1978: Our First Christmas

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly, in front of our first apartment, Fall of 1978

On a hot summer day in July of 1978, a young, naïve couple recited their wedding vows, and with a kiss for luck, they were on their way.  Little did they understand that they really didn’t know each other as well as they thought they did. Young love, also known as mutual infatuation, will do that, obscuring  flaws in your one and only.

Polly and I were college freshmen at Midwestern Baptist College when we started dating in September 1976. Five months later, with a 1/4 carat, $225 engagement ring in hand from Sears and Roebuck, I asked Polly to marry me. She enthusiastically said yes. Polly was 18 and I was 19.

We had grand plans: 3 kids, a house with a white picket fence, and a lifelong pastorate in a nice, quiet rural community. As with all such fantasies, reality proved to be quite different from what we expected. It didn’t take long for each of us to see that being married to one another was not quite what we expected.

Several months before our July wedding, we rented an upstairs apartment on Premont Avenue in Waterford Township (Pontiac) Michigan. Our apartment had four rooms: a living room, bathroom, bedroom and kitchen. The walls were freshly painted. The living room floor had recently been covered with green and white shag carpeting. (I would later come home from school  to find a discolored, brown stain on the carpet. Polly had spilled her tea and used bleach to remove the spot.)

After classes ended in May, Polly went home to prepare for our wedding and I moved into the apartment.  I worked at a nearby grocery store, Felice’s Market. Knowing that I needed to make extra money so I could furnish our apartment, one of the Felice brothers asked me if I was willing to repaint the store’s roof with aluminum reflective tar. I said yes, and earned $200 for my efforts.

polly gerencser 1978

Polly standing in front of our apartment, late summer 1978

One day, while out and about with college friend Wendell Uhl, I stopped at a yard sale that had a bunch of furniture for sale. I made them a $150 offer for all the furniture, an offer they quickly accepted. Upon returning home from our honeymoon, Polly was quite surprised to see all the “wonderful” furniture that I had purchased to furnish our apartment. After a few months of marriage, we bought a love seat from Kay’s Furniture to replace the piece-of-junk futon couch I had purchased at the yard sale. The love seat, along with a new double bed we bought from J.L. Hudson’s, would be the last new furniture we would own for the next 20 years or more.

After our wedding, we had about six weeks before classes started up again. We settled in as newlyweds to a wonderful life of wedded bliss. Little did we know how quickly life would throw us a curve.

polly gerencser 1978

Polly with my sister and niece a few days after our wedding, 1978

During the first week of fall classes, we found out that Polly was pregnant. We had everything planned out, yet, at the time, it seemed God had a different plan for us. We now know that the ineffective form of birth control we were using did not do its job. Polly was quite sick from the pregnancy, which forced her to reduce her class load. By Christmas, Polly was four months pregnant. Her expanding belly advertised to family and friends that little Jason or Bethany was on his way.

We planned to go to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve, then get up early the next morning and drive to my  mom’s home in Rochester, Indiana. At the time, we were driving an old beater, one of many such cars we would own over the years. After spending Christmas Eve with Polly’s family, the next day we borrowed Polly’s parents’ car, a Plymouth Arrow, to make the trip to Rochester to see my  mom. We returned later that night.

Even though we spent Christmas with family, we still wanted to have our very own Christmas tree. We had  some Christmas decorations that our moms had given us, and these, along with a few new decorations we had purchased from a nearby department store, would be enough ornamentation for our tree.

We decided to buy our tree from the nearby Boy Scout tree lot. After we purchased what we thought was the perfect tree, we put it in the back of our green Ford station wagon and drove home. Once there, I dragged the tree up the long flight of stairs to our apartment. I then put the tree in the recently-purchased $2 tree stand, tightened the screws, and let go of it so I could admire my handiwork. The tree proceeded to fall over. No matter what I did, the tree would not stand upright.

The more I tried to get our perfect tree to sit aright, the angrier I got. For the first time, Polly saw how angry I could get. My legendary redheaded temper was on full display. I finally reached a breaking point. I opened the upstairs window, and much to Polly’s surprise, I threw the Christmas tree out. It landed with a thud in the front yard.

After I cooled down, we went out and bought another tree. And,  as with the previous tree, I couldn’t get this one to stand up straight. As I look back on the tree debacle, I suspect the problem was the cheap, undersized tree stand. My answer on that day for the falling tree was simple: I nailed the tree stand to the floor.

And THAT was our first Christmas.

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8 Comments

  1. Becky Wiren

    Aw, the fun of being newlywed. Sounds like you all were pretty normal. It reminds me of stuff that happened to my husband and me when we first married, lived in college apartments (an old, old house) and had our adventures. Bleach on the rug and a tree that wouldn’t stand up sounds SO MUCH like the stuff of life! Thanks for the story. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Steve

    “Nailed it to the floor??” Awesome! Like our lord & savior was, on the cross! Touching, that that was a Christmas story; you kinda honored The Lord by nailing it to the floor 🙂

    Reply
  3. Zoe

    And that’s why my marriage started with an artificial tree! *giggle* 😉

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      In retrospect, that would have been a good idea.

      Reply
  4. Brian

    Ho, ho ho ho, ha ha ho ho ho aha ha ha. And you blamed the tree! Oh ho ho ho, ha ha…. you blamed the tree! What a lovely Christmas tale you tell. Your poor wife must have seen herself flying out the window too (if she did not stand straight and tall enough to please you, ruiner of trees, anger-vessel, mad man of the season. I love the nails too! What a glorious beginning for you and poor ?frightened Polly. I would love to hear her version of this old tale…

    Reply
  5. kittybrat

    HA! LOVE this!
    Oh, well, you’re not the only one with a temper.
    I threw our wedding cake off the front porch, over the bushes and on to our front lawn!
    Ah, wedded bliss!

    Reply
  6. That Other Jean

    You’re a lucky man, Bruce. If that had been my husband who threw the Christmas tree out the window, I would have decided that he was clearly nuts, probably dangerously so, and gone home to Mom and Dad.

    Reply
  7. Troy

    There’s no need to blame it on your red hair…the tree deserved it!

    Reply

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