“Last time I was in San Francisco, gas was $.20 a gallon.”
Dan is regaling me with his own “Tales of the City.” After volunteering for the service in the late 1950’s, he completed basic training and went on to an intense twelve-week crash course in engineering, where he learned the critical skills he would use over the next two years – fixing hydraulic systems, generators and frequency converters. When he graduated, he was thrilled to find out he was heading to the Bay Area, stationed at the Nike missile base in Berkeley.
“We’d go up through the university and wind around up to Tilden Park and get up to our base. Every night you could just see the whole Bay Area all lit up.”
I love that he is both familiar with and fond of my city by the bay, too.
When Dan got to Berkeley in 1957, he bought a 1948 Dodge Fluid Drive for $50, so he could go to church and play on two softball teams every Sunday. He sold the Dodge to the base cook when he was discharged in 1959, and bought a ten-year-old Chevrolet Fleetline for $150.
He and a buddy drove that almost 2,000 miles back home. “All the way across the desert. There were no interstates back then, you know.”
Back home in Iowa at the ripe old age of 21, Dan settled into a routine of farming with his Dad, playing ball and driving 50 miles to Sioux City with his buddies every Thursday for dances. He didn’t meet Faye at one of those dances — he met her at the hospital, recovering from knee surgery. “I always said, ‘When I get married, I don’t care who it is. I want to go back to California for our honeymoon.’ I knew so many people out there, and I wanted to go back. So we did. We took off a whole month.”
Faye laughs, reminiscing about one of her fondest honeymoon memories. “We woke up in the middle of the night. Our mattress was flat, the tent was falling down on us, and we were frozen.” Dan had apparently forgotten one of the tent poles. They were somewhere near Reno, in a tent minus a pole, with a blow-up mattress on a big rock. They spent the following day sleeping in the sun by Lake Tahoe, only to get rewarded with terrible sunburns.
“We didn’t have any money!” explains Faye.
“Comin’ home from the last night, we left Albuquerque, New Mexico,” Dan says, smiling. “We couldn’t stay over another night in a motel ‘cause we had no money for it.
“So Faye had a twenty-dollar bill in her purse yet, and that’s all the money she had.” He chuckles. “So we had to put that in the car for gas, and home we go.” I am charmed by Dan’s manner of speaking – such a storyteller. He is full-on laughing now, wiping tears from his eyes, so amused at the memory. “I had no money back home in the bank ‘cause I worked for my dad for $125 a month. In the service, I got paid $68 a month, and I sent $50 home. I only spent $18 a month, and when I got home I had saved enough money to buy a new car.” He bought a brand new 1959 blue Chevrolet Impala.
“That’s amazing,” I say, my eyes wide, matching his. I think my Ford Escape Hybrid cost about $35,000 when I bought it seven years ago.
“Yes.” He nods, agreeing with me.
After the honeymoon, Dan continued to work with his dad on the family farm, where his parents lived. Dan and Faye lived a mile or so from there, in a one-bedroom house, and soon they were joined by two young sons. With a third on the way, Dan and Faye needed a bigger home. Dan’s parents moved out of the farmhouse and into “town,” so Dan and Faye and the kids could move in. Steve, Faye and Dan’s oldest son, his wife Julie, and their children live in the farmhouse now, after Dan and Faye moved to 923 Oak twenty years ago. Chris, Dan and Faye’s second oldest, his wife Christine, and their family live in the house that Dan’s parents moved into after the farmhouse, not far from 923 Oak.
Dan and Faye have five children: Steve, Chris, David, Kenny and Susie – all of whom live in Iowa, all within a three-hour drive. They have twenty grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“Has it been 50 years of bliss?” I ask them. I’ve known Dan and Faye for only a few hours, but I feel right at home, as if I’m with my own parents, bugging them for deep thoughts on their marriage.
“It’s gone fast,” Dan remarks.
“You didn’t answer her, dear. 50 years of bliss, right?” She laughs.
“Yes, I’d say we’ve had a very good marriage.” Dan smiles, nodding. “Really.”
“What have you been surprised about over 50 years of marriage?” I ask them both.
“I just think we’ve just grown together. Nothing surprises us, you know?” Faye says, matter-of-factly.
“We really never had a good fight, neither,” Dan adds.
“Really?” I challenge, not believing him.
“Really!” Dan enthuses.
“Well, we’ve had a few spats,” Faye allows. “He never liked my driving.”
“We may call each other a few names you know, to get it off our chest.” Dan winks.
“You pretty much see eye to eye?” I ask them.
“Well, even if we don’t, it’s livable, you know.” Faye smiles.
“I think we’ve got a very happy marriage,” Dan declares. “And grandkids help make that all come together. Nothing greater than family. Nothing greater.” He chokes up. “If I had to do it all over again, don’t know what I’d done different.”
“Faye, if you could change one thing about your husband, what would it be?” I ask.
“He’s just always late. Drives me crazy.” She shakes her head.
“Yeah,” Dan agrees. “I’d be the first to admit that.”
“What would you change about her?” I ask him.
Dan is quiet, considering my question.
“You haven’t eaten yet …” Faye cheerily warns him.
Dan smiles. “You know, I’m kind of a fussbudget. You got [something to throw away] in your hand … why don’t you just walk over and put it in the trash. Don’t put it here (motioning to the counter). Then we gotta pick it up again!” He laughs.
“I accuse myself of being too much of a perfectionist once in a while. My kids gave me hell [about making them scoop up manure frequently].” He laughs, mimicking his kids: “‘In two days, there’s gonna be crap there again anyway!’ Well, it’s nice to clean it up! My theory is that in the summertime, if you leave old manure laying in a spot, then the flies come, lay eggs, then you get more flies. So you get that all cleaned up. But you know, you gotta be efficient when you’re farming too – you can’t be an old fussbudget and spend two hours on something that maybe you could get done in a half an hour. And still do it right, you know.”
Faye motions to the driveway, currently snow-free. “All of our neighbors have such a fit. I mean, we scoop this by hand when we get snow. We have no snowblower. We have no tractor. I mean if it would be a blizzard or something –”
Dan interrupts her. “She’s always packing that damn driveway. [Driving onto the snow-covered driveway, compacting the snow.] I gotta scrape them tire tracks out of there, see? I don’t want that. ‘Cause I want my driveway nice and clean 365 days of the year!” He laughs, fully aware of his persnickety ways.
“That is him.” Faye shakes her head and smiles. “That is him. And we’re not going to change either of those.”