Saturday, December 1, 2012


From TING AND I: A Memoir...

Eight years after Tina and I parted at Cornell, I married C, whom my family once characterized as “a Caucasian Tina,” at least superficially. C, too, was slender, soft-spoken, rational and bright, seemingly as much in love with me as I was with her.

We met in the summer of 1970, when I gave a lecture at Penn State to the conservative youth group that I had led in previous years. Six years younger than I, she had recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Arizona, well-known to be a party school rather than an academic powerhouse. We dated that summer, wrote during the fall, and got together again when I returned to Penn State over the winter vacation period, to continue research on a grant that had grown out of my master’s thesis work. I returned for more research work at Penn State that summer, too.

In time I learned that her family was among the richest in Central Pennsylvania, her father having started a road-building business many years before with little more than a pick-up truck. They shared my conservative Republican views, but I was not quite who they wanted their daughter to marry. My being at Harvard was a minus, rather than a plus—too intellectual. Strike two was being comparatively poor, although her father had started that way himself. Strike three was not being impressed with wealth. Still, they were polite and took it well when C and I became engaged. They just were not enthusiastic. Months later, C broke off the engagement, to date some more, then changed her mind again after a month or two, and the engagement was back on. I should have said no. More foreshadowing.

While at the University of Arizona, C had been in love with the reportedly very handsome son from a well-to-do car dealership family. He broke it off, and she was deeply hurt—something I did not know for a long time. Her one-time beau was much more like what her family had in mind for her and to show off to their friends: less academic, more money, better looks, less outspoken, not so damn bright.

One of my shortcomings was that I wore the wrong kind of shoes. To some, these things count. We fixed that with Bass Weejuns penny loafers. Cosmetic surgery of a sort. It’s been said that great minds talk of ideas, middling minds of events, small minds about people. Shoes fail even to make this list.

The church wedding was in the summer of 1972. Her family went through the motions for her sake, but their hearts were not in it. I was oblivious to all this.

My youngest brother, Chris, was not quite so oblivious, as he describes it (see a fuller version in “Tributes”):

In 1972, when Doug was about to marry C––, it was clear to me that C–– was more or less a surrogate for The One Who Got Away. I’m sure that to Doug and C––at the time, a lifetime of marital bliss seemed inevitable, but there never seemed to be the same sparkle in Doug’s eyes when referring to C–– as there ever was in his description of, and longing for, Tina Su. As much as he certainly cared for, admired, and respected C–– he loved Tina.

I have by now heard so many stories of the impact of first loves on subsequent relationships that it makes the 50 percent failure rate of contemporary marriages more understandable.

We moved to Cambridge for my final year of laboratory work and dissertation writing at Harvard, then on to Watertown, MA, where I commuted to work for a research firm while finishing up the dissertation in my spare time. These were lovely times, for me at least. Her dog, a Border Collie named George, certainly enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. C seemed to enjoy it, being in her very early retirement, at 25, doing a modicum of housework and playing with various hobbies, starting to collect and cash trust fund checks. Some her family’s money started coming to her from a trust fund when she reached the age of 25.

Although brother Chris may be right about my not loving C the way I loved Tina, that was not how it seemed to me, and in my dissertation I acknowledged C with an excerpt of a poem by Robert Frost, “Paul’s Wife,” the hero of which

Wouldn’t be spoken to about a wife

In any way the world knew how to speak.

Her major hobby was knitting with a knitting machine. Lovely yarns were purchased and stockpiled. Some were used to make pretty patterned material, usually taken apart afterwards, falling short of her perfectionist expectations. More foreshadowing.

[To be continued....]

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