In December, I spoke with my first wife, Kim, about my book and her role in it. I desired her blessing, and to assure her that I address our marriage in a responsible way.
Me, humorously: “Don’t worry, I go easy on you.”
Her, laughing: “You’d better!”
It didn’t hurt that I told her Julie read the book and approved of how I covered sensitive things. Of the two of us, Kim considers Julie the wise and mature one!
From the book, here’s how I tricked … er, turned Kim’s head, so that we wound up dating.
Kim entered my world because of her friend, who was interested in my buddy. Brian and I were in a bowling league, and they visited the lanes so that Kim’s friend could try to get near to mine. Brian wasn’t interested, but she persisted.
Thanksgiving evening, Brian and I went to a movie. The girls learned of it, found us, and sat with us. Kim, who had not warmed up to me at all the several times the girls visited the bowling alley, remained cool. As we chatted before the movie, she shushed me. “You’re so loud.” I also knew she felt I was too demonstrative, from comments at the lanes. After nailing a strike led me to do a happy dance, I heard, “You’re a show-off.”
After the movie we went to a disco. This was 1978. Discos were all the rage, even in Muskegon, Michigan. The four of us sat in the kaleidoscope-light-drenched room enjoying one Bee Gees hit after another, when Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” came on. I casually remarked, “I have every Barry Manilow album.”
Kim turned toward me. Barry Manilow changed everything.
In the book, I didn’t write about how different were our families. I worked with her older brother in the iron foundry in Montague, and his personality clued me in as to that of Kim’s parents. They certainly were good-natured, lovely people, but my goofy sense of humor was worlds apart from them. They made my traditional, conservative beliefs and lifestyle appear that I was comedian George Carlin’s hippy dippy weatherman.
Meeting Kim’s dad is seared into my memory. It was a snowy December Friday evening. I arrived at their house to pick up Kim for our first date after Barry Manilow brought us together. Mr. Bassett was eating supper at the dining room table, which was directly across the living room from the front door.
I had traipsed through several inches of fluffy snow, and my boots were a mess. He looked at me. No words. Expressionless. In my exuberant manner, I said, “Hi, Mr. Bassett. I’m Greg Eilers. I’d come in and shake your hand, but I don’t want to track in snow.” He looked at me. No words. Expressionless.
Oh, gravy. What have I gotten myself into?
I came to find him to be a good guy. We were different from each other, that’s for sure, but we always got on well.
Kim’s mom was the chatty one. She never got my sense of humor—a pretty common experience for me!—but we also got on well. Kim’s folks let me marry their only daughter, so I had no complaints.
They lived east of Whitehall. I was four miles west in Montague, still at my folks’. As Kim and I found a church together (the book covers that), Kim stayed overnight on Saturdays. For the eight months we did that, virtually without fail she brought over fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies.
One of the several ways to this guy’s heart were traversed through his chocolate-chip-cookie-loving stomach.
For every reason I adore Julie, I loved Kim, and continue to hold dear those attributes. She is all parts smart and kind and fun and hard-working and responsible and compassionate and thoughtful and generous—everything one desires in a mate and the mother of his children.
Early in our marriage, we experienced the types of traumatic and financial hardships that often bring down couples, and just as we had conquered those and were settled in we went through the upheaval of my quitting my job and our leaving home—with four small children!—so that I could pursue the ministry. We weathered all of those years well.
The external things had nothing to do with our divorce. In 2013, I learned and finally realized her loss of love was all on me.
As Kim neared age forty, she experienced an event unlike any I’ve ever known. Here’s a book excerpt:
Kim had attended Thursday morning Bible class at the McGregor congregation, then headed across the Mississippi, to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, for some shopping. Overnight, it had rained hard. The ground was drenched.
One crosses from Prairie du Chien into Iowa at Marquette, then follows the highway south to McGregor before hitting the bluffs and hollows on the way to Guttenberg. The road south from Marquette runs with the river immediately on one side and the steep bluff on the other.
Kim was tooling along at the forty-five speed limit. She could have no idea that, ahead atop the bluff, a forty-foot-tall, fourteen-inch-in-diameter tree had pulled loose from its rain-drenched mooring. Down the side of the bluff it came, landing squarely across the windshield of our van then, miraculously as Kim hit the brakes, bouncing off and landing on the highway.
Kim was both shaken and stirred, but not physically injured. The van would need significant repairs, but would be fixed. Kim’s heart, however, was forever altered. Her comments to me, displaying her frustration, increased in intensity.
A few months after that, Kim told me that she was contemplating leaving me. A year after the tree incident, she filed for divorce.
Finally, one last book selection, an important note regarding my attitude in writing about delicate matters:
There are two events in this book of which I write most delicately, my divorce being the first. While I provide enough detail so as to make sense of things, I am not some tell-all author with an agenda to scathe those about whom he writes. Quite the opposite, I am not interested in burning bridges. I long to remain in good relationships with these very people, one of whom is my former wife who has been tremendously gracious to me so that we regained a marvelous friendship.
I write with no anger or bitterness. Though I hurt deeply by being divorced, I eventually grasped why Kim could not remain in our marriage. I am very thankful to Kim for everything she was to me and for me, and continues to be.