Thirty years ago on December 15, 1989, one of the coldest subzero blizzards on record swept through Kansas. It was so dangerous to go outside that the Atchison Public Schools canceled their Friday classes on that day.
So, of course, Maria and Rick decided to elope to the Doniphan County Courthouse in Troy, KS and get married by the Justice of the Peace. It seemed fitting as we were always seekers of justice and peace, with church or without it. On that sparking day, we headed north along the frozen Missouri River. The courthouse was wide open and so were we.
It was so incomprehensibly cold! With subzero temperatures and increased winds, your skin can’t tell that it’s freezing. That kind of cold can’t be felt. The real danger of frostbite is measured by how few minutes you can be outside before your skin freezes. The wind chills were 50 degrees below zero that day which basically meant, don’t you even go outside. On top of that, the roads were glare ice. Did we take heed of those winter weather warnings? Nope, we dove straight into the storm.
We were determined to drive our super Nova to the courthouse and hotel. Our breathlessness instantly condensed in the car, we had to stop more than once to scrape the ice off the inside of our car windows. It was scary, which of course made it all the more exciting.
And so, mile by mile, we slowly made our way to the courthouse and then over to the Elms Hotel in Excelsior Springs, MO … laughing all the way. There are no pictures of that day except in my memories alone. Surely the judge and the clerk didn’t expect to marry us in the midst of a blizzard. I can’t remember their names, but their presence is forever recorded on our marriage certificate.
All it took was fifteen shining minutes and we were married. It was so deliciously intimate we didn’t want to share that day with others, those days would come soon enough. I wore my favorite brown dress with an ivory lace collar. Rick put my grandmother’s engagement and wedding ring on my finger and we were happily married.
When we arrived at the historic Elms Hotel, it was magical at Christmastime. There was music in the lobby, decorated trees with sparkling lights, and large pools of steaming hot mineral water that were dripping on the edges with ice. The champagne flowed that night! We dove deep into the warm salty waters and each other and we never looked back.
I still achingly miss him, I’ve learned before and since that such depth of shared love doesn’t come along every day. With Rick, the passion flowed both ways in abundance. I’ve learned that Love like that doesn’t come along again when it is summoned, one must be surprised by it, then it is enough to last a lifetime.
We were so crazy. There was an energy that flowed between the two of us that we both knew to be holy and wholly ours. We were married fifteen years before he died. In a few months (who’s counting?)… I’ll have been widowed longer than we were married; yet it’s always felt to me like we are still together. Only our bodies parted at death. For years after Rick died, I felt as though I had been ripped in half. For me, it has taken a long time to grow through it as I’ve wandered along an unfamiliar road with our two kids who needed some carrying too.
Our love lives on at the very depth of our souls and in our children. As I’ve told Chloe and Max all along the way, “Your dad and I love you both and each other very much. We always will.” It doesn’t mean I won’t love and be loved by another sweet man again, I pray I will. It just means that I deeply know that true love can only grow out of true love.
Rick and I bought this print of a couple at tea with our wedding gift money. No one in our little town by the river was surprised by our elopement, especially those at Atchison Junior High where we worked. We were always looking at each other like this. I have always kept this print near to our table in six homes across four states and thirty years.
I vividly remember when I first was introduced to Rick in August of 1987. I was a new staff member at the junior high school and Rick had taught 9th grade English for a dozen years. I was drawn into his clear blue eyes and from a place deep inside of me I heard my intuitive self say (not out loud) “There you are…” I didn’t know what my true self was saying beyond an immediate recognition that our paths had finally crossed. On some level, I had been keeping watch for Rick for a very long time.
It took some slow time to deepen our trust in our slowly growing friendship. When we were finally together, against all odds, suddenly we realized that all of the love songs and stories ever sung in close harmony ring truer than true. And all of the Christmas hymns came alive that year, thirty years ago. Love came down at Christmas and our lives were changed for ever.
We were lucky, but also we were brave to keep exploring the depths of love and loss together. We’re still carrying it all forward, loving the ones we’re with in Heaven and on Earth. The best gift any of us can ever give is to truly love and honor one another in right relationships.
For our fifteen years together we endured the best and worst of times, but always we abided with each other. This is us at our best, there was angst too. Love flowed with abandon when we were deep in conversation. I’ll never forget such depth of love so freely offered and returned a thousandfold.
RIP Rick Hoecker
Happy 30th Love Anniversary
I still love you and I always will.
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