"My husband wore a lot of pink underwear and ate a lot of beans that rattled," Nina told me after church one afternoon. "I got married when I was 14 and he has put up with a lot." She proceeded to tell me her entire story.
As a wife and mom, her story fascinates me as much as it did when she first told me. I was barely sixteen and thought I was in love. Filled with humor and grit, I learned a lot about the woman who sat in the fourth row from the front of our church. Nina was a woman everyone should meet.
Married at 14 and a mom at 17, Nina's life wasn't as easy for her and Ben. He was 18 when they married. He worked in the oil fields in southern Oklahoma and was gone for weeks at a time. Nina finished high school and became a housewife in the time she wasn't in school or doing her homework. She missed Ben, but knew this was their lot in life.
"I threw potatoes at him when he'd complain about my cooking," she laughed. "I moved from Momma's kitchen into my own and didn't have a clue about cooking. It takes more than three minutes to cook a three minute egg."
I had to laugh at that. She was one of the best cooks our church had. People paid top dollar for her pies and cakes at the bake sales we had. Her taco casserole and her potato salad were always the first to disappear whenever we had our monthly potlucks the last Sunday of the month.
"I'm surprised my first kids lived," she announced. "Do you know once colic starts, it doesn't go away until the start school?"
I knew all five of Nina and Ben's kids. All were active in our church. I even went to school with her youngest daughter. She and I are still close. All five of them graduated from high school, three of them with honors. Those same three went on to college, each earned both Bachelor's and Master's degrees.
Nina and Ben pinched their pennies and bought a house of their own. She described it as a three bedroom dump. She was thankful that it was well off the road and back in the hills, convinced the county would have condemned it if they had known anyone lived there. Especially a 17 year old mom with a husband that spent more time on an oil rig than at home.
"The living room floor caved in one day," she told me. "Ben was away and Dana was crawling not too far from where it fell in. I didn't know what to do. We didn't have a phone so I took boards off the porch and patched it the best I could. I couldn't tell my Daddy. He's shot me and Ben for sure for buying such a house."
Once again, they scrounged and saved. They turned it into a seven bedroom, five bathroom farmhouse with the biggest kitchen I've ever seen. I was a bride's maid in that house twice. Several people had in our community held their weddings there.
"Ben and I fought all the time the first five years. I'd threaten to go home to Momma and he'd toss me the car keys." She shook her head. "He put up with a lot of teen-age junk. I was married and didn't have a date to the prom; Ben was working that week-end. That can still get ugly if he misses the clothes hamper."
They had been married about 30 years by that time. Together, Nina and Ben teach the young married Sunday school class. If anyone knew how to stay married, those two do. I told her that not too longer as we talked about our lives as married women and mothers.
"I don't know how to make a marriage work," she said, cutting me off quickly. "We mostly tell them what not to do. I tell them to get in the Bible and stay there. And, laugh at each other. Not with each other, but at each other. Marriage is funny and anyone crazy enough to do it needs to be laughed at."
Pink underwear and beans that rattle. I guess that is what makes a marriage work. The Bible and laughter helps as well. That crazy woman Nina. Threatening to go home to Momma and complaining about a dateless prom from many, many years ago. I don't know how folks do marriage other places, but that is marriage Okie-style. Maybe my husband and I could improve our marriage if I threw potatoes.
Happy Oklahoma traveling,
Emma Riley Sutton