A Perfectly Imperfect 60 Year Love

December 15th, 2012


“Love isn’t finding a perfect person.  It’s seeing an imperfect person perfectly”. Sam Keen

Mom and Dad wedding day, 1953

My parents met in Sioux City, Iowa in about 1943.  They were 12 and it was a junior high school dance.  Joan Gaston Smith was new in town and Norm Waitt remembered her as a beautiful girl with her “nose in the air”.  He noticed her right away, and kept noticing for the next 60 years.  They came from different places and different backgrounds.  She was born in St. Louis in 1931, the daughter of an executive and a former college beauty queen.  She and her mother moved here when my grandmother married her wealthy second husband, whose family had founded a company called American Popcorn Company, sometimes known as “Jolly Time”.  My father was a 5th generation Iowan, from a family of cattlemen.  They were an ‘old’ family, respected in their field, but in the 40’s, lived more modestly than my mother’s family.  I used to  call them “the cattleman” and the “debutante”. But that’s too simple.  They were much more.  And as the years went on, they seemed more alike than different.  I think that’s what the passage of time and the “being together” does to a couple.

They always kept in touch, as she went off to boarding schools and college at Northwestern University, and he went to college for a year in Montana and then into the Air Force during the Korean War.  The letters continued.  She said he would sign his letters, “your friend, Norm”.  Both were charismatic and attractive and they dated others, but something always pulled them back together.

Lovely mom...late 40's


In 1953, she was precariously engaged to someone else she’d met in college, and he found out about it .  From what they both tell me, Dad decided that if anyone was going to marry Joan Gaston Smith, it was going to be him.  So, in 1953, they joined hands and lives, and made more lives, the four of us.  Their first son, Norm Jr. was born in 1954.  They were barely 23.   I followed in 56, Marcia in 59 and “little Teddy” landed here in 1963.

Dad and little me in 1956

He raised cattle.  She raised children. She spoke French.  He spoke “cattleman”..with color. We were a noisy, rollicking bunch and she was left alone with us more than she would have liked, while Dad traveled buying cattle.  Having 4 kids so young and with changing fortunes was no easy task.  Dad had good years and bad years, but we never knew the difference and grew up with more than many families.  We were lucky to have each other, and lucky as hell to have them.

They weren’t perfect people.  Both had strong opinions, not always coinciding.    One of my favorite stories about their interaction was back in the early 70’s.  Each year Sioux City had an auction to raise funds for children in need over the holiday season.  They called it “The Little Yellow Dog” auction, and it’s been a tradition here for almost 100 years.  Dad and his cattle buddies never missed it.  A veteran of auctions, he loved the bidding, the fun, the camaraderie of his boys from the Stockyards one upping each other for kids and families in need.  They did a live radio broadcast in those days, and we’d listen from home, if we weren’t lucky enough to get to go.  One year, the little dog had just sold for a record price of $1,400 ( a lot of money in those days).  My mother just heard the “SOLD for $1,400” part from the auctioneer, and since they talked fast, didn’t catch the name of the buyer. $1,400 dollars was a lot of money in those days.  Mom had just said, “what crazy ##** would spend that kind of money on a ##*** dog?”  as we heard, “the new owner is Norm Waitt, of Waitt Cattle Company”. I remember thinking “Uh, oh”, but Mom in a temper was generally fun to see, as long as the temper wasn’t directed at you.  A few fireworks followed, but the dog became mom’s favorite and dad’s theory of “just pour em some whiskey and get em bidding” remains my favorite form of fundraising.  In later years, both my brothers bought dogs.  Tradition was part of our life lesson from both of them, and we honor that.

Fireworks aside, I think one of the best things about them is that they never lost the ability to have fun.  They loved exploring new places, they loved golf, swimming, parties, and friends.   My father had a wicked sense of humor and could captivate rooms full of people with stories.  My mother doesn’t always know that she’s funny, but..she is.

They were both proud of their family histories.  Many of their ancestors were what mom calls “pioneer stock”.  Collectively, their backgrounds include a Revolutionary war soldier, a Governor, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a sheriff who tracked down the last of the Dalton Gang, a United States president, and a cast of strong women, including a great grandmother who had lost both her daughter and grand daughter and came to Kansas to raise two great grand daughters, in a covered wagon, no less.  Mom is a Mayflower descendant on her mother’s side, and I just discovered that on his father’s side, Dad is too.  I like to imagine my family’s two sides knowing each other on that treacherous trip almost 400 years ago.

We learned about having a strong work ethic from both of them.  They helped shape our love of learning and reading and travel.  Both of them thought that many problems could be solved by just going outdoors and doing something.  Most of the time they were right.

We were good kids, but could be hell raisers and they would discipline us, generally by a nice “grounding”, with varied success.  My mother’s favorite threat to my brothers was to pack all their clothes and leave them by the front door so they’d have something to take to military school.  It never happened.  My mother was so regulated and meticulous in her care for us, she once called juvenile detention, where my brother was housed overnight for knocking over mail boxes or something, to ask the guy at the desk  if he’d had his breakfast.  He hadn’t.  My father had “let him sit a bit” and thought an overnight stay was just about right. My father did rescue us from any number of misadventures, but generally with a story or lesson or consequence that we took seriously.

They taught us that not everyone was as fortunate as we were, and we needed to give back.  That’s something we never forgot.  We teach our own children that and we hope it sticks.  When the family became well known in the days of Gateway, there was always something about them that kept us grounded.  We needed that.

Towards the end of dad’s life, they could still bicker with the best of them, and then some.  But something my mother said once was that when she heard my father’s car in the driveway, she still had a little heart flutter every time.  As they moved into their seventies, with now 8 grandchildren, you could still feel the connection between them, a kiss here or a pat there.

My father died suddenly on a hot August night in 2003. He had mailed the invitations to their 50th wedding anniversary that morning.  My mother soldiered on as my mother does, but I believe they remain connected in their own “perfectly imperfect” way. She still visits him  at Logan Park Cemetery.  They may have conversations that only they know about.  I hope so.   I also like to imagine that she speaks in French when she visits him, and instead of saying goodbye, she says, ” au revoir”….”until we meet again”.  For surely, someday they will, and I hope that time is just plain perfect.


2 Comments on “A Perfectly Imperfect 60 Year Love”

  1. Alma Hatfield said at 9:43 am on December 21st, 2012:

    Cindy, I so appreciate your sharing of that special, beautiful story of love. Your writing is wonderful and its inspiring for me. Years ago I bought 5 special binders, one for each of my then very young grandchildren, with the idea I would fill them with photos, stories, and memorabilia about my side of their family so they might have a better of idea of the lives and loves of those special people. I’ve been collecting bits and pieces for years (oldest granddaughter is now 22), but your blog may help to give me the inspiration I need to begin to put them together. Thank you!

  2. cindy said at 9:25 pm on December 21st, 2012:

    Alma, they will love the stories and photos. Those are precious!! Hope you have many blessings in the coming year!

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