I have no idea.
Mom: A lot. Maybe 50? Lots of students and players came. GrandMary (My father’s mother) sent a list of people for me to invite, even people from Ireland – that’s how I knew I was really getting into the thick of it – marrying into an Irish family sending invitations to cousins in Donegal. Of course not everybody could come.
What was the name of the church?
Dad: Our Lady of Lourdes in Daytona Beach, Florida.
What music did you choose?
Dad: When your mother sang “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” at the reception and my father, of course, cried and got up and sang with her.
Mom: I don’t remember what we chose for the Mass. Papa Jerry (her father, an organist) played the service. I hired an organist to play while he walked me down the aisle, and then he went and played the rest of the wedding.
What else do you remember?
Mom: In those days you got your hair done once a week, so for three months I had my hair done by the same woman every week to practice for my wedding at Salon De Coiffeur. Then on the day of my wedding, I went to get my hair done at 8:00 a.m. after three months preparation, and the girl who did my hair was out sick. So there went all my practicing. So silly! Three new people did it, and it was fine. I had it up in a French twist. I didn’t have time to worry. I had to get to the church. My dress was at the church – I had it made of white velvet. Uncle Bill gave me $300.00 for the dress, which was a lot of money in those days. My wedding hat and shoes were also white velvet.
Dad: I wanted top hats and tails at the wedding, since I’d seen my Uncle Bubby get married in top-hats and tails when he was a little boy. So my parents brought six coats and tails and top-hats on the train from Washington DC to Daytona Beach, Florida because my father didn’t fly.
Mom: The top-hats and tails all had to get right back to DC for Kennedy’s inauguration a few weeks later. My father had to put tissue inside his top-hat because it kept sliding down over his ears while he walked me down the aisle. He said, “I look like Winston Churchill,” and he did look like a tiny Winston Churchill smoking his cigar.
The top picture is from 1983 when they visited England for the first time, and my father had a rule: “Three pubs to one castle or museum.” That was the also the year he got his nickname, Curby, because he hit every curb learning to drive on the wrong side of the road in England and Scotland and Ireland.
And here are some pictures of Christmas this year. We were lucky enough to be with Lucy and Norah, and Flannery sent one from long ago.
Bonus (but do not feel obliged)
This is chapter two of my novel, OFFSIDES, which captures the early years inspired by our football family. This novel was published in 1996 by William Morrow, and published again with Foreverland Press in 2014.
THE CYCLONE INN
The first move was from Daytona Beach, Florida to Starkville, Mississippi, but I don’t remember that one. What I’ve been told is that three vehicles – a station wagon, a Hillman red convertible, and a moving van – made their way to Starkville for Daddy’s first college coaching job as a graduate assistant. My grandparents, Poppy and Catherine, drove the station wagon with me, a new baby, rolling around in a crib in the backseat. Mama drove the sporty little Hillman with the dog, while Daddy led the way north in the moving van, but somewhere in Alabama he decided to take them on a detour to Tuscaloosa. He wanted to drop off his resume to Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, the god of Alabama football. With the caravan from Florida, it must have been a sort of Grapes of Wrath football journey circa 1962 with no prayer of AC in any vehicle. The “Bear” wasn’t in the football office as it was summertime, but Daddy gave the secretary his resume and told her, “Please tell Coach Bryant that Jack Donegal stopped by to say hello. Thanks very much.”
Mama, her parents, baby and dog, waited outside in the hot sun near the football office or maybe they lounged under a magnolia tree, but they weren’t the lounging type. Then, on the way out of town, they drove to the empty stadium to get out and have a look at where the Crimson Tide played. Daddy always liked to stop and pay his respects to empty stadiums if we happened to be passing through.
When they arrived in Starkville hours later, the story goes that Mama went out alone to explore the town and the home of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. But that night at a local diner called the “Blue Belle,” she fell apart in great, heaving sobs. “Where in the world have you brought us, Jack? My God, we left Florida for this? There are couches and washing machines sitting big as Dallas on front porches.”
“Holy shit, Sally, you got to give it a chance. We just got here, honey.”
My grandparents beat it back to the Midwest the next day. As for Bear Bryant, he never did call.
