The welcoming committee on my first visit to Fresno was bigger and more daunting than just his family, which was intimidating enough. In addition to all six of his brothers and sisters plus his brother’s fiancée Cindy and Aunt Mary half the neighborhood and assorted family friends assembled in the Rowell living room, all curious to see what kind of freak agreed to marry a guy she met a mere six weeks earlier. In retrospect, this was totally understandable – if I was one of them, I’d be dying of curiosity too.
They called him Johnny which was disconcerting because I never thought of him as a Johnny. His sister Lucy teased him about a receding hairline, which caused me to look twice – how had I missed a thing like that?? (For the record, he still has all of his hair and most of it hasn’t gone gray.) Their collective astonishment that John was getting married gave me pause – why did they find it so incredible? (In their minds, he was still the chess-obsessed loner he’d been years earlier.)
As ego-gratifying as it was to watch his letters from old girlfriends dissolve to ash, I shouldn’t have encouraged him to do it – particularly given my own egregious failure to follow suit. I qualified my refusal by explaining that my old love letters were “research for my writing” – which is true – but the bigger truth is our different reactions reveal our characters. He loves to throw things out; I love to cling to them. Neither of us are likely to change.