Autumn 1959

Sonnets From The Portuguese

Sonnets – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“I found this tonight and somehow I wanted you to know what it says.  It is very lovely.

I love you very much.

EBB says it much better than I can, although she spoke to a different “Robert”

1959 begins in a minute – may it bring us much joy and happiness and may we be together again soon.”

( penciled inscription written by Marge in the flyleaf of this little book ) ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

This little booklet of sonnets was a New Year’s Day present  from Marge.  As you can see, it is quite old, even then, and by the stains on the cover, worn edges, etc. had been read and re-read many times, by perhaps many people.   And now it is my turn.  It had travelled around NY state, mailed from Cornwall to Lake Placid, forwarded to my parent’s home in Dannemora, and re-forwarded to me in Syracuse.  By that time, I was most likely studying for finals, and did not give it the attention it deserved. I found it recently in reviewing letters and documents that Marge had left.  Now I have the time.


A cliche ” Ages and stages”. Agewise I in 1959 am now 22, and at the stage of having to go out on my own. I have finished college, become engaged, and have a job. I am probably still an idiot as far as worldly ways, but have a start in papering my yet to be built ego wall.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I believe it was in early September of ’59 that I decided to fire up the Packard for a drive to Port Byron to visit the Bates family, home of my college roommate. I was in for the most traumatic and most terrible  visit of my life up to that point.

I had rolled into the drive, and Pat, Roy’s sister came running down the stairs crying “Mom’s dead, Mom’s dead” I was not prepared. I had been a frequent visitor over many years, though the summer was interrupted by the ANG. I don’t remembering knowing that Mrs. Bates was really ill, and now she had died. This was the first death for me, of someone whom I both knew and did care for, and was in her house often. I still remember the day. Sounds and fury told to an idiot (me). I had never known death first hand, though I had gone to some viewings of my parents friends to gaze on the waxen faces of people I hardly know.

I think the time I first visited  the Bates home was in the fall of 1955 when I weighed about 150 pounds soaking wet and was about 6’1.5″ tall. Roy told me that his Mom had informed him that I look as though I had been released by Buchenwald and needed to be fattened up. She took this assignment on herself. One treat was Butternut cake. Have you ever picked, cleaned and eaten buternuts? You can do that in New York. They are related to walnuts, in case you care. Getting the nuts out is a pesky job, as the butternut meats do not readily give up their little huts in the butternut. Takes a lot to make enough for a cake, but to the eater, well worth it!! That was one of my Bates treats. Now gone forever. I felt like having been kicked in my gut, but went with the others to the local mortuary for the viewing, as was the practice then.

Following that, a trip back to the Bates home, sitting on chairs in the front lawn and sharing reminiscences about the departed Mrs. Bates. I still remember that.  Very sad and I felt helpless

As to Marge and I, we are in ’59 about to be married in about 6 months. Already, barely noticeable, the first blush of love, like the first bloom of a rose, is beginning to lose its luster.  Of course we continued to date and see each other regularly,though I did not live in the University area. Our personal dynamics are starting to  tone down.  Perhaps we were beginning to become aware of what we had pledged ourselves to. The stress and conflict of relationships, the price of  the growth of couplehood, are referred to in the first page “sticky”post.

Being an Army brat, Marge had lived in many places, and met many other children but not forming long friendships. Her father was not present for prolonged periods in her formative years, and her early experiences with men, especially her father, had been that all men were not to be trusted, as they would leave and abandon you. So she wanted someone solid who would stick with her.At the same time, Marge envies the social butterflies, the hummingbirds that swiftly flit from one bright blossom to another as is truly their right. But the risk!!!

“Come to me little bird. I’m  beautiful and full of the  sweetest nectar!”

No. Little bird flits quickly away.

Marge’s inside voice “I warned you, I warned you, they’ll leave you, keep your guard up and don’t ever be vulnerable.  That way you won’t get hurt, you’ll be safe.”

In I come, Mr. Duty,Mr. Steadfast, good old Steady Eddie

Full speed ahead, don’t vary the heading and fire the torpedos, Death before dishonor.
Steady, but a bit dull.

To paraphrase an old ribald poem:


“Through rain and mud
Through shit and blood.
Robert rides tonight.”


My roommate in 1954 and friend ever since, Roy, had a “wild side”, this force of nature that came and went as it wished and Marge was probably initially intrigued by this but then subliminally relieved when I started dating her.  Could well be. Roy and I were,and are similar in many ways.  We complemented each other

Early in her first semester, Marge becomes, in her word, “besotted” by my roommate Roy. . This is understandable as Roy was, and is, charming and verbal. Still my best friend after starting school 60 years ago. Is he the shining knight? Alas, that relationship was not meant to last, and  again Marge felt rejected. I don’t think rejection was the case, knowing both of them. The chemistry was not quite there for a long-term intimate relationship to evolve. But, in their way I know they loved each other in their own way, at their own distance, until Marge died. Too close, and a nuclear explosion would have resulted. At a distance, it was a wonderful thing.

I am at this present late stage of life becoming aware of these old conflicts of Marge and maybe even appreciating them. Do you remember that old TV series “Get Smart”? In it, when Agent Smart wants to converse privately with the Chief, he demands that the “Cone of Silence” be lowered. Of course, it usually does not descend easily but it does finally and Smart and Chief are covered by this plexiglass cone of silence. Of course, you are safe from the words of the outside, but at the same time are trapped inside. Marge had her own cone, her “Turtle Shell” to withdraw into, as well as her superior intelligence which raises her above the fray; but then not to be part of its rough and tumble which I think, she wants to be part of, maybe a little, now and then.

