Today marks the 52nd anniversary of our parents, Chuck and Sally. We will always be grateful for what they’ve given us… not the material things, but the intangibles. Through a lifetime of outdoor experiences, Dad instilled in us a sense of adventure, an appreciation of nature, and a love of animals. He also showed us what hard work really means. Mom gave us a softer example. She comforted us always; whether it was a bad dream, sickness, injury, or personal hardships as we got older, Mom has always been there for us. She taught us compassion, patience, and most importantly, to trust in God.
I thought you might enjoy an excerpt from the book Dad and I wrote that tells the story of Mom and Dad meeting each other for the first time. Enjoy this story from Our Sarah: Made in Alaska.
One day in a zoology lab class, I was paired with a girl named Sally Sheeran. Our assignment that day was to prick each other’s fingers and take a blood sample. At first, she refused to participate. Ever the gallant and considerate one, I responded by calling her a pansy. I liked her but wanted to date another girl in our class, Linda Mitchell. However, when I asked Linda out, she wanted to go with my roommate instead. Rather than going with me, Linda offered to fix me up for a date with her best friend. Her best friend turned out to be Sally Sheeran. I’m not sure I made a good impression on her – I paid for the movie with a sock full of coins and when I tried to put my arm around her my shoulder popped out of joint – but we continued to date and she took me home to meet the family.
If Sally was impressed, Clem, her father, was not and neither was the rest of the family. Her sisters deny it now but when they met me they said, “Sally usually brings all these nice, good looking guys around. And then there’s you.” I was an athlete and an adventurer. Not exactly the man they expected for their quiet, demur Sally.
After two years at Columbia Basin, I transferred to Eastern Washington University. Located twenty miles south of Spokane, the school was established in 1882, with a grant from Benjamin Pierce Cheney, a businessman and founder of the company that eventually became American Express. While I continued work toward a bachelor’s degree, Sally completed her education at Columbia Basin and took a job as a dental assistant in Spokane. We exchanged an occasional letter but slowly drifted apart.
That was a lean time for me. I had enough money to pay tuition, but none for room or board. I slept in various rooms at the dormitory – first with this friend, then with that one, sometimes sleeping on the floor. From time to time, friends brought me food. Occasionally, at meal time I went to the cafeteria, took a used plate from a friend, and made a trip through the serving line to get “seconds.”
As the year wore on, my shoulder continued to deteriorate and often popped out of place from simply sneezing. Once I nearly drowned when it popped out while I was swimming. Finally, I gave in and rode to Spokane to see a doctor. While I was in town I saw Sally through a chance meeting near the office where she worked. We struck up a conversation and subsequently rekindled our relationship. A few months later, I scraped together enough money to pay for shoulder surgery. Sally was the only person who visited me while I recovered. As my shoulder healed, our relationship grew and friendship turned to romance.
In the summer of 1961, Sally and I were married at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Sandpoint, Idaho. The Reverend John Delberg officiated. Our parents attended the ceremony, along with Sally’s sisters and brothers. After a short honeymoon trip, we settled in an apartment and I returned to my job – grueling work in a pole yard where we turned trees from the nearby forests into telephone poles. A few weeks later, I learned that Idaho regulations allowed me to teach even though I hadn’t completed my bachelor’s degree. I applied to the school board for a position and was accepted for a job teaching ninth grade at Southside Elementary School in Hope. It didn’t pay much more than the job at the pole yard but it was a teaching position and the hours gave me more time to hunt and fish. By then hunting and fishing were as much a part of my life as eating and sleeping. In between teaching and hunting I supplemented our income by waiting tables at the Elks Club.
Later that year, our son Chuck Jr. was born. In what had become my typical fashion, I paid the hospital bill with a jar full of quarters. The following year, our daughter Heather was born and I moved up to teach ninth grade science at Sandpoint Junior High. I also coached football, basketball, and track. That summer I completed the requirements for my bachelor’s degree and returned to East Washington for graduation. But with a growing family, money was tight and I couldn’t afford the fifteen-dollar graduation robe. Instead of attending and receiving my degree with my classmates, I watched the ceremony through a hole in the fence.
The following February, Sarah was born. On the way to the hospital that night, we passed the local car dealership, Sandpoint Motors. The building was on fire and I stopped to watch the owner drive the cars from the building. Sally was already in labor and as you might imagine, she wasn’t much interested in watching the fire. We made it to the hospital on time and Sarah was delivered by Dr. Helen Peterson, Sandpoint’s first female doctor. I think about that sometimes – the town’s first female doctor delivering Alaska’s first female governor.
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To purchase a signed copy of Our Sarah, mail a $25 check (made out to Sally or Chuck Heath) to:
Chuck and Sally Heath 425 North Klouda Circle Wasilla, Alaska 99654