I met Donna and Craig in the 1970s. We have been very close friends for nearly a half century.
Fresh from law school, my first job as a clerk for a state appellate court judge required me to relocate to the medium sized city where the judge resided. I was married at this time, but for several months I was alone in my new environs as my wife had professional commitments back home that she had to honor before joining me.
Only few days after arriving in my new hometown, I met Craig, who was shooting pool at a popular local tavern located down the hill from the small single-family house I was leasing. Craig is a smart, physical, funny, big-hearted guy. He also happened to be a damn fine pocket billiards player. I wasn’t too shabby myself. That night we ended up playing together, taking on all comers for beers and loose change. Over the course of the evening, Craig mentioned to me he was employed as a roofer but planned to move to Chicago to attend seminary. The following year, he would.
By closing time, Craig had invited me to meet his wife, Donna, and to have dinner with them at their house. The next day when I told my wife about my encounter with Craig and the invitation to meet his wife, I might have mentioned that he was planning to become a priest. My wife, a good Catholic girl, immediately started to ridicule me for making such a patently stupid claim.
Nonetheless, I ended up at Craig’s house for dinner where he introduced me to the wonderful Donna, baby Jennifer, and Ginger, a large and imposing German Shepherd. I learned that Donna was a middle manager for a large manufacturer of machinery used in farming and road construction projects. We talked and laughed late into the night over a couple bottles of wine. It’s almost fifty years later, and, as they say, the rest is history.
After my wife relocated, the four of us socialized frequently. They introduced us to others in their circle. My wife and I settled into the rhythm of a smaller town.
The following spring or summer Craig and I organized and were teammates together on the Great Pretenders baseball team. We didn’t even win a single game but had great fun losing. My wife and Donna often worked side-by-side in their respective gardens. Sometimes Donna would carry baby Jennifer on a cradleboard strapped to her back while working the soil. The baby slept contentedly under the warming sun without a fuss.
After I completed my term of service with the judge, we returned to our hometown. Our friendship with Craig and Donna continued while Craig attended seminary. Despite their move, Donna had proved to be such a hardworking and valuable employee that her company was only too happy to keep her on board with a promotion. Unfortunately, Ginger didn’t live to see the big city, but for many years Craig and Donna raised other German Shepherds. However, I always reserved a soft spot for Ginger, whom I had come to greatly admire for her loyalty and indefatigable spirit over the course of our numerous hikes and camping trips together.
While Craig was attending school he met Glen, an intelligent and quiet fellow student, but a bit of a social misfit. It is only my impression, but I could easily envision Glen being the butt of many mean-spirited jokes and bullying. Before he moved to Chicago, Glen had taught English at a branch of the University of Wisconsin. Craig and Donna befriended Glen. They eventually provided him with a place to stay in their home so he would not feel dislocated. Glen accepted the offer, and to this day remains an integral part of their family, still a bit of a misfit but now an old man.
Craig never completed seminary, but did remain in Chicago where for many years he owned and operated a health food store. Craig’s father, a stern gentleman, is a prominent theologian and scholar, who just published his most recent book at the age of ninety. If Craig’s father were ever disappointed that Craig did not follow him into the ministry, I would remind him that Craig has, more importantly, led an exemplary Christian life. (Much the same could said for Donna.)
As for me, my first marriage ended in failure. No kids, but also no real hard feelings. As so often happens, for my ex, Craig and Donna can be counted among the casualties of divorce. Meanwhile, Craig and Donna added a son, James, and, later, another daughter, Sylvia, to their growing brood.
Craig and Donna welcomed my second wife with open arms. Four very good friends sharing many fine adventures.
I’ll tell you about one camping adventure we had together in Missouri, of all places. I was barely able to suppress my laughter as the self-important and humorless uniformed park ranger moved quickly in pursuit of Craig, screaming for him to halt so that he might search Craig’s day pack. I could plainly hear what I assumed were beer cans clanking inside the pack while Craig darted and scampered through some low brush and off into the woods. A confrontation thus avoided, we met up for a hike that took us up an embankment until we arrived at a scenic overlook high above a lake. From this vantage, we could observe the quiet waters so popular with swimmers –it was a particularly hot and humid summer–suddenly roil with what turned out to be the movements of countless poisonous water moccasins. That night, the same authoritarian ranger was presenting a nature lecture, whereupon we created a stir, standing back in the darkness, periodically shouting that the people had the right to know the truth about the poisonous snake infestation in his park. Sweet payback, indeed!
As for me, the marriage to my second wife began to unravel following several painful and fruitless years trying to conceive a child. Our earnest efforts to hold things together failed. We lost our vitality and forward momentum. We drifted. And, one day, she left.
If I am correctly recalling the chronology of events, by the time my wife elected to start over in another city and a different state, Craig and Donna had had their fourth child, another daughter, named Linnea. By then Jennifer was nearly a grown woman, who, within a few years, would herself be married and ready to start her family while pursuing a career in teaching.
Donna and Craig eventually relocated from Chicago to Wisconsin after Donna’s company consolidated its United States operations to the City of Racine. She decided she would keep her job, which by then had grown in terms of responsibility, status, compensation, and benefits. For a time, Craig would attempt to commute between Chicago and Wisconsin. He ended up staying with me several times a week. We would burn the candle all hours. Then, in the morning, I would find him face down on my couch, loudly snoring. He always looked uncomfortable to me, but invariably he claimed that he had enjoyed a good night’s sleep, despite the fact he couldn’t have gotten more than three or four hours. Ultimately his health food business floundered, so in the end he gave it up to join Donna in Wisconsin. It probably has been more than 25 years since he made this wise decision.
Craig and Donna knew Lee when Lee and I were still just friends, who ran in the same social circles. However, the truth is the chemistry and bond between us was always obvious to everybody and undeniable to us, so it was no surprise to anyone when Lee and I declared our love. Craig and Donna were Lee’s dear and loyal friends right to the end, and I know that she remains in their thoughts and alive in their hearts.
Donna retired from her corporate job almost two years ago. Craig has now retired from his last venture, a little café he opened in Milwaukee near the Marquette University campus. Today, when they are not on the road to visit their far-flung children and six grandchildren, they keep busy keeping up their large and drafty Victorian located in a small town between Milwaukee and Chicago where they have been for two decades and more. In summer, they spend a lot of time at what has become a family compound on a northern lake near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. For years Craig would regale me with his daydream of building a log cabin on this land. Now, with Donna and Jennifer’s support, it might happen.
It’s hard for me to think about my own life without thinking of Craig and Donna. Our lives seem inextricably intertwined.
Next month will mark one year since Robyn and I met on one of those internet dating sites. I was lonely without Lee and needed to make a life of my own. I did not plan to settle down with the first woman who came along. In fact, Robyn wasn’t the first. However, it was not too long after we met online that we met in person. Once more, as they say, the rest is history.
Despite being my “steady,” I have not introduced Robyn to many of my closest friends. In 2022, that is going to change. So, in the next week or two I plan to introduce Robyn, Craig, and Donna. I expect they will welcome her to the family with open arms. We’ll enjoy a fine dinner, maybe a game of cards, and lots of laughs. Lola the pup will be invited, too. Certainly, for me and for Lola, but hopefully for Robyn, too, it will feel like putting on pair of comfortable, old shoes.