CHAPTER 3

Bonafide Adults – Our Early Marriage

You can listen to the blog post via podcast right here….

or watch the video of our conversation below that, or read & see the photos below that…

here’s the podcast:

And here’s the video of our conversation (and additional stuff written below):

He was 22 and I was 18. In the infamous words of Johnny & June Carter…”we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout…”

Oh yes, we did. And we were so young! We got married 2 weeks after I graduated from High School. We had a modest reception at the church, where my older siblings’ rock band serenaded us and everyone danced. It was 105 degrees that day and all I wanted to do was get married and run away with him forever. It was a beautiful ceremony and everyone was there. My hair was big and his hair was big and we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, we just knew we wanted to figure it out together, forever.

So we did.

the early years

He had a job as a foreman at a lumberyard and hardware store and worked really long hours, 6 days a week. I got a job in a nursing home, and then at a law firm. He bought me a beautiful little car while were engaged and bought himself a truck, too, with money he’d been saving up.

In my mind, I would work for a while and then find a way to go to art school. We were really both just working almost all the time and then when we were together, we just wanted to be together. I mean…like really together.

So…even though I didn’t think I wanted to have children for at least 10 years or so…all of this togetherness brought us a surprise.

We had our first baby less than 10 months after our wedding day. After that, we had a talk and Marq said…let’s just have our family now, so that we can be young while we are doing it. Then we will be young as empty nesters and then you can do the things you wanted to do before you had kids. It will be awesome. So…that’s what we did. We decided to have our little family. And I have so much to say about having children young, figuring out motherhood, and what my children mean to me…but that is going to be a whole chapter on it’s own further on in the story. For now, I will tell you that we had 3 children in the first 6 years and it was pretty much the best thing ever. I thought we were done after that…but then we had 2 more in 2 years. My children are my universe. I will tell you all about them later.

brock’s first christmas 1991 – my hair skills

Now, let’s talk about the beginnings of this marriage.

His parents helped us to buy a little manufactured home and we put it on the back of their property. So, we were essentially home owners from day one. This place was 22 years old at the time and we spent all of our extra money remodeling it. New carpet and new cabinets and a new bathroom.

Our first Christmas, he bought me a sewing machine and a whole bunch of paint and paintbrushes, since I was going to have to forego art school for a while. It was a big deal because we didn’t have much money at all, and he gave me a real live sewing machine.

Well, this sewing machine was a wake up call for both of us. His mom was and expert seamstress and hemmed and tailored his clothing. She sewed blankets and curtains and everything was done perfectly, with patterns and measuring tapes and no mistakes.

I saw this sewing machine as an art machine. Freestyling. Making stuff. Sewing this to that to make cool stuff. Definitely not for measuring and using patterns and not making mistakes.

He was working and I was working and then I would come home and make art. I knew how to cook Kraft Mac & Cheese and I could make a decent grilled cheese sandwich about 30% of the time, because I was distracted by art and I would burn at least one side til it was black. So then I would scrape off the burnt parts of the bread into the sink…and still serve it. With maybe some Campbell’s canned soup. Tomato or chicken noodle. I knew how to make this fancy casserole where you would brown some hamburger and then put it into a casserole dish with a can of mushroom soup and then put frozen tater tots all over it. So I made that.

And I had to learn how to cook deer meat. Because his family had always lived on food from the garden that was canned all summer, meat from the freezer that had been hunted. Bread that had been baked from wheat that his mom ground right in the kitchen.

I stayed out of the kitchen growing up and did not have the first clue about how to cook.

But just like everything else, I figured I could figure it out. I look back at the meals that Marq endured without very much complaint. Often saying he wasn’t very hungry and he’d just have some toast. I think about how right outside the window and across the grass he could see his mom’s kitchen. Every morning, every night…knowing she was cooking something scrumptious, and here he was eating burnt Velveeta cheese and canned soup.

Well, after Christmas of that first year…it hadn’t even been a year since we had actually found each other and we had already been married for 6 months.

