Happy Birthday, Carol


It seems strange to me that we might arbitrarily measure age by the number of revolutions that our rock has revolved around the sun. Perhaps a better assessment of our age would be the number of good deeds we’ve done for others, or perhaps the number of life lessons we’ve learned along the way.

In any case, our rock is about to make its annual return to the same place in its orbit that it was on the day that my lovely wife Carol was born. So I’m invoking ‘columnists’ privilege’ to use this space to wish Carol a Happy Birthday! And to remember those days back in Tallahassee when our two ships first crossed paths. Or in our case, our two canoes.

Carol and I became friends while we were both graduate students at Florida State. Carol was not only beautiful, charming and studying the same thing I was (political science), but she was smart and totally engaging, too.  Carol was absolutely unique from any of the girls I had previously met, or frankly even had any interest in. She was also, unfortunately for me, already committed to ‘Rob’.

But this meant that our frequent conversations during the lunches we had at every opportunity were safe, strictly professional and completely engaging. And we engaged in conversations frequently.  

But not long after, I learned how canoeing a river together can be the true test of a lasting relationship. And Carol and ‘Rob’ would fail the test.

A group of FSU friends and I had planned a canoe trip down the Withlacoochee River, one of my favorite canoeing rivers in northern Florida. To my pleasant surprise, Carol (among her many other positive attributes) said she loved canoeing and wanted to join us. She was also, unfortunately, bringing ‘Rob’.

It was on that canoe trip that my youthful infatuation with Carol turned real. While she paddled the river in her canoe with ‘Rob’, she and I frequently chatted together along the way and on various stops along the banks.  On the other hand, she and ‘Rob’ did little more than argue incessantly with each other all the way. She thought ‘Rob’ was so incompetent that Carol ended up taking the stern away from him to steer the canoe the rest of the way downriver. What a woman!

To make a long story short, Carol and ‘Rob’ were split up not long after that trip, and very, very, shortly after that, Carol and I were together.

Shortly after that, I was graduating and we considered our future together.  Deciding where to live together can be one of the most difficult choices two professionals in a relationship can make. I loved the water, the ocean and the beaches of Florida and although I grew up less than 20 minutes from the beach, I had always dreamed of living on the coast. And I promised Carol that wherever I got my first job, it would be ‘on the coast’.  She loved the idea.

My first good job offer turned out to be teaching American Government at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. So Carol followed me to Carbondale and we became Midwesterners; about as far from either coast as one could reasonably get. And when Carol signed on with the University of Illinois after completing her PhD several years later, we moved to Philo.  Again, not exactly ‘the coast’. But Carol, lovely person that she is, was kind enough to brag to her friends that I had kept my promise by moving us to “an island on a sea of corn.”

But now we live here on the Sangamon River, and I feel like I have, depending on your specific, technical definition of ‘coast,’ finally fulfilled my promise. We do after all, live on the water.

Over the years, we’ve become even more convinced that canoeing together is a test for the future of any relationship. And Carol and I have spent many years together happily and peacefully canoeing many rivers we have crossed.

Last Spring, we went down the Sangamon with a group of friends, including a couple friend of ours. They spent much of the trip talking and chatting pleasantly with others on the trip, but argued incessantly with each other all the way. ‘Susan’ thought ‘George’ was so incompetent that Susan ended up taking the stern away from him to steer the canoe the rest of the way downriver. Carol looked back at me shaking her head from side to side as we knowingly smiled to each other. 

And sure enough, the two of them were split up just a few short weeks later.  Perhaps paddling the Sangamon should become requisite for all premarital counseling.

As this ride on our rock continues hurtling around the sun, I just want to pause briefly to again say, Happy Birthday, Carol! And thinking about it, she’s probably glad we don’t measure our age by the good deeds we’ve done or the lessons we’ve learned: she’d certainly be considerably older!

I love you, Carol and I hope that the currents of the rivers of our lives continue to carry us forward forever. So far, it’s been a heckuva ride!

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, January 24, 2013, by Scott Hays

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