The Engagement, part 2

Well, there’s one last part of our engagement that I need to share:  telling my folks.

Remember that Mom and Pop were totally enamored with Nolan–he was the most wonderful guy I could have ever brought home!  When we started talking about getting married (after three months of dating), they were all for it.  Once when I talked with them on the phone from Langdon I mentioned that I should call Grace Church to see about available dates in June when my mom said, “Aren’t you getting married in Langdon?”

“Uh, no.  You usually get married in the bride’s church.”

“Have you asked Nolan about that?!”

Obviously I was a side-consideration in this decision.

After Nolan and I had told his folks we were engaged, we headed back to Illinois.

To say that my family is a “little different” from Nolan’s is an understatement.  Up until this trip to Langdon I had always thought I came from an affectionate family.  After meeting the Spenst family, the Moschel family looked downright standoffish!

Everyone hugs everyone else in the Spenst family.  There is no such thing as handshaking to say, “Hi.”  You are engulfed in hug after hug from relative after relative (and there are lots of them!).  One day at a cafe in town we met a man who Nolan introduced as his Uncle Earl.  After the now-expected hug, Uncle Earl informed me, “We Spenst’s aren’t fighters–we’re lovers!”

When relatives arrive at the Spenst farm, even in the middle of the night, most of the family (except the little kids) will get up and go greet–and hug–whoever has come.  Even if they’re only up for fifteen minutes to help you get settled into your space in the house, they get up.  Not at my house.  When we arrived at my folks’ place in the middle of the night, Nolan just about banged on the door and yelled, “We’re here!”  Fortunately I caught him in time and informed him that we should go quietly to our rooms and would greet my family in the morning.  With an utterly baffled look, Nolan went quietly to bed.

The next morning Mom and Pop greeted us with smiles, hugs from Mom for both and from Pop for me.  He was going to just nod at Nolan when Nolan, being a Spenst, hugged him!  Pop, again, looked pleased with my choice of man even if he was a little different.

Mom made us breakfast and we were just sitting down when Nolan stood up, walked behind my chair and said, “Bill, I have something I want to ask you.”

Pop looked at Nolan expectantly while Nolan asked, “Bill, may I have permission to marry your daughter?”

With a BIG grin, Pop said yes, Mom started smiling and crying while they hugged us and congratulated us (Pop hugged, too, this time!).

Just as we sat down again Pop said, “Well, I think this calls for a celebration!” pulled a pistol out of his belt and fired six blanks in the air!

Mom jumped up and down, “Oh!  Bill!  The bird!  The bird!” (The finch was going crazy in the cage from the noise.)

Pop got a big laugh out of that and later presented me with the six shells, which I still have.

Yep, the Moschel’s definitely show their affection just a little differently!

The Engagement

I grew up in central Illinois where winters were fairly mild.  Cold, some snow, but nothing really major.  We didn’t even have the pond behind the house freeze hard enough to skate on every year.  I have just a few memories of visiting northern Minnesota as a child and enjoying the occasional snowmobile ride.  For two winters I lived in Australia where the seasons are opposite to ours.  Christmas was spent at the beach and it was blazing hot.  Winter meant rain, not snow.  Therefore, being introduced to North Dakota in the wintertime was quite the experience!

Nolan and I arrived in Langdon the day before the local schools were to let out for Christmas break.  However, they never went to school that day because the governor canceled school state-wide due to the expected windchill.  That day dawn bright and beautiful–and -50 F with the windchill at -90 F!  (No, that is not a typo.  Yes, it really was that cold.  Let’s just say some things stick in your mind–especially when you didn’t realize they were possible!)

After breakfast I stood looking out the kitchen window at the beautiful scene and said, “Could we go snowmobiling today?”  Nolan looked at me a moment in stunned surprise.  “No, Tracy.  You don’t go snowmobiling in this kind of weather.  You just die faster.”  “Oh.”  (What else does one say?)