I was 5 months pregnant and really sick. So I started working only part time. The rest of the time I would watch the Soap Operas from CBS that I had grown up on. And I would paint. I was nauseous from being pregnant so I just stayed in my pajamas all day. So, Marq would come home after working 12-14 hours and I had done little else. And we had to start having some serious talks about how we were going to do our life.

I could easily categorize him as obsessive when it comes to orderliness and cleanliness and daily schedules. Whatever the opposite of that is, I could categorize myself as that, especially back then.

So, we talked and I made a goal to stop watching the soap operas. They would suck me in and I would waste most of the day on them…one after the other…The Young and the Restless, Bold & Beautiful, Guiding Light….that was after watching The Price is Right.

My friends were all away at college. I was 19 years old and in my mobile home watching tv on 13 inch screen in my pajamas. I was supposed to be at art school, right?

Well, I couldn’t stop watching the soap operas. I had been watching them since I was a very small kid, watched my mom watch them…and I was addicted to them.

So we talked about that and I asked him if we could just get rid of the tv. He told me there was something at the hardware store where he worked that could lock the plug and keep it from being plugged in if I wanted him to do that. So I did. We would lock the tv cord and he would take the key and go to work and I had to find something else to do.

So I started to paint. And decorate my house. And get ready for the baby.

By the time I was ready to have baby Brock in April of 1991, I had been painting all sorts of scraps of wood that Marq would bring home from the lumberyard and I had a huge amount of things that I could sell. I was painting and painting and painting. And sewing artsy things. I was getting things ready for our new baby…sewing blankets and decorating his room. Marq would bring home more scraps of wood and other things and I just kept making things for baby, for our home and just for the heck of it.

some of my early creations

Well, Marq got a bonus at work early that Spring. He needed new work boots and new pants for work. So, he invested in steel toed work boots that cost more than I had ever seen any pair of shoes cost in my life, and he bought 4 pairs of thick Carhartt pants. They were also very expensive, to us anyway. He bought some nice wool socks. This was a big investment in good clothing that he really needed for work, where he was outside in all kinds of weather, on his feet…and it was very physically taxing. We also bought some things for our new baby. He bought me some new paint brushes.

He brought those pants home one night and I will never forget it. I still can’t get the picture out of my mind of the very hopeful way he handed them to me, still folded up nicely in the bag, and asked me to hem them with my new sewing machine.

I was like…heck yes, I can do that! He seemed concerned, but hopeful.

So, we measured where these 4 new pairs of gold-plated pants needed to be hemmed to. We found the right color of thread. And we went to bed. I would hem his pants the next day while he was at work.

I’m not proud of what I did next, but I was at the time. I thought it was such a great idea, such a tremendous solution, such a brilliant discovery. Looking back, I don’t know how Marq handled it the way he did.

That day when I was supposed to hem his pants with my new sewing machine. I decided I’d try a better, easier way. So, I cut the pants to where we had measured, leaving room to fold up and iron the hem. I even ironed the hem up inside the way we talked about the night before when he told me how his mom hems his pants. (In the same conversation that he kept asking me “are you sure you can do this? Because my mom will do it if you can’t” and where I said…”of course, I can, I’m your wife.”) Then, I grabbed the hot glue gun that had been heating up from the moment I hatched this brilliant idea. I squeezed the trigger and ran a nice thick bead of glue all the way around. I then squeezed the hem fold together, smooshing the glue evenly through the hem. When I was done, for good measure, I ironed the hem once again, evening out the glue and heating it up enough that it seeped into the pores of the fabric on both the inside and outside of hemmed area of his pants.

When I was done, I proudly lifted his pants up, one side of his waistband and each hand and arms outstretched so that I could really inspect my work…and that’s when I noticed. The glue had cooled and made hard rubbery hoops out of the bottom of his pants. They were like two hanging church bells.

Well, for some reason, I figured I should make the other 3 pairs match…and I proceeded to do the same thing to them. By the time he got home from work, I had proudly laid out 4 pairs of hoop-skirt bell bottom rugged work pants.

The heartbreak on his face was a first for me. He asked me why I didn’t sew them like we talked about and after he saw how excited I was about my new discovery, he just took them quietly, thanked me and went to our room and shut the door.

