| This is the 87th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in Maryville, Tennessee in 1944. After my parents divorced four years after my birth, I was raised by my paternal grandparents on their farm. At times, I had a trying childhood. My mother remarried early in my life and didn’t come around to see me much. My father was very–mobile. He jumped jobs like he was on a trampoline, moving from city to city, seeking fortune. Unfortunately, he never found it. And maybe more unfortunately, I believed my father would one day settle back down with me. That never happened, either.
Though I wish my parents were around more, growing up with my grandparents was wonderful. It was a good home. They taught me lessons about self-sufficiency. The only thing they ever bought at a local store were the bare necessities, like mustard, sugar, salt, and chicken feed–in which my grandma used the sacks to make pieces of my clothing. Everything else was from the farm or the garden.
My grandma pushed me to keep my grades high and my nose in the books, seeing how she wasn’t able to finish schooling past eighth grade and wanted me to be able to lead a better life. I graduated high school in 1962 and plunged right into the workforce. In 1965, the mandatory draft for soldiers for the Vietnam War was sent out, and I got my call to go to the draft board.
The letter advised me to come to a nearby town, prepared with three-days’ worth of clothing, and to get a room for myself. Because I had no other choice, I booked a place to stay and followed orders. Upon arrival to my room, I started talking with the landlord. She was a little old lady who welcomed company and took a liking to me. After going through the drafting process, I was told that I had been reclassified on account of details held by the administrative secretary—a.k.a. that little old lady whom I shared stories with. I was dumbfounded and overwhelmingly grateful. I leaped out of that place as quickly as possible.
Because I did not have to go to war, and because I didn’t want to go back to school, I got a job at a gas station, pumping gas and selling car accessories to everyone with ears. One day, I relentlessly pushed a sale of windshield wipers on a man in a business suit. After a little schmoozing, the business man looked at me and said, “You know, you’re pretty good. How about you come by my office, and we’ll talk.” The next day, I unknowingly walked into an interview for a job as a drug representative and was hired on the spot. I learned that I could make a living selling other people’s stuff.
So anyway, in 1971 my job had me move to Ironton, Ohio to train the new branch they just opened. I became the entire sales force of that branch, but I did well. A few years after the move, I met and married a woman. Together, we bought a plot of land in the country with horses and a barn. I built our log house, with pieces from a kit I’d purchased. I mean, I was strong and able, so why not? A couple of years later in 1977, my wife and I had our son, John. My life changed after John. I became smoother, calmer, kinder, and more centered. I was much more concerned with the future than I had been in the past. I wanted my son to have a childhood that was better than what I had with my broken family. I loved my grandparents, but I didn’t want John to experience the same sadness that I did every time I watched my mom or dad drive away.
A few years later, though, when John was seven years old, my marriage with John’s mom didn’t work out. I told her that the house was mine, John was mine, but she could take anything else. I didn’t realize what I had promised. I came home one day to an empty house, stripped of everything. There was nothing but a Lazy-Boy chair, a TV set, and my bed frame.
A few nights after my wife left, I remember just sitting in my Lazy-Boy chair, one of the only pieces of furniture left, thinking about how much my life was going to change. John tiptoed into the room I was in and crawled into my lap. He looked like a baby again, just scared and heartbroken. That night we cried together. I decided that I didn’t want another woman in my life.
I was still working as a drug representative, constantly traveling hours and hours during the day. Each night I came home to clean the house, pick up my son from school (only forgetting him once), cook dinner, help him with his homework, and get him ready for bed. I wanted his life to go on normally, but man, was I tired. Though I wasn’t a five-star chef, we made it through. My grandparents had instilled enough of the basics of parenting in me. One day, I brought home big pieces of wood and taught my boy how to make furniture. Nothing fancy, but we had at least had somewhere to eat meals and lay our head.
A friend of mine who worked as a clerk in a drugstore kept pestering me about a woman who was “just the perfect match for me.” I wasn’t convinced. I took the woman’s number from my friend and stuck it in my back pocket, forgetting about it as soon as I left the store. And I would have permanently forgotten about it, but each time my friend saw me, she reminded me to call. But I never did. I was just trying to survive, not move on.
A few weeks later, the phone rang. Turns out, that woman, named Donita, called me and asked me out for dinner. We arranged to meet at a little Italian restaurant, and instantly hit it off. We talked all evening and all night, until the staff told us they had to lock the doors. As we exited to the parking lot, I told her I’d call. But time went by, and I did not call.
Weeks later, the phone rang at my house, and Donita was on the other line. She said, “Well, are you going to let me go through menopause before you call me again?” I knew then that she was a keeper. But again, life happened, and I didn’t call for three months.
On a snowy day in January, I didn’t go into work. Instead, I called Donita and we met at another restaurant. We couldn’t stop talking to each other. This time, after going home, I did call when I said I would. And we’ve talked every day after that.
We dated for a few months before bringing kids into the mix. We both had a child and were unsure about how comfortable they’d be with our relationship. When the four of us were together, it was apparent that we got along just fine. I married Donita in 1986, and even our kids said vows during the ceremony, as a pledge to be a part of our new family. It was such a grand time in my life.
The four of us moved into the log house, and our journey began together. Like any blended family, we had to relearn the procedures and chores of the house, meld our schedules, and generally get along. Raising someone else’s kid was an adventure for both me and Donita. John was not an easy child. I had overcompensated for his mom leaving and spoiled him a bit. The first time I noticed was when Donita made breakfast one morning. John picked up a slice of bacon, shook it, and said, “I want floppy bacon. Mom always fixed me floppy bacon.” Donita looked him straight in the face and said, “Well, I fix crisp bacon.” And that was that.
Donita and I have been very happy in our later years. Her strength and boldness are just what a man like me needs, and I’m thankful that she called when she did. When I was at rock bottom, sitting in my Lazy-Boy with my crying son in my lap, I never expected that I’d ever be as happy and as joyful as I am right now. It hurt to have my first marriage fail, but I’ve found greater happiness after she left my life. I’ve learned that with age, we better anticipate the doors that open up for us. In hindsight, I’ve always been provided for, I’ve always been loved by someone, and I’ve always been alright, no matter the circumstance.
This is the story of Charlie Cook
Charlie was raised by his grandparents, who taught him how to be self-sufficient. After Charlie’s first marriage did not work out, he became a single father and used the knowledge from his childhood. After a few years of toiling through life Charlie remarried, happier than ever. Charlie believes that every joy and every struggle has been according to God’s plan. Even the darkest events gave way to his happiest moments. If Charlie isn’t scraping through a woodworking project, you can find him playing any old-time stringed-instrument.
If you would like to share in the life journey of Charlie’s wife Donita, click here.
This story first touched our hearts on May 12, 2018.