February 1, 2014

February 1, 1974

The passage of time throws a haze over most of our adult lives.  Months blend into years that are smoothed into decades.  Can you say with any certainty what you did on your birthday in, say, 1997?  Unless it was the date of the birth of a child or some other such milestone, can you recall what you did on a specific date two or three decades ago?

With enough research I can approximate where I was and what I was doing during a given month of a year; I went somewhere on vacation or completed a project for work.  A newspaper headline might jog a memory.  For me, though, as for most people, our adult lives are a continuum; a blur.

I can, however, remember one day with perfect clarity.  That date is Friday, February 1, 1974.

I was working for a stagnant backwater of GE
For me, the year 1974 did not start off auspiciously.  I had been out of college nearly three years and I was spending my second winter in Schenectady, New York.  I had gone to work for General Electric in a management training program with the promise that, after a year in North Carolina, I would be transferred to an office in San Jose, California.  That promise was turning out to be hollow.  Moreover, I discovered that the branch of GE that was my employer was a stagnant backwater and that my skills were ones that the company valued only as an afterthought.

It was an era of bad music...
My goal upon graduation from college had been to get as far away from Florida – the only place I had ever known – as possible.  On that score, I had succeeded.  However, in the middle of yet another upstate New York winter, that plan was looking increasingly poorly thought out.  Mostly, though, the year was starting off poorly because I was alone.  Apart from a few friends at work, I had no one in my life.

... and long gas lines
On the morning of February 1, my attendance was required at what was called a ‘section meeting’ in Colonie, NY, where my office had recently moved.  There, the sixty or so of us who could not find an excuse to be somewhere else got to hear about the importance of filling out time sheets and filing weekly activity reports.  A subsection manager delivered a half-hour talk outlining an exciting (to him) new business opportunity.

Then, at about 8:30 a.m., a small group of people joined the meeting.  They were from an office in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, some 40 miles away.  I would not have noticed their arrival except that they were forced to sit in the front of the room (I was ensconced in the back row) and that one of their number was a strikingly attractive blonde. 

For the next several hours I did little but look at her (well, at the back of her head and shoulders) and wonder who she was.  The meeting broke up shortly after noon and she was one of the first people out of the room.  My heart sank.  Then, I found her sitting in the lobby.  She was waiting for her ride back to Pittsfield. 

Betty was late to the meeting because
she had been at a Bob Dylan concert
She said that her name was Betty Burgess and that she had been late because she had been at a Bob Dylan concert in New York the previous evening and had gotten back to Pittsfield with an empty gas tank (this was an era of odd/even gas rationing).  Her smile was radiant.  She was intelligent and funny; knowledgeable and quick.  I asked if she could excuse me for a minute, but that I would be right back.

I went back to my cubicle and pulled out my copy of the employee phone directory.  There she was.  And, in the grand, sexist tradition of GE and of the era, employee names bore one of three prefixes: ‘Mr.’, ‘Mrs.’ and ‘Miss’.  Betty Burgess was a ‘Miss’.

Us, 40 years later
I was back in the lobby in seconds.  She was still there, though she was gathering her coat and briefcase for the trip back.  I gathered every ounce of courage I could muster and asked the dumbest question I had ever put to a member of the opposite sex in my life:  “Are you dateable?”

She paused for a moment and said ‘yes’.

Two years and two weeks later, we were married.  A few weeks after our wedding, we escaped from General Electric and began a new life together.

That’s what happened 40 years ago today. 

It was the luckiest day of my life.


  1. What I said earlier was it is easy to see you are both as happy today as you were in 1974. Congratulations!

  2. I love love stories ... and I love living in one with my husband Rick. Congratulations on your successful meeting, marriage, and life! <3

  3. Great post: we'll welcome you with congratulations at our garden club meeting next Tuesday!