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Do you take this man? And how!

It is said that a man who promises to move heaven and earth for his bride is the same man who later growls when he's asked to move the davenport.

There are any number of reasons for this about-face. Take my case, if you have a strong stomach.

At the exhilarating age of 24 1 was sailing through life free as a bird on the wing. New car. Money in the bank. Countenance unlined. Dating any number of girls. Then, on December 7, 1941 (or was that the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor? I get the two dates confused), I took this particular girl to a Chinese restaurant for her birthday. And the rest is history, as they say.

Where I made my mistake was in asking how she liked her rice, boiled or fried. And she said, "Thrown."

Before I could come up with a logical way out, we were standing before a justice of the peace (certainly a misnomer for a guy who started all this ruckus), and the girl was answering yes, she would take this man.

Well, I can say this for her: she has certainly done a good job of it.

As things stand now, my wings have been clipped, my car is an early 77, the money that comes in goes out as though it had been last handled by lepers, and my face is wrinkled to the point I am obliged to shave with a potato peeler.

Actually, I didn't begin to fall apart until making my first sale-a poem bought by Liberty magazine for $20. And now that my literary career had been firmly established, in the words of my bride-why not borrow $1,500 to put with the $20, buy a house trailer, and take off for Florida? There I would make Hemingway's efforts, by comparison, read more like a sixth grader's "What I Did on My Summer Vacation." And you know something, folks, I fell for it.

And did so well, believe it or not, that in a matter of only four months we had to sell the car. Either that or give up the acquired habit of eating. We would come close enough even then, as it turned out.

My stomach rumbles were already beginning to be heard above the surf, in fact, when the mailman delivered, along with his normal cargo of rejected manuscripts, a beautiful blue envelope from Extension magazine. I kept reading the letter over and over. No joke. "Do You Mind If I Breathe" had been accepted-for the lifesaving sum of $150.

And we were off again. This time in a Velie housecar.

I had stumbled upon this relic in the jungle behind the trailer park. After the car's six years of hibernation, vines had taken up residence in all four cylinders. But what I didn't know then was that even in its heyday the car had rightfully acquired the slogan "If the hood is up, it's a Velie."

No matter. Now that we again had wheels, and because you-know-who had always wanted to visit Mexico City, what was to stop us? A list of what was to stop us would easily run to book length.

Let's just say that I was under "The Thing," as it came to be called, more than I was in it. Upon finally reaching New Orleans, by the skin of my knuckles and a vote of one to one, I turned north toward home, mother, apple pie, the American flag, and the convenience of being able to borrow a few bucks when necessary. Little did I know we were heading for an abandoned nine-room farmhouse near the tidy German town of Frankenmuth, Michigan.

When I say abandoned, I'm talking about baled hay stored in the living room. I'm talking about doors that wouldn't close until I had sawed a hunk off the bottom-in one case a hunk so generous, after the third try, that the cat enjoyed the convenience of going in and out without having to ask. I'm talking about a flooded cellar I had promised my dear wife I would drain into the frog pond. Through a miscalculation the frog pond drained into the cellar. For my pains I received another 150 bucks for an article, "How I Converted an Old Farmhouse into a Shambles."

After we went through a lengthy dry spell, including six healing years in a snug Indianapolis apartment, this woman got the urge to take over our current ten-nite condo atop one of Sweet Owen County's rolling hills that stop rolling just short of Freedom (Indiana, of course), where I have suffered in silence long enough.

Upon moving to any new location, the female gender has this gene which immediately begins to nag her that nothing is in the right place-including the landscape. I refer, in this case, to the two acres (perhaps more, but I don't want to risk exaggeration) overgrown with sassafras, locust sapling, briar bushes, wild grape, and-you name it, it was there. This woman right off came up with the idea that God had intended this jungle to be a lawn. A wild animal preserve, yes. But a lawn ... ?

The fact that all this flora had been anchored on a slope that would have challenged a mountain goat was inconsequential. As for the fact that this could also be the favorite breeding ground for copperheads, that could only help to huffy the project along.

