How I met a wonderful wife and mother
Published 9:50 am Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Column: Pothole Prairie
She was a clerk at Decker’s Petro Palace in Ames, Iowa. I had first noticed her in May 2000. My friends called her Gas Station Girl.
I lived in an apartment near the station and would stop in for a microwave burrito and a pop or to purchase gas from time to time. Eventually, I moved to rent the second floor of a house with my reporter friend Richard, but I still went to Decker’s.
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I somewhat knew she liked me from one time when I stepped to the counter after returning from riding my bike for a week on RAGBRAI near the end of July. When she looked up, she realized it was me. She quickly inhaled in surprise, though barely discernible.
Her friends called me Burrito Man.
This clerk-customer relationship continued until September, when her friend and fellow gas station clerk, a more talkative one named Cammeo, arranged for us to go to a bar west of the Iowa State campus called La Boheme. We chatted and then headed over to the next-door bar, a town favorite called Thumbs.
Lisa Gaynor was a student at Iowa State. I was a reporter for the Ames Tribune who had graduated from Iowa State three years earlier. I had sworn I wasn’t going to date college chicks because I had determined that once they graduate from college they seem to go through this phase of emotional issues until they find stability. No one under 24 was my motto.
But, well, you know, this quiet girl at the gas station seemed grounded enough. Still, there was no commitment from me. Other girls were around.
She and her friend, though, would come to the parties at our bachelor pad. They weren’t really big parties, just impromptu social gatherings. People would drop by on weekends — usually other journalists — and, before we knew it, people were sitting in our living room or on our roof talking about music, journalism, local politics, jokes, food or goals in life and on and on. Young newspaper journalists like to drink, converse, watch sports or make fun of TV newscasts.
Soon, we grew closer and dated. But she would fall asleep at movies we went to, and I was concerned that she was so quiet we would have communication problems. She would ramble forever when speaking to Cammeo, but nary say a word when we dined.
So I dumped her right before she went back her parents’ home in the Chicago suburbs for Thanksgiving break.
That upset her. We both dated others, but things lightened up. We went for a drink once over Christmas break. By March we were friends. We watched the Oscars, and we heard a boom. She came with me when I had to cover a radiator that exploded in my neighborhood and killed an elderly man in his home.
One night, we went out as friends with another reporter friend of mine. The three of us went from bar to bar, and by the end of the night, Lisa and I were holding hands. We realized later that our friendship gave us a better foundation than merely dating. She was not so nervous around me because we were friends first.
Things were going well, but in April 2001 I got a job in Washington state as the editor of a daily newspaper. Would this be the end? Lisa still had to finish college.
We decided to live apart for eight months, which for most relationships does not work. At least we had two weeklong visits of her coming to Ellensburg, which now are very happy memories.
I flew to Minneapolis in January 2002, met Lisa at the bus station, bought my Ford Ranger in St. Paul and celebrated a belated Christmas with family. Lisa and I drove to Ames, stashed her stuff into the truck, then headed westward on Interstate 80 to Utah, where we headed northwest toward Ellensburg.
We did a lot of wilderness hiking when we lived in the Northwest. In June 2003, on top of a mountain where it took us six miles to hike up, I proposed marriage. This was Alta Mountain. In January 2004, we paid $15 for a cute puppy at the Ellensburg pound. We named her Alta. In June 2004, Lisa and I wed, and she became Lisa Engstrom. We went on a Caribbean Sea cruise for our honeymoon. We even held hands as we snorkeled and swam with fish.
In January 2006, we moved to Minnesota, starting work at the Albert Lea Tribune in February and purchasing our house in Albert Lea in March. Lisa gave birth to our son, Forrest, in February 2007.
From the start, this wonderful woman has been my supporter and best friend. Good, bad, up, down, thin, thick, rich, poor, sickness, health, Lisa is the best. When I have a bad day, I think of how fortunate I am to have a strong marriage. She has been such a wonderful mother to our son. And I am so proud and fortunate to be her husband. She is amazing.
I know what you might be thinking. No, I am not in trouble. She received a gift and a card, and we spent Sunday evening among friends. Yet, I felt you, the reader, would enjoy hearing about how a clerk at a gas station became a wonderful wife and an excellent mom.
Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every other Tuesday.