This New Year's Eve, Richard and I hope to celebrate more than the millennium.
In the late 1940s, University of Tennessee students and teachers were concerned mostly with the football games on Saturdays. Not us. We met accidentally one Saturday on UT's hillside steps--probably the only students not at the game. As a way to start a conversation, I tried to talk the handsome man sitting on the steps into joining the Independent Students Organization. Its members didn't have inclinations--much less money--to belong to a sorority or fraternity.
"No, I'm too independent to be a member of anything," he replied firmly.
Instead, he invited me to come to the student center, where he played the piano and I listened, as we still do every day. When he could afford it, we went to the town's one Chinese restaurant, where booths offered some privacy.
Not long after we met, I went to work for the Knoxville News-Sentinel. City editor Joe Levitt said he hired me because "women make better reporters than men--they're less likely to be killed."
My cub reporter salary of $37.50 a week rented a two-story apartment that was half of a garage. After I wrote about a woman whose oil heater exploded, killing her baby, Richard took over my oil heater--and my life.
In a canoe on the Tennessee River, he asked me the proper question, and I answered quickly before he changed his mind.
Richard recalls what followed: "When I mentioned it to my father, he asked: 'How much do you make?'
" 'Thirty dollars.' 'Only 30 a week?'
" 'No, a month.' I was a graduate assistant and lucky to get that.
" 'You'll have to control your family,' my father warned. 'Yes, sir,' I said.
"Having my father's blessing, we chose the Episcopal church, because the music was better. Not the prenuptial instructions from a new minister, who declared the opposite of my father's advice about having children--as well as asking whether we were related.
"At the wedding rehearsal--I suppose they wanted to see if we could find our way to the altar--the young minister said to Sarah's father, 'You will give Sarah to the church, and the church will give her to Richard.' Weston Booth turned bright red, steam seeming to bubble forth."
When I recounted the minister's inquisition to the News-Sentinel's senior columnist, Lucy Curtis Templeman, who was in her eighties, this pillar of the church stood in the middle of the city room and proclaimed: "I would have told that whippersnapper if it were all that trouble to be married in his church, we'd live in sin."
Richard--who plays and listens only to Bach and back--selected our wedding music.
He remembers: "In those days, I still thought there had been some music written after 1820, even by Frenchmen. I asked the church pianist to play Cesar Franck's Prelude, Chorale and Fugue. When I arrived at the church on The Day, I heard 'I Love You Truly' oozing out of the portals of the church. I tried to run, but the thought of Sarah called up my better nature, a decision I have never had cause to regret."
My parents were ecstatic with my choice--polite, well educated and thoughtful. More than that, Richard could and would fix anything around my parents' house--a talent my father never had. Though my mother was handy, she was delighted to turn over repairs to Richard. Since then, he's mastered cooking, painting pictures, making sculptures, writing books--going on five published--and, of course, playing his grand piano.
We married on New Year's Eve, to have a three-day honeymoon. I was scheduled to work that Saturday, so with fear and trembling, I asked Mr. Levitt if I could work another day instead. He growled, "Why?" I answered in my softest South Georgia accent, "To be married." With a straight face, he growled again, "My wife and I were married in between editions."
He did give me the day off.
When I returned to work Tuesday, he snarled again, "How do you want your byline?" In those days, bylines were more rare and Mr. Levitt put bylines only on rare masterpieces. I said as bravely as I could, "I'm married now, so I guess 'Sarah Conroy.' " He sneered and said firmly: "That's just like a woman, giving up everything just because she's married. You'll be Sarah Booth Conroy whether you like it or not--it just fits into a one-column."
As we have for 50 years, Richard and I plan to stay home this New Year's Eve, remembering our wedding and honeymoon on Saturday, Dec. 31, 1949--the trip from church to the garage apartment being our honeymoon. At midnight, we celebrated by walking to the only restaurant we could afford, one where the waitress actually knew "pizza pie" was not cherry or apple pie.
And so this year, our golden anniversary, we'll celebrate with pizza again--shared with our daughters, S. Claire and Camille B. Conroy--and hope that we'll make it to our hundredth.
Jonathan Yardley's column will return next week.
CAPTION: Richard T. Conroy and Sarah Booth Conroy on their wedding day, Dec. 31, 1949.