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Scott Graber

A decision that made all the difference

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By Scott Graber

It is Saturday, and I’m in Port Royal. Today it is wet, cold, the kind of day made for reading a book — or tending a small, discreet fire in one’s hearth. Perhaps both.

I’ve just finished a collection of essays by Ann Patchett called “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.” This is the first non-fiction I have read in a while, and I found myself pleasantly surprised by Patchett’s candor.

Patchett tells us about her first marriage that was an obvious, acknowledged mistake (known to her) well before the ceremony itself.

After that divorce, and a subsequent romance that also went sour, she decided that divorce was too painful, too destructive, and a second divorce was all too likely if she should remarry.

Patchett’s own parents were divorced, as was a grandmother, and she believed there was a predisposition (in her gene pool) for divorce. Eventually Patchett would marry again but steadfastly resisted her husband’s annual proposals for 10 years.

When I graduated from Citadel in 1967, I did have a girlfriend, Carol, and chose my law school (George Washington) because it was within an hour’s drive of Carol who lived in Baltimore. Although romance was clearly on my mind, I thought the rigor associated with law school and the uncertainty of surviving Vietnam should foreclose any legally-binding contract with Carol or anyone else.

After I had been on campus for a couple of months Carol came to me saying, “In the interest of candor I have to tell you something.”

“And what would that be?”

“I’m seeing another man,” she said. “I’m going through a kind of weighing between the two of you.”

“A weighing?”

“Yes. And I wouldn’t be completely honest if I said you were winning that contest.”

The other man was a West Point graduate who was going through Intelligence School at Fort Holabird in Baltimore. He was, Carol said, “handsome,” and I suspected the “weighing” was probably over.

It was time for a tactical retreat.

I wasn’t really angry, or particularly hurt, and was beginning to enjoy sitting around with my criminal law professor in his home Warrenton, Va.; and spending time with a young professor, John Banzhaf, who would eventually draft regulations (for the FAA) banning cigarette smoking on airplanes. I was an average, ordinary, mostly happy law student when I first saw her legs.

The legs belonged to a coed named Susan who lived in the all-girl dorm, Crawford, just across the street from Madison Hall where we law students lived. Using intelligence gathering techniques I had learned at The Citadel, I found out Susan’s name, phone number, blood type and if she was seeing anyone. Then I called admitting, “I’ve been admiring you from afar.” (If I had to do this again I probably would not use that particular phrase.)

I also asked for a date.

When the time came I borrowed a jacket and slacks from one of my wealthy New York classmates, and walked across the street where I introduced myself to the house mother — something that now seems quaint — who said, “She’s not here, but left you this note.”

To whom it may concern:

I don’t know your name and I’m sorry to leave you this note. But today is my birthday and my friends have arranged a party and I’m not going to be able to see you. …

Stunned, I shuffled back to Madison Hall where I showed my “To whom it may concern” note to my indignant classmates.

“Forget her, Scott,” they said, “You’re a law student for God’s sake!”

As I was slipping out of my jacket and getting on the elevator a friend, Lew Tesser, held the closing door and asked, “Do you like her?

“There is something … something about her,” I replied.

“Buy her a birthday present,” he said

“What are you talking about?”

“I said buy her a birthday present and deliver it. Tonight.”

And so I went back out into the night, found a gift, made a card and delivered it to the house mother.

That decision led me to a woman I married a year later. A marriage that has lasted 53 years. A marriage that profoundly altered the arc of our lives for the better.

That gift (hard candy from Walgreens) led to a son, who has been an unalloyed joy to both of us. The decision to put the jacket back on, swallow my pride, and walk back into the night has made all the difference.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com.

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