All her life, Marge had conflicting wants and very opposite demons. I suppose I did s well.  I am slowly getting to understand this. We loved each other in the beginning and definitely in the latter years and end of her life. We did not always like each other,the things we did that we should not have, and the things we did not do and/or say that we should have. Neither of us understood the hard work we both had to do in the coming years together.

Myself, I was a simple country boy. I called a spade not only a spade, but a damn dirty shovel. Not too empathetic. Perhaps a little autistic, as are many engineers and physicists. Just a little.

So, I asked her to marry me in 1959, and she accepted it, as I was the first to ask. Why not? At that time, that is what you did as a female, went to college, married a promising student or graduate, raised kids, socialized, did good deeds and was a respected member of society as a housewife and mother. Women did not become trial lawyers, engineers, corporate presidents. Unheard of!!

I think, but am not sure, that back then Marge wonders, did I make the right choice? Why do I have to choose? Can’t I have both? What am I, who am I? Should I turtle up and close the world off, or stick my head out and enjoy the air and sunshine?

The whole purpose of these posts is to understand what Marge and I meant/felt about each other. Her background was much more turbulent than mine. She had lived around the country and different parts of the world. I had lived in 2 tiny towns ten miles apart. Marge learned at an early age to avoid family anger by her physical and mental avoidance. With the occasion of an occasional outburst from my father,my family didn’t show anger. For that matter our emotional and physical contact was quite narrow. We lived a warm, well fed, comfortable life nurtured by our parents to strive for more than they had. Very little drama. I did not appreciate this until I had a family of my own. I wrote a long letter to my parents expressing this appreciation.  Mom thanked me.  So, I had a consistent but narrow concept of family life. Marge and I both absorbed our own familial and cultural assumptions (Eisenhower years) without realizing it.  We assumed, without knowing it, that our understanding of life, shallow as it was, was equally shared by the other. wrong, wrong wrong!

I knew, without knowing why, that I loved Marge, but I couldn’t, with rare exception express why. Marge wanted me to tell her why I loved her and I didn’t. Not that because I wouldn’t, just because I did not know how. I couldn’t. Frustrating for both of us.

So, the arrow of time continues to fly. Where to? Who knows. I was vaguely uneasy about the minute changes then occurring in ’59, but didn’t understand them. Can’t remember anything too memorable about the fall. I think, I am pretty sure, that I did not go to my home for that Christmas but to Marge’s home. Her sister Pat and family were going to be there, and I had never met them. I also think, but am not 100% positive that I got a letter from my sister Karen telling me that my Mom was very upset that I was not coming home, and Karen was also upset with me.

I believe this was the correct thing for me to do as there was not a lot of time for Christmas break and the distances/time travelled were not minor. I couldn’t keep coming home forever,and Marge and I were to be married in less than 6 months. I truly believed I had to meet her family and get to know my little nieces, who wore me out. Then I wanted my very own family. In a short time, I have known the great sorrow of grief, and the great joy of little girls.

This post has been a bit disjointed. I wanted to show us slowly changing, and dimly if at all, aware of the reasons for this change.  Now, no more love letters. We are in ’59 no longer physically separated and saw no need to express our love in written words. Or so we believed.  Now I wish we had continued, but wishes for the past don’t count.

I want Marge to be part of this blog, after all, her legacy. So I will search and end with some of her writing or copying of other’s writing that expressed her inner self.

The following is a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, one of Marge’s favorites, that she copied by hand in ink and saved. Part of her legacy to me; now passed on to you.

  • If thou must love me, let it be for naught
  • Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
  • “I love her for her smile – her look -her way
  • of speaking gently, – for a trick of thought
  • That falls in well with mine, and brought
  • A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”–
  • For these things in themselves ,Beloved, may
  • Be changed, or.. change for thee,- and love, so wrought,
  • May be unwrought also. Neither love me for
  • Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,-
  • A creature might forget to weep who bore
  • Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
  • But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
  • Thou mayst love on, through Love’s eternity.
  • ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————


  • Author and Date not identified concerning this poem
  • And you as well must die, beloved dust
  • And all your beauty stand you in no stead;
  • The flawless vital hand, the perfect head
  • The body of flame and steel, before the gate
  • of Death, or under his autumnal frost,
  • Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead
  • Than the first leaf that fell, – this wonder fled,
  • altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.
  • Nor shall my love avail you in your house;
  • In spite of all my love, you will arise
  • Upon that day and wander down the air
  • Obscurely as the weathered flower,
  • It mattering not how beautiful you were,
  • Or how beloved above all else that dies.
  • ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

About R. F.

I am a retired Professional Engineer who spent my working life in the electric utility industry. I am now a volunteer instructor at the University Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
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1 Response to Autumn 1959

  1. Allan says:

    Wow, I do know from my own experience that Janice & I were first married she would feel very strongly or emotional about something or other, and I being young was totally confused over what was going on, I actually spoke to my MOM, she sat me down and said that “girls feel things more then boys”. I learned to just let her feel, went along with her feelings until she moved on to the next big emotional thing. Not sure if that is the same as you and Margery. But those words although not making me a better person, sure made my life easier with Janice.

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