Glad to Meet You ...does it matter where it happened?

Rob Reid

The author’s parents, Eldo and Helen Reid.
The author’s parents, Eldo and Helen Reid.

My parents fell in love in an insane asylum. That’s the joke they would tell their friends throughout their lives together.

No, Mom and Dad weren’t patients. They worked there. My parents were college students working summer activity director jobs at the Woodward State School and Hospital in Woodward, Iowa. And it wasn’t exactly an insane asylum. While the term “insane asylum” might not be politically correct today, it was indeed referred to by that label by many folks back then. In fact, the formal name of the institution in the early years of the 20th century was the Hospital for Epileptics and School for Feeble-Minded.

I, for one, am glad my parents met at “the loony-bin” – another non-“PC” phrase they often used. I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t.

“I, for one, am glad my parents met at ‘the loony-bin’ – another non-‘PC’ phrase they often used. I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t.”

Mom was a farm girl who grew up just a few miles away from the hospital. Dad grew up in the small town of Newton, Iowa, an hour away. He didn’t know Mom before they started working at the hospital-slash-school, but it didn’t take long for these two co-workers to fall in love. That’s one of the stories they shared with me and my siblings.

Dad got a job in the suburbs of Chicago and that’s where we kids were raised. I transferred from Illinois State University to Bemidji State in northern Minnesota on a whim. I had a feeling that I needed to be there. Why northern Minnesota and not Florida or California or New York? I’m not sure other than I like forests and lakes. The campus was small enough that I wasn’t intimidated to take a stab at acting. I got a role in the play Three Bags Full. One day, during rehearsal, waiting in the wings with another actor, I saw a young woman in the opposite wings. “Who is that?” I asked my colleague. “I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m going to find out!”

However, I was the one who found out that the mysterious woman was our props mistress and I wound up marrying her. My wife Jayne grew up in Red Wing, Minn., and liked the size and location of Bemidji State. I’m glad she did, and I’m glad I sought out a small school on a lake surrounded by forests. That is one of the stories we’ve shared with our four children Laura, Julia, Alice, and Sam. I assume they are glad we met backstage at a college theater. They wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t.

Laura and Julia are now married. Laura met her husband Steven at the Eau Claire Target, where both were working. Julia and Kirk were high school sweethearts. They went their separate ways during college but got back together once they each graduated. If they haven’t yet, they will soon be sharing those stories with their children, my grandchildren Parker, Wesley, and Harris. I know the little ones will be glad their parents met how and when they did. They too, wouldn’t be here otherwise.

I don’t want to get too overly philosophical about life and chance encounters or fate, but I’ve been reflecting on the big “What If?” My parents are both gone, and I miss them. Often these “What If?” thoughts begin with them. What if they hadn’t met at the Woodward State School and Hospital? What if I hadn’t transferred to a northern school nine hours by car from my boyhood home? What if my daughters didn’t fall in love with the right guys in their lives? What if I hadn’t needed an elective for graduate school and wound up taking a class on storytelling? What if I took that one job for the Minneapolis Public Library I was offered instead of the one I accepted from the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library? What if we left Eau Claire because I had the notion that there was a better place for us to live? (We stayed because Jayne held fast to her belief that the Chippewa Valley was the place to raise our family.)

What if?

Someday I’ll share the story of our family’s circuitous, somewhat happenstance path to being with my three very young grandsons, and the grandchild who is on her or his way, when they are slightly older. And I look forward to the telling. So that they will know a bit of what is in their make-up and perhaps be a little grateful, and a little amused, that their great-grandparents, once upon a time, fell in love in an insane asylum.

 

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Rob Reid  author

Rob Reid is a senior lecturer of education studies at UW-Eau Claire. In addition to writing Children’s Jukebox (ALA Editions 1995/2007), Reid has also written two more books about children’s music: Something Musical Happened at the Library (ALA Editions, 2007) and Shake and Shout: 16 Noisy, Lively S

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