“She got me when I was down.”
Dan leans over the kitchen table, mischief sparkling in his blue eyes. He and I are sitting at the big oak table on the other side of the sliding glass doors. The kitchen is bright from the sun reflecting off the snow-covered ground on this cold Sunday afternoon in northwestern Iowa. Faye is milling about, making frosting for the chocolate cake we just baked. She laughs as she puts a bowl in the sink.
“I was in the hospital, and her mother was working up on our floor,” he continues.
Faye counsels her husband. “Don’t add too much to it, just tell it –“
“I’m gonna tell it!” Dan’s eyes are even more playful now. “This guy that’s in town here, he never did get married.”
“No, I broke his heart,” Faye chuckles.
‘This guy’ is Kenny. In the early 1960s, Kenny and Dan were in a Sioux City hospital, about 50 miles from the kitchen table I’m sitting at now – in the same town where Kenny and Dan grew up.
Kenny was laid up with his leg in a cast. Dan, who I can only imagine from his current incarnation to have been a spritely, athletic young farmer in his early 20’s, was across the hall from Kenny, getting physical therapy on his knee from a baseball injury. “Nowadays they got therapy at your local hospital, but those days they didn’t – had to haul me clear to Sioux City just to get therapy!” Dan says enthusiastically, emphasizing the word ‘therapy,’ which sounds like “TEAR-a-pee.”
“Every nurse they had was an old nurse. So this guy’d ask every one: ‘Hey! You got any daughters? You got any daughters?’” Dan laughs, his eyes wide. “No kiddin’! Pretty soon, he gets her mother,” he nods to Faye. She smiles.
“‘Yeah, I got a daughter!’” Dan recounts Faye’s mom’s reply. “She said, ‘Matter of fact, she’s working here in the hospital, down in pediatrics on the first floor!’ So Kenny says, ‘Send her up!’” It sounds as though he and Kenny are in a crowded bar and Kenny has just bought a round for the house.
“Well, here she comes,” Dan sits back, reminiscing. “She was on the prowl,” he confides to me, his voice low.
“Oh my gosh!” I pooh-pooh him.
“So anyway, Faye would get off work a half an hour before her mother would. So she would come up and visit with us in our room, you know. It happened for only two days and then they caught us. So then [Kenny] said, ‘Hey! Go find a wheelchair. We gotta go down and visit Faye.’ So I’m looking around these closets and I find me a wheelchair and I whip her out and get him out of bed.”
Dan is laughing with his whole body. You couldn’t help but do the same thing, watching and listening to him tell this story in what I suspect is his trademark animated way. I love this guy.
“Wait, you were able to get around?” I ask, trying to understand how these two could pull off these shenanigans with bum legs.
“Yeah, I just had to get my leg where I could get it straight,” Dan says, wiping tears from his eyes.
“So Kenny was interested,” I say to Faye.
“Poor guy never did get married,” Dan smiles ruefully.
“He was older than Danny, though, too,” Faye says. Dan is five years older than Faye. I love that she calls him Danny.
“Did he ever make his feelings known to you?” I ask her.
“No, ‘cause Danny got out of the hospital first and he called me for a date right away and that was it,” she laughs.
That was it. Dan and Faye celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year.
“He never had a chance, the poor guy,” Dan laughs.
I wonder how many times they’ve told this story over the past 50 years – the way they tell it, it feels like it happened just the other day.
This is one small part of an hours-long visit with Dan, Faye and several kids and grandkids. The entire visit was filled with warm, hearty, infectious laughter. I wish I could bottle the sound of it. Any time I’m in a foul mood, one snippet of Dan & Faye’s audible merriment would put a big smile on my face. Forget The 923 Oak Project. I could sell that stuff and retire early.
And maybe go hang out with Dan and Faye some more.