Marriage Report

My mother just sent me a copy of an official “Marriage Report.” Not a “Certificate,” a “Report.” According to the reporter who filed the document, the participants in this marriage were Carl M. Knobel, and his young bride, Julia T. Williams, aka, my grandparents.

Carl was twenty-two at the time, working as a journeyman electrician, making about 20 cents an hour. Julia was twenty-one, working as a nanny, making even less. According to this report, they were spotted at a small chapel in Elkton, Maryland on this very day, November 29th, ninety years ago, swearing to love and cherish one another for the rest of their lives.

Their marriage was a quiet affair. In 1933, America was in the grip of The Great Depression, and all their friends and family were as broke as they were. Carl and Thelma were afraid if they announced their intentions, people would feel obligated to attend. They worried their friends and family would spend money they couldn’t afford to spend on the journey, or worse, on gifts. So, they kept their marriage on the down-low. After exchanging vows, and signing the proper papers, the two returned to the homes they grew up in. Nana continued her job as a Nanny, and Pop went about the business of electrifying homes in Baltimore. Then, later the following year, when they had enough money saved, they quietly moved in together and started a family.

I knew my grandparents had married young, without a lot of hoopla. I knew there was no best man, no maid of honor, no reception, and no honeymoon. I also knew the only witness on hand was a court reporter. But you know what I didn’t know until I examined this “Marriage Report?” I didn’t know my grandmother’s first name was Julia!

It’s true. Until today, I thought my grandmother’s first name was Thelma, and really, why wouldn’t I? Everybody always called her “Thelma.” She always introduced herself as “Thelma.” And no one ever told me her real name was Julia. I always thought her middle name was Julia, but seriously, if given the choice, who would opt to be called Thelma, instead of Julia?
I called my mother shortly after perusing the attached Marriage Report and demanded to know why no one ever told me my grandmother’s real name.

“Well,” she said, “it’s not like we were keeping it from you. I guess it just never came up.”

“’Never came up?’ Really? Is it my job to bring up such a thing? I lived next to the woman for thirty years,” I said. “You’d think maybe the topic of her name might have come up during one of the several thousand meals we shared together.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. Michael. She wanted to be called Thelma, and you know your grandmother…”
“Yeah,” I said. “I do. I just didn’t know her name!”

I talk a lot about my grandfather on this page, because his skill and his work ethic inspired the foundation I run today. And because his last name, which died with him, is now on a bottle of excellent whiskey. But make no mistake – my grandmother was the Knobel who called the shots. And it was my grandmother, whatever her name was, who said to my mother forty years ago on this very day, when asked if she’d like a party commemorating her 50th wedding anniversary, “Oh no, dear. This day is for your father and me. No one else. This is a day we celebrate alone.”
And so, they did.

Every November 29th for seventy years in a row. With a conspicuous absence of hoopla, Carl and Thelma-Julia celebrated the love that brought them together in the toughest of times, and kept them together for seven decades. And maybe on this day, in some other realm, under some other name, they are still together, still celebrating, still hoping the rest of us might wind up with a Marriage Report as lasting as theirs.

Happy Anniversary, Nana and Pop, and Many Happy Returns!
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