After a few days with his family, Nolan and I went to stay at a dairy farm northeast of town (his family lives straight west of Langdon) to take care of the cows for a week or so while the couple who owned it went to spend Christmas with their kids in California.  Their niece was there as well and, between the three of us, we milked and took care of the 32 cows.  As most rural folks know, cows have to be milked twice a day and at the same times so they continue giving the most milk.  Milk cows must also be fed, have their stalls cleaned and, in this case, the free-stall barn.  A free-stall barn is an open building where cows are free to roam about in the wintertime.  It’s a luxury a lot of dairy operations don’t have, but makes a lot of sense in North Dakota in the dead of winter (like those regular -20 days in January).  So, between milking times, feeding and cleaning barn, it was a lot of work in some of the coldest weather in the country!

Just to give some additional perspective to this scene, keep in mind I’m a town girl from Illinois.  Before this time I had kinda, sorta, once petted a cow at a 4-H fair–I think.  It’s a vague memory.  Ever stood next to a Holstein?  The few Jersey’s were kinda sweet and looked cuddly.  They were gentle too.  But the Holsteins and the one called “Roanie” were BIG.  Thankfully, at that time they didn’t keep a bull (except the one in the tank in the milk house, as Keith said).  So, from starting out clueless about cows to trying to figure out what to do with a cow (wash the udder & teats good, attach the milker to the pipe overhead, attach milker to cow, hope she doesn’t kick it off) to kicking the things when they refused to get up (“Git up, Boss!  C’mon!  Up!”), I rapidly became educated in cows (or at least enough to get them milked, fed and clean!).  We even had one calve while we were there and had to pull the calf!  What an experience!

Nolan had told me at one time that he’d written to each of his sisters and asked them their advice about finding the right girl to marry.  Each one wrote him back and said pretty much the same thing, Bonnie in about 15 pages and Paula in about 6!  Bonnie suggested that when he found the girl whom he thought was “right,” they should go on a missions trip or a group camping trip to see how she would react under stressful conditions.  One day as we were cleaning the barn, Nolan looked at me and said, “I can’t think of another girl at Summit Christian College who would come all the way to North Dakota with me to clean barn.”  High praise–and I certainly felt the joy of it!

After we were done with the dairy farm we spent another week or so at Nolan’s folks’ before we needed to head back toward school.  Nolan was taking a January term and I was going to spend the time at home.  We had been talking about getting married and thought probably June would be a good time.  The morning we were to leave we had breakfast with his folks and then went into the living room to take down his drum set.  As we walked into the room, he whirled around and said, “Tracy, do you mind if we leave my folks with a June 1st date?”

Startled I looked at him, “But, Nolan, you haven’t asked ME yet!”

An odd look crossed his face as that fact dawned on him.  “Oh, yeah.  Will you marry me?”

I laughed, “Yes!”  And he kissed me before we turned back to the kitchen to go tell his folks.

The Courtship

I thought perhaps I should have given the rest of the Nolan story before writing about having our first baby, but I think you all can keep the timeline straight!

From the very beginning Nolan and I were on the same wavelength–at least as much as a man and woman can be, considering differences in hormones, etc.!  He has always been like the other half of me that has made me whole.  It’s not that I was less of a person before meeting him, it’s just that with him I experienced a new completeness I’d never had before.

We spent most of our time together.  We ate together, studied together (and were on the Dean’s List to prove, yes, we WERE studying!), attended chapel together, etc.  We still had other friends and hung out with them as well, but more and more those ended up being mutual friends and we all stuck together.  Being together was the most natural thing in the world for us to do, yet we kept to our decision not to show physical affection in front of others.  Later on that led to a rather humorous incident because someone thought we were siblings!

In October, Nolan and I drove to West Lafayette, IN, for the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon, a public rendezvous held at Fort Ouiatenon Park.  It’s a great time of stepping back into the time of trappers, traders, soldiers, and settlers.  (BTW, it’ll be held Sept. 24-25 this year if you can possibly go–wish we could!)  It had become a tradition for my family to go for several years and we planned to meet my parents there so they could meet Nolan.

We got there early and sat in the hotel room waiting for Mom and Pop.  When they pulled up, Nolan was the first one out of the door to meet them.  He walked up and hugged my mom, then turned around and hugged Pop!  Their reaction?  Son!  They didn’t say it, but they might as well have!  From that time until this Nolan is a treasured son-in-law!  I jokingly tell people that if we’d ever broken up they would’ve kept Nolan and I’d had to have found a new family!  (Mom denies it, but is glad she was never tested!)  What is so funny about it is that Pop never was a huggy kind of person, and certainly not with other men.  So, he was really impressed with Nolan if being immediately hugged by him didn’t phase him a bit!