So while I'm out there for the next four months converting this wilderness into mowable condition, this woman is in the house happily hemming drapes and hanging lethal crock pots from the ceiling. And after ripping the last briar-bush tendril off my aching back, did I happily begin mowing the so-called lawn? Have you ever tried to stay aboard a riding mower while negotiating a 40-degree slope? If so, then you know that your full concentration is required just to keep from ending up with a hot Briggs and Stratton in your lap. So when three jet aircraft from the National Guard at Terre Haute come roaring over, evidently using my mower as a marker, I respond like any sensible man certain his mower is exploding-I jump off and run for my life. I am now on my fourth mower since moving here. They sure don't last long going downhill on their own. This woman had also concluded that God had not arranged the rocks in their proper order. Instead of forming a path from the carport-shed to the house, He had buried them in the creek bed winding through the woods. And who was nominated to correct the divine error? Right. And was the path to conform to the shortest distance between two points? Don't be silly. The boulders being plentiful and the exercise doing me good, the path would go the scenic route-along the row of blue spruce, then winding artistically around to the patio step. Nothing could better reveal my mental state by the time I had lugged up the last one of those suckers and put it in place than the inscription it now bears: "In God We Truss." Giving credit where credit is questionable, this woman who took me does undertake some of her brainstorms all by herself--for example, installing the homemade bird feeder, made at home by John, my brother-in-law. Why he gave it to us, I don't know. I never did anything to him.

But not to worry. My dear wife would paint the bird feeder, nail it to a two-by-four, and anchor the two-by-four in the ground just off the patio. And she actually did paint it. All well and good. Except she used my best paintbrush, which I later found stuck in a Jiffy peanut jar from which the turpentine had evaporated. The brush is now good for nothing but pounding the meat for Swiss steak.

And she did come up from the barn dragging a ten-foot two-by-four all by herself. (What it had been supporting there I'll know soon enough.) After making sure she had my full attention, she began digging a hole with that little scoop she likes to use for potting geraniums.

I calculated that unless she buried at least six feet of the two-by-four (which at the rate she was going wouldn't be covered until the birds in our area had become extinct), we would have to use a stepladder to put in the seeds. So I-as I'm sure she had calculated-took over. Sawed four feet off the two-by-four, located the posthole diggers, dug through two feet of elm-tree roots and sandstone, dropped in the two-by-four, nailed on the bird feeder, and staggered into the house. She was at her sewing machine. She hummed happily as she hemmed another drape.

I am now preparing a manuscript to be titled "Fiddler on the Roof." I have fiddled away more time on the roof of this termite tabernacle than I have on the couch. In the Indianapolis apartment we occupied while this woman was formulating plans for another attack on rural America, I had only to call Maintenance if the roof leaked. Here, I am Maintenance. And I am on duty 24 or more hours a day.

The tar I have already spread on the roof would easily resurface our driveway. How the roof can support it is a miracle. I quit adding to it the day the temp hit 94. Tar began dripping off the roof onto her four o'clocks, and she became a bit testy because their blooming hours went from Eastern Standard to Mountain time.

My final day on the roof, I stood so long in one place that, upon being called for lunch, I discovered that my shoes were stuck. Not keen about coming out of them and walking across a sea of hot tar in my socks, I had my lunch brought up the ladder and served to me on a broom. From the gawking of the neighbors driving past, you'd have thought they had never seen anyone eating lunch from a broom on the roof of his house.

I had to wait until after sunset for the tar to cool to the point I could walk across in my socks. My shoes are still up there.

Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, as the saying goes. So instead of trying to keep the water out, I did the next best thing-I dealt with it after it came in. I'm talking about suspending a gutter from the kitchen ceiling beneath the most copious drips and running the downspout into the sink. It was a bailing-wire-mechanic's masterpiece, if you overlook losing all that sink space plus the view through the kitchen window. But it worked beautifully.

Yet how true it is: you can't please some of the people any of the time. And because of one such people, our waterbed stayed frozen cold until the contraption," as it was so rudely labeled, had been dismantled.

Will you take this man, indeed!
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Title Annotation:personal narratives on marriage
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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Next Article:The wisdom of Benjamin Franklin.

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