An image of Kelley and I in the woods to the left corner on a pink background. The title in Burgandy font. Abstract heart lines behind the image in the left corner and right corner. A quote by Lao Tzo in Burgandy font under the image.

A Love Story: Stronger Together

The quote in pink text sits within a Burgandy lopsided oval.  This is on a pink square background with heart lines abstractly placed behind the oval.

Waking up this morning with pain, I cried. Pure frustration. My poor husband asks, “What do you want for me to do?” At first, I asked for a massage. When he asked where, I just whimpered, “Never mind.” Reality is, he can’t possibly help. The pain seems to have no spot to massage. It’s just everywhere.

So, I ask for my Yogu myofascial release therapy ball, hot pad, and water, and medicine. That helped me to calm down. Then, he drew me a hot bath with Epsom salts. And, as I soaked, he brought me some tea.

This is love.

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A photo of a young man and woman smiling.  The man, wearing a red baseball cap backwards and blue sweatshirt has his arm around her waist.  She is wearing a blue/green flannel shirt and has short brown hair framing her face.
Our first summer together 1983 in Chelsea, MI at Camp MUCC.

Our Love Story

I met Kelley when I was 19. He was 22. I was the waterfront director at a fairly unusual summer camp for kids. Camp MUCC, Michigan United Conservation Club, which for those of you who might not know, is a hunting club. Being I had never even thought about hunting before, this was an odd place for me to land a job. But I was there for the water. Kelley, on-the-other-hand, having studied Wildlife Management at MSU, was hired as a riflery and hunting instructor.

This was to be my home for the summer before going off to college. I had just left my foster family’s home never to be a dependent again. I knew I was now on my own. Kelley was on his own, too. Everything he owned was in two luggage boxes. This was to be his home before he ventured out to find his “real” job.

The week of training, before the campers arrived, we hit it off right away. And from there, on the weekends, once the campers had left after breakfast on Saturday, we often were the only ones left at camp. We were poor as college-students, but we had food and shelter on a small lake in the quaint town of Chelsea, MI. Life was good.

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A collage of our week trip to northern Michigan and to meet Kelley's family.  Images of our canoe, swimming in the river, our tent... on a pink background with Burgandy hearts behind.
Kelley was from Manton, MI, so he brought me to meet his family before our week’s journey.
His older sister was shocked
when he showed up at her door with a girl!

An Engaging Time

At the end of the summer, before I headed to college and Kelley off to Arizona to try to get a ranger job at any national park, we went on a week-long canoe trip, just us two, down the beautiful Manistee River. It was probably the most wonderful week of my life. At the beginning of the trip, Kelley asked, “What if I asked you to marry me?” I snorted, “I’m too young for marriage.” Nothing more was said about that all week. However, at the end of the week, as Kelley was taking me back home to Grand Rapids, his car broke down near the Cedar Springs exit.

We stayed the night at the campground just off from 131, Kelley covered in grease as he worked on the car to get it going. I remember him looking up from the engine as I stood there talking to him and handing him tools as he requested. And that was when he decided it was the perfect time to ask, “Will you marry me?” I didn’t hesitate, not even recalling what I had said one week earlier, “Yes, I will.”

We were engaged, no ring or anything at that point. We didn’t tell anyone we were for at least half a year. Kelley was leaving for AZ in the coming week, and I would be at UofM, forging a new life. Not sure we knew how things would work out, but I know for sure that we both knew we were going to be together through it.

This was before the Internet and e-mail were a thing in your average person’s life. Kelley and I were poor. I was living off my savings from the $1000 that I had made over the summer, Pell Grants, and student loans. Kel was living with his mom and step-dad (both very supportive of him finding a National Park job) and odd jobs he found in Phoenix. We could not afford long-distance calls, and so we wrote.

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An image of a hodge-podge of handwritten letters and cards set in an oval.  Behind that a pink background with abstract heart-shape lines placed at the top left corner and bottom right corner.
I’ve kept all of our correspondence in a binder from that time.
There are over 100 letters, notes, and cards.

Long-distance Love

Kelley was and is a guy who shows his love through what he does and generally doesn’t say lovey-dovey stuff. Surprisingly, when given a pen and paper and no way else for us to connect, he poured everything out. I, too, found that writing allowed me to fully express my thoughts and emotions, much more so than when we were goose-bumped, love-struck-dumb in the presence of each other. (Ah, new love!) And so the letters (long, long letters) flowed.

After six-months apart, Kel did not find a park job and I was really struggling at school, so he decided to drive back to Michigan. The red Pacer he was driving was glued and tied together for the most part. But he was determined to get back to me. He drove straight through on what would be the equivalent of several Monster caffeinated drinks (instead black capsules caffeine). By the time he got to Ann Arbor, his eyes were buggy and bloodshot and his hair a greasy mess. He called me at my dorm, letting me know that his car had conked-out on the highway just outside of town.

Being I didn’t have a car, my good friend, Mindy drove me to get him. She was ever so kind to let this wild-eyed, unsavory looking man in her car. She had really only heard my stories and saw me writing him letters and making him mixed-tapes of love songs, but she really had no idea who he was at this time.

We laugh now (she and her husband have been good friends all these years later) at how she, out of pure love and concern said, “Katie, are you sure you want to marry this guy?” I was sure. I loved that scruffy, red-bearded man, and I knew he loved me.

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An image of young Kelley and me wearing our green Camp MUCC staff shirts on the pink background with abstract Burgandy heart lines.
Our second summer as camp counselors.
These green Camp MUCC shirts lasted long enough to be PJ shirts for our two children!

Together Longer Than Not

It was that February (Groundhog’s day) that we bought my engagement ring and our wedding rings. That next summer, we did one more stint as camp counselors at Camp MUCC and then the next spring, 5/25/1985, we were married, surrounded by our family and friends.

We’ve been married 35 years. Down days like the past few, make me appreciate the love we share. We’ve had so many twists, turns, ups, and downs on this journey together. We’ve grown so much from those homeless babies back when we first met. The life that we’ve built together gives me strength, courage, and purpose.

Image of my family: Kelley on a park bench in the woods is sitting next to me, holding our granddaughter.  My son sitting next to me.  Behind us is my daughter and daughter-in-law.  The background is pink with  abstract heart lines in burgandy.
Being parents of two amazing children, and then, being blessed to bring in our daughter-in-law and granddaughter, makes everything make sense, you know?

We continue to journey together. This year finds us with more twists and turns as I was diagnosed with Fibromuscular Dysplasia, a rare vascular disease that is affecting both of my carotid arteries. Yet, we are ever stronger together, and because of him, I am more courageous than I ever thought I could be.

teal line drawing of lotus flower

I almost didn’t write a post this week. The first two paragraphs were written on Monday. I was too out-of-it and down to write after that. Until today.  The direction of the post took a totally different turn as I thought about how much my guy means to me and just how much he supports me and has from the very beginning. Who in your life do you depend on that gives you the extra strength and courage you need to live FULLY despite pain?

teal line drawn waterlily with teal lettering of the title and motto