Ella Margaret Gillespie and Carl Howard Nadgwick met one afternoon when Howard sauntered into the local J.C. Penney’s in Red Oak, Iowa and spied a cute brunette laughing with a customer at the counter. After that. he looked for every excuse he could find to get back into that store to talk to her.
Ella had three towering brothers-John, Charles, and Frank-with an equally towering and extremely gruff Uncle Charlie who looked after their charismatic and mercurial girl tirelessly. It wasn’t easy to make the cut, but Howard did and when big sister Thelma met his Ellie, the two became fast friends.
They were a couple of happy twinkle-toes, and it was a safe bet that if it was a Saturday night, they’d be toolin’ up to another Iowa town where they could stay up too late listening to live music, smoking cigarettes, and dancing off their dinner. Later on after they were married and lived in Omaha, Nebraska, you could find them at Peony Park doin’ the same thing.
I never got tired of asking Grandpa to tell me this story…he always found a way to tell it a little bit differently, sometimes maybe even adding some new small detail he hadn’t told me before. I also could never get enough of paging through Grandma’s scrapbook, re-reading all the clippings and the letters, asking the same questions about the same pictures, and she’d patiently answer every single one.
By the time I appeared on the timeline, there was still some dancin’ but not as frequently. Grandpa worked as a mechanic at Western Electric, and Grandma was an R.N. They worked hard each day, danced, laughed a lot and built a good life. While they were at it, they looked after a hyperactive but small ball of energy (me), and made sure we were all home and at the dinner table by 5:30. They were my own personal version of Super Glue, holding it all together and lovin’ every minute of it.
And on their day today, what’s really on my mind is how lucky I was to grow up watching what true love means in the real world. It is from them that I know it takes work. Eventually you’re going to have to make time for the dancing and no matter how goo-goo you are over someone you will still fight sometimes.
But–when times are tough you come together immediately as a United Front and Take Care of Business.
(No matter how pissed off you may be at each other.)
I am also still in awe of how Grandpa stopped the world to take care of my beautiful grandmother as she slowly deteriorated from an insidious neurodegenerative disease the doctors could never officially diagnose.
On the final anniversary they would share together, and despite being strongly urged to the contrary, he bought a hospital bed so Ellie could still be cared for at home. And he cared for her, steadfast in his belief she should be at home with him, never wavering, until he died the following January.
After that Grandma took to wearing his ring on a chain around her neck. She was still wearing it on the afternoon she moved on too.
According to them, there was never any question about being together for good.
Happy Anniversary Grandma and Grandpa,
I Love You.