Three more kids (Mama was pregnant with the third) and just as many football teams later, we moved to Ames, Iowa and lived at the Cyclone Inn, a dinky motel stuck way out by some farms, where Mama got us out of her hair by ordering us outside to the cornfields to play.
“Okay, Leo buddy, crawl deep for a pass,” Joe-Sam hollered one morning, setting our baby brother’s red snow-suited body on the icy ground, aiming the football at his head. “Come on. A long bomb, ya big baby. Go long.”
“He’s too little,” I snarled, pushing Joe-Sam into a snow bank.
“OWWWW.” The football rolled away. At the age of six, I dominated his world. “Daddy says you’re never too young to play football. Now get off, I can’t breathe.”
“Make me, sowsucker.” I dribbled milk from Leo’s bottle onto Joe-Sam’s face, which Knute Rockne slurped off joyfully.
“Wiener dog kisses! Gross!” Joe-Sam yelled.
“Want more, my pretty?” I cackled a wicked witch laugh, but I allowed the toad to wriggle free. He sprinted toward the motel, big old crybaby, yelling, “Wait till Daddy gets home.”
“Daddy’s never getting home, Joe-Sam,” I tortured him, hauling Leo up out of the snow, hefting him onto my hip. “He can’t ’cause he lives in the stadium now.”
“He does not! Does he? You…you…girl!” He hopped up and down, aghast.
“Face it, bud. He’s turned into a real Cyclone, but I bet we’ll be able to wave to him during halftime. He might even remember your name, but don’t count on it,” I laughed, as Leo gurgled his first words, “Hut, hut, hike!”
I never minded Daddy being gone so much, since we royally got on his nerves when he was around. One winter morning, he walloped us after he discovered we had unhitched his U-Haul trailer, filled with football films, from the back of our car, the Rambler. As he accelerated out of the parking lot, snow chains clanked behind him. He glanced in the rearview mirror to see the trailer sitting by the dog kennels. He flew out of the car, bellowing, “Liz, Joe-Sam, y’all sumbitches perambulate your skinny ass over here, pronto.” He scooped us up one under each arm, marched inside, threw us facedown on the bed, and whomped us before dashing out to football practice, proclaiming, “My ass is late.”
After the trailer incident, Mama took the matter of discipline into her own hands. Eight months pregnant and sick to death of living with three kids in a motel, she purchased three items: a flyswatter to smack on the dashboard when we got too restless on outings; a book titled Dare to Discipline; and a toy called The Bolo, which was really a Ping-Pong paddle with a rubber ball attached by an elastic string. She ripped off the rubber ball right in front of our eyes, warning us, “This is not a toy. Y’all don’t make me have to use this.”
But it was hard to be good, since our room at the Cyclone Inn seemed to shrink by the second. Late one night, a fight that had been brewing between Mama and Daddy finally erupted. Daddy stomped in after another late-night defensive meeting, and Mama challenged him, “Did you ever try to scrub a greasy electric skillet in a motel sink?” The wind was howling outside, and she was down on her knees scraping SpaghettiOs out of the carpet while Johnny Carson cracked jokes on TV.
“Hell, Sally,” Daddy yanked off his cardinal and gold muffler. “I got players with million-dollar bodies and ten-cent heads. If my defense goes to shit, what am I but a big limp dick?”
“I’ll give you ‘limp,’ Jack,” her green eyes fiery with rage. “‘Limp’ is eating pancakes and beanie-wienies in the freaking Cyclone Inn with a dog, three kids and another on the way. We need a house.”
“What the hell do you want from me? Go find one. You’ve got Liz. You can get out.”
“She’s six. Good God, I can’t leave her alone with a five-year-old and a baby.”
“All right…I’ll check with my players…see if they have any girlfriends who are masochists.”
“A little levity, Sally, a little goddamn levity.” Daddy tried out one of his new dictionary words, mixing himself a bourbon and soda. He spent thirty minutes a night reading the dictionary to find words to use in his Booster Club speeches while raising money for the Cyclones. “Prevail,” “conquer,” and “fortissimo” were his favorites.
“I also want to go out to dinner, Jack,” Mama set a clean stack of Leo’s diapers on top of the TV. “I want a thick juicy steak and a twice-baked potato with sour cream, chives, and cheese. And I want to dance. I used to be a fun person…I used to be a person.” She rubbed her gigantic belly underneath her Iowa State jersey.
