Fumbling for words

Susan Manzke
Bob and Susan by Sunnybook Farm farmhouse 2011.

When Bob and I met at Frankfort Grain and Lumber in Frankfort Illinois, I was a fledgling writer. Of course, he didn’t know this. Back then I wasn’t working on a column about my life. My writing consisted of rotten poems and equally rotten short stories. Little did either of us know our lives would change during our 46 years together (make that 48 years if you add in our dating years).

There was one afternoon in 1971 Bob came by to use the paint can shaker at my work. It turned out I was the only one in the office at that time. Even though I was the bookkeeper, I did a lot of things at Frankfort Grain and Lumber, like weighing wagons, grading grain, coloring and then mixing paint.

That day Bob and I got to know each other. We talked and talked, while the paint mixed well beyond the time it needed to.

Bob heard about my horses and I learned that he and his dad had a dairy herd. It was my idea to stop by the Manzke farm to meet those cows and see the up-to-date three-stall milking parlor. If I waited for him to invite me, well, who knows how long it would have taken him.

After that, we started dating, going to movies, or just watching TV. When he was too busy farming, I’d show up and ride along with him. Those days I sat on the fender of his IH tractor. Funny how romantic it can be on a moon-lit evening when two young lovers are riding a tractor together.

It went along like that for two years. Sometimes our outings took us to Kankakee. There we would pick up farm supplies from Farm and Fleet and have lunch at the Wagon Wheel restaurant on the way home—our favorite was their fried catfish. Also, each table got a small loaf of fresh-baked bread, warm from the oven. Yum.

One August day in 1973 seemed just like any other. We were heading home from Kankakee. Somehow, we got on the subject of marriage.

Bob wondered if our dating was going anywhere and maybe we should quit seeing each other.

I was shocked. It sounded like he was breaking up with me. If we were home, I probably would have gotten out of the car. But we were an hour away so I sat and we kept talking. (Honestly, I’d been waiting for this subject to come up. In all the romance novels I had read, the proposal was instigated by the guy and gushed of romance.)

Bob continued to hem and haw.

Bob and Susan at wedding shower in November 1973.

“If we’re not going to get married, I don’t see the point of our dating,” he said, or something close to that.

I gulped. “Bob, I never agreed to marry you because you never asked. You’ve got to ask me.”

“Well, do you want to?”

That was his proposal. I said yes. At least after that day, we were both on the same page.

It wasn't until last year, when we were at a family gathering, that he admitted he'd been trying to figure out how to ask me. That was nice to hear. The crazy thing was that as he fumbled for words to say that day he almost broke up with me instead. Now that would have been a disaster.

It was just by accident that I ended up working at Frankfort Grain and Lumber all those years ago. Girlfriends had wanted me to commute to the Chicago loop and join them for jobs in the big city. I also was offered a job at a Sears store that I didn’t take. It seemed too big an operation for me. The bookkeeping job in a three-person office was perfect and by chance that’s where I found Bob. No one could have predicted such an accidental happy ending.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;;; and find archival column readings on YouTube.