We had a great weekend with Mom and Pop.  Nolan really enjoyed the festival, especially all the guys walking around in animal pelts! (Nolan did some trapping in high school.)  When we all left they assumed he’d be coming home with me for Thanksgiving–and I think they were assuming more than that…By the time Christmas break came, we knew we didn’t want to spend 4-6 weeks apart.  So, Nolan invited me to come to North Dakota with him to meet his parents and see where he was from.

It had become important to Nolan that I see North Dakota because it was nothing like Indiana or Illinois.  After living in Fort Wayne for about a month he’d asked if we could drive out into the country just so he could see some open sky.  So, we drove out of town.  Bewildered, he asked, “Don’t you have any gravel roads around here?!”  I looked at him a little puzzled, “Um, no, they’re pretty much all paved.”  (I’m sure there were some, but I wouldn’t have had any idea where to find them.)  He came back to campus just as frustrated as when we left because he still hadn’t been able to see anything–the corn hadn’t been harvested and wide-open spaces just weren’t to be found.  I, of course, had no idea what he was wanting and that was why it became so important to him that I come to Langdon.

My parents were okay with me being away for Christmas, so we left for Langdon, hoping to make the trip in one shot.  Unfortunately, a major snowstorm moved in and the interstates were closed in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  We pulled off at a truck stop, hoping to find a place to rest until we could drive on.  Truck stops weren’t my favorites places as truckers always seemed just a little creepy (and probably because my brother and I were absolutely forbidden to go to the truck stop near our house as kids).  So, we walked over to a nearby hotel and found they had one room left, but the heat didn’t work in it since the last people who left had shut it off (obviously not Northern people!) and it had frozen up.  We assured them it would be fine; we could leave the door open to the hallway to let in heat.  At least we had a place to sleep and two–separate–beds.  When we called Nolan’s folks to let them know about our delay, they weren’t in the least bit fazed by it and felt it perfectly fine that we were staying together at a hotel.  However, they did chuckle and said it would probably be best that we not mention it to others!   I assured them I had no intention of letting anyone at school find out!

Finally, we were on our way again the next morning.  As we drove Nolan told me more stories about his growing up and young adult years.  He told me more about going to Winkler Bible Institute after high school and said that some Friday night we would go up to Winkler for pizza.  “You mean we’re just going to go up to Canada on a Friday night for pizza?  Just hop on up there?!”  He gave me a strange look.  “Yeah?”  I could tell he didn’t get it, so I just sat there in my own little world of amazement.  Awhile later he turned to me, “Canada is a foreign country, isn’t it?”  “YES!!!  Why do you think I think it’s so amazing we’re just going to go to Canada for pizza some night?  Where I come from, when people go to Canada you take off work for vacation time, pack up all your stuff, get someone to watch the dog and make a journey to Canada.  You don’t just pop up there for pizza!”  Yeah, Nolan is the other half of me, but sometimes it was an odd fit…

Starting a Family

As everyone knows, everything in life ties together.  Although we may try to compartmentalize our lives in some respects; such as keeping work issues at work and home issues at home, we know we’re not able to do that completely.  A bad day at work will affect your home life even if it’s just feeling a little “down” when you get there.  In the same way, there are so many things that overlap in my life and one thing affects another that, to some extent, I feel I must mention the “bunny trails” in life too even though the focus of this blog is why we’re Catholic.  One of those side trips I’m going to make is the starting of our family.

When Nolan and I were engaged we talked of how many kids we wanted.  He wanted two, I said, “No way–too boring!”  He asked how many I wanted and I said more than two and no odd numbers.  You see, by then I had enough woman’s intuition to know that sometimes you just don’t say what you’re really thinking and just let time develop the situation.  So, for those of you who didn’t know it was possible, I DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING!!  (I want to be sure to get credit where credit is due–besides, I got my way in the end anyway! 😉 )

My real dream was six kids.  Mom came from a family of six and so did Pop.  Then I met this incredible guy who was the fifth of six kids too (as were Mom and Pop, btw).  I mean, c’mon, it was meant to be.  Just because he didn’t see that yet didn’t mean I couldn’t have it figured out already.  So, after a year or so of marriage, we decided to give it a try.  And, voila!, we got pregnant!  Baby Peanut was due March 1994.