“Sweetie,” Daddy answered, mirroring Johnny Carson’s golf swing, “I’ve had so much goddamn steak at the training table lately…what about—”
Mama’s voice got stuck way back in her throat, “You’ve had too much steak?”
“But, hey,” Daddy dived in trying to save himself, “steak sounds great, darling.”
“I want steak too.” Joe-Sam popped up, boxing the air. Jab, jab, right cross.
“Me too!” I smothered him with the pillow as he howled his protests.
“What the hell is all this goddamned assiduity, you big turkeys?” Daddy snapped.
“I’m a man,” Joe-Sam yelped. “A man needs steak.” He kicked me in the stomach. I pinched him hard. Leo whimpered from his crib. Chaos.
“Son, apologize like a man to your sister. And Liz, you can apologize too! You’re the oldest. Act like it, by God.”
Joe-Sam and I squared off. Apologize? Never. Let the cross-eyed rodent contract leprosy and fester away to hell for all I cared.
“Now y’all cut that crap out,” Daddy demanded. “The person you’re mad at could up and die in the night, and then where would you be? Answer me that one.”
“Sorry, Lizzie,” Joe-Sam finally squeaked.
“I hate your leper guts,” I raised my fists again. “Don’t talk to me again.”
“Get with the damn program, Aunt Gertrude, and apologize!” Daddy pounded on the wall.
“No,” I fumed, but I was beginning to crack. I could no longer stomach the venom dilating inside me. Awash in weakness, I jumped out of bed and fell into Daddy’s arms, sobbing, “Forgive me, Daddy. I beg your forgiveness for my wicked ways.”
“Jesus H. Christ.” Daddy peeled me off. “Forget about it. It’s in the past now. What are you? A goddamn actress? Now get to sleep. No more bullshit.”
As we settled back down, Mama strained to wedge herself into a vinyl chair of cardinal and gold. Daddy sat on the edge of the bed and picked up one of her feet, rubbing her swollen ankle. At least they weren’t mad at each other anymore. I breathed a sigh of relief; the divorce wasn’t going to happen, which meant Mama’s new baby, when it arrived, would have married parents.
The next morning, while Mama sliced open packages of pick-a-pack for breakfast, pouring milk from the ice chest right into the cardboard cereal “bowls,” a knock came on the door. Mama’s friend Mary Martha Mac swirled inside wearing an angora cape of cardinal and gold, a fleecy fedora perched on her frosted curls. Her voice sang out, “Sally Donegal, would you just look at all these sweet and beautiful children? How do you stand it?”
Mama hadn’t seen Mary Martha since her Starkville days and grabbed her, hugging her as if she were her own personal savior from motel hell. The two of them hooted about how great it was that Coach Mac was now the Cyclones’ head coach with Daddy as his defensive coordinator. When Joe-Sam body-slammed her son, Buster, to the floor, the boys became instant best friends and galloped off into the bathroom to play Tarzan. Mary Martha slipped her own baby, Beth, into the crib with Leo, and the two of them started patting each other’s rosy faces.
Mary Martha assured Mama, “I hear you need a house. You go on now with that realtor. Take just as long as you need to find yourself someplace pretty. We’re gonna do fine here.”
As soon as Mama ducked gratefully out of the motel, Mary Martha flipped on As the World Turns. Sitting next to her, I reached out to caress her fedora, drinking in her heady fragrance of spearmint, orchids, and snow. Smiling, Mary Martha drawled, “Elizabeth, honey, you look just like your Uncle Whitey.”
Uncle Whitey? The guy with sweaty hair, a bumpy nose, and a million kids?
“Mama says I look like Julie Andrews.”
“Sure you do with that pixie, but your Uncle Whitey could have spit you right out of his mouth, sugar-pig.”
I pretended to concentrate on the spinning globe of As the World Turns, even though Uncle Whitey kept looming up like a hot whistle in my ears. We had gone with him to the beach once, where he stood on shore with a real whistle, his glasses sliding down his nose, screaming as we waded into the ocean, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. You’ll drown. Watch it. Holy Mary Mother of God. I can’t stand it. Get out of that water now.” It gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach to realize I was a female version of Uncle Whitey. I avoided mirrors for a long time afterward so that I didn’t have to face the truth.