The first couple of months were great.  I wasn’t nauseated and lived on Cloud Nine.  My dream of being a wife and mother had come true and we were headed into the grand adventure of life.  It was almost like the end of a movie where they ride off into the sunset to live their happily-ever-after that you know is going to be incredible.  Except, in our case, incredible didn’t happen.  Miscarriage did.

In the third month the doctor told us he should have been able to hear the heart tones by then and sent us for an ultrasound.  The scan showed a nice, developed placenta, but no baby.  The doctor said to give it a week to see if my body would handle it on its own.  A few days later, on my 25th birthday, I started cramping.  As it turned out, my body didn’t handle it and I had to have a D & C procedure.  From what the doctor could tell the umbilical cord didn’t develop properly, so the baby hadn’t grown much.

As anyone who has suffered a miscarriage will attest to, it is very, very painful.  It isn’t just the loss of the baby, but also the loss of dreams and hopes.  There also settles in a fear, “What if it happens again?  What if I can’t get pregnant again?”  You’re a mom, but no one will ever see your baby.  Empty arms are painful.  So are the questions to God.  “Why?  You could’ve fixed the cord, why didn’t You?”  I would say my attitude at the time toward God was one of demanding from Him an explanation; almost an attitude of, “How dare You!”  As you can see, I had a lot of growing-up to do.

The doctor recommended we wait a couple of months before trying again.  The following January, once again, that nifty little test showed pink and one fear was set to rest:  We were able to get pregnant again!  Due date for Spud was September 1, 1994.  This time things were a lot different.

Nausea and exhaustion characterized the first three months.  I couldn’t walk through the canned food section of the grocery store without getting queasy!  Ugh!  In addition, I lost five pounds (without ever throwing up).  “Great!” I thought, “Finally lose weight when I’m not supposed to!”  However, Spud had a great heartbeat and there never was a more beautiful sound than that little heart going woosh-woosh!  By the time I was halfway through the fourth month I felt great and being pregnant entered the enjoyable stage.  In the eighth month things got uncomfortable as Spud decided he needed more exercise and started tap-dancing on my bladder while doing The Bump with my stomach.  He seemed to think my ribs were a little confining as well, so he’d try to move those over too.

By the time I was nearing the end of month nine, it looked like I’d be having this baby on time.  But, Spud was in no hurry to leave his custom-made gymnasium.  September first came and went.  No baby.  And I was good size.  They’d already determined early in the pregnancy that it wasn’t twins, but simply larger-than-usual measurements.  But by the time due date came and went, the doctor decided I’d better have another ultrasound to be sure baby was headed in the right direction.

Now, at that size, babies are pretty hard to see in an ultrasound.  You can see parts, but not the whole baby and the machines can’t tell give you any weight guesses either.  However, it did give us the information we wanted and that was that the head was, indeed, down.  After looking at the picture of the baby’s head I told Nolan, “It’s a boy.”  “You can’t tell that by looking at the head!”  “Honey, the baby has your head and if that’s a girl, she’s going to be one ugly child!”  (I know, that sounds mean, but what girl wants the head of a football player?!?)

Well, finally the doctor said we’d waited long enough and he was concerned the baby was going to get too big.  I would have to be induced.  So, on a lovely Sunday morning we got to the hospital and they started all those marvelous works of modern medicine to convince a baby to be born.  And, at 11:56 PM on September 11, 1994, Daniel Arthur Spenst came into this world with a yell!

However, the super-slo-mo went something like this:  Baby has emerged, doctor says, “It’s a little boy!  No, it’s not!”  I’m thinking, “C’mon, boy or girl, you only have two choices!” while doctor continues, “It’s a BIG boy!”  They just about broke out into a round of applause for me right then and there!  The final tally?  TEN POUNDS, ONE OUNCE AND TWENTY-TWO INCHES LONG!!!!!  (Did I mention his head was 14 3/4″?)

My dream had come true!  I was a mom with a baby to show for it!  And now, since Daniel was now born, Nolan and I could prepare to move to Rudyard, Montana, where Nolan had accepted the position of pastor of the Calvary Evangelical Church.  My dream had come true and Nolan’s was about to–it just doesn’t get any better than that!