Mama found a house on Clark Street, and we all were about to take in a deep breath and let it out, when Joe-Sam decided to play one last game of Tarzan. He took one of Daddy’s belts, lobbed it over the bar separating the bathroom from the bedroom, got out only half a Tarzan yell, “Auh-a-uh,” before he crashed, the bar piercing his head. I thought he was dead, except he was screaming, and Mama, mopping up the blood, yelled that was a good sign.
Daddy blasted in the door several hours later, after Mama and Joe-Sam got back from the hospital. “Hey, hey? How’s Tarzan?”
“Shhh. Sleeping. Ten stitches. There’s a Cyclone Slammer and fries for you.”
“Thanks, sweetie, but I ate at the office. They brought up a mess of barbecued spareribs.”
“How nice for you, Jack. How—very—nice—for—you.” She went into the bathroom, turned on the water, and shut the door. I watched the steam ebb out.
Daddy knew better than to follow her. He leaned over the bed to inspect Joe-Sam’s injury. I heard him mutter, “Crap. How ya doing, buddy? You’re one tough SOB, son. Proud of you.”
“Can we go chase rabbits, Daddy, like we did that one time?” Joe-Sam’s eyes fluttered as he half-smiled at Daddy. “I think I’m almost as fast as a jackrabbit now,” he slurred.
“We’ll do it soon, son.” Daddy patted Joe-Sam’s shoulder.
“Hi, Daddy,” I grinned and sat up.
“Are you still awake? How you doing? Helping your mama?”
“Course I am.”
“Good.” Daddy kissed me good night, settling himself into the vinyl chair. He shook driblets of milk off the sports page and started to read and whispered, “Holy shit,” now and again at the different headlines, and sometimes, “You sorry turkey.”
A few minutes later, Mama appeared with a wide-awake look on her face. “Jack? We have to go to the hospital.”
“Jesus Christ, Sally. What? Do I have time to take a shower first?”
“Hell, no, you don’t have time to—ow.” A barbed wound seemed to jab her belly.
“Our ass is gone. We will prevail.”
“What about a sitter?”
I sat up in bed. “I can do it. I know how to feed Leo, and Joe-Sam can eat cereal. I’ll call you if there’s an emergency. Or I’ll call Mrs. Mac.”
She looked at Daddy. “I don’t know.”
Daddy snapped, “Well, I do. Liz, stay away from matches, don’t let anyone leave or come in the room. That’s a good girl. You know how to get the job done.”
Mama clung to Daddy as they stepped out into the night, locking the motel door behind them. I climbed out of bed and started cleaning up everything—old cereal boxes, plastic cups, and hamburger trash. I wanted the room to be fresh. I peeked outside to find flowers, but there were just a few snowy bushes. I slipped on the icy sidewalk coming back into the room, skinning my knees raw, but I ignored the pain. I cut out flowery shapes from yellow construction paper, and pasting them to the mirror, I sprayed them with Mama’s springtime bottle of Jean Naté perfume. Finishing up the final touches, I opened a drawer only to find The Bolo, which I picked up and threw in the trash. I knew Mama hated it too, since she hadn’t used it once. It also seemed like bad luck to have it around a new baby.
I knelt down in the clean motel room to pray, grinding my sore knees into the scratchy cardinal and gold carpet—grateful to suffer like a real saint. I draped a veil and rosary on Knute Rockne who looked like he was praying too, but he was really sleeping. I had studied Saint Lucy in kindergarten, when Sister Mary de Porres showed us a painting of her holding her eyes in a bowl. She was the patron saint of eyesight, and she loved everybody. If I worked hard at it, I could be the next Saint Lucy, and my family would grow to love me and admire me for all my good deeds. I made a vow to be more like the saints. What did it matter if I looked like Uncle Whitey, moved all the time, and spent my life in football stadiums? God knew I was strong enough to handle it. I had the potential to be all-powerful. Hadn’t he made me the oldest child, the leader of men? My knees on fire, I prayed passionately for grace and redemption, while my sister was making her entrance into the world.
OFFSIDES, a novel