He spent the next few years wearing those pants in every kind of weather, with them hitting the front of those fine work boots when his leg walked forward, and the back of his workbooks when his leg swung back. Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong.

And he never said a word about it to me.

Knowing him now the way I do, I cannot believe he kept his cool as well as he did. I think we had been married about 3 years before I really saw him lose his temper. I remember telling his sister that I think he might have a bad temper, and she just laughed and laughed. She laughed so hard she could barely get the words out. “You didn’t know that?”

That first time I saw it, the neighbors dog had climbed his way up into the window of Marq’s meticulously kept truck, which had been open all night. It was Fall and getting cooler, the dog scratched his way up the side of door, climbed in the window, then slept all over the seats. He was a big hairy dog. The truck door was scratched and the seat was covered in hair.

Marq was so angry and didn’t know what to do with his anger. So he grabbed his lunchbox, which was basically a small plastic picnic cooler, and just started kicking it across the lawn. He was trying to break it I suppose. But the dang thing was too strong. So he’d kick it harder. And he would get madder and madder and madder and kick it again, harder…all the way across the lawn. I was inside watching through the window. And with every lap he would take across the lawn, I would laugh harder. It was so funny, and so shocking. I had never seen him like that. He came inside and I covered my mouth with my hand. He was still swearing up a storm. I just stared at him, trying so hard not to start laughing again.

Finally, he said…”did you see what happened?”

I tried so hard not to laugh…I said…”to the cooler?” and then I just giggled again.

He tried to stay mad, but he sort of started laughing with me. “ the $(*#&$ thing won’t break!”

And I said…”I have never seen you so mad before…”

Then he started laughing, because as I found out later, his temper was pretty legendary. He never took it out on any living thing…but he sure could demolish other stuff.

So, I learned about his temper around the same time he realized I was never going to be Betty Crocker. These are the two things we both still struggle with in our marriage. My domestic challenges and his temperamental challenges. We have learned to live with both things because there are so many more millions of things we love about each other.

And I decided to try really hard to stop burning the toast. I remember watching him make toast with such purpose, such presence. He loves toast. He makes it perfectly golden brown and then butters it all the way to the edges. So I learned how to make toast like that. I practiced. I make sure it’s cooked just right and then butter it all the way to the edges.

And he almost never loses his temper at me. He still loses it. He just finds ways to express it that don’t involve people. Toast and temper. We learned to compromise.

Early marriage was really so much fun for the most part. The more babies we had, the less I would see Marq because he kept taking on more jobs so that I could stay home with the babies.

He was always working so much. Usually at least 2 jobs at a time, sometimes 3.

Around the 7 year mark of our marriage, I decided I wanted to do something so that things could change.  I started praying and brainstorming and praying some more about what I could do to help bring some money into our household so that Marq didn’t have to work so much. I was always thinking about it so much, and I decided to dedicate a whole week to praying about it. On a night in June of 1997, I had a dream about a little book. This dream came after I had some success selling things I’d painted, after I’d been offered a contract to publish some pattern and instruction books for some of my crafts I had created. I was thinking seriously about taking that contract, but then I had that dream about writing my own book and self publishing it.

The dream was so vivid and compelling, it was such an answer to prayer, that I decided I was going to figure out how to create books and self publish them. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing. But that never stopped me from doing anything before.

Here’s the story behind that first little book, which has to date sold almost one million copies. You see,  a lot of my friends were getting into the scrapbooking craze. I noticed that almost none of them were writing any stories or details in their scrapbooks, and it really bothered me. I had always written and collected a lot of little poems and phrases and inspirational thoughts in my journals and notebooks. This dream was about a book called “The Scrapbooker’s Best Friend” full of those words that I had been writing and collecting. The day after the dream, I didn’t waste any time. I put a tiny classified ad in a scrapbooking magazine…I didn’t even tell Marq about it. I didn’t even have the book written. The ad was selling the book for $8.95 – I didn’t even know what it would cost to make the book. I didn’t even write the book until our mailbox was full of orders. Within months, we’d sold 10,000 copies of that book.

Well, that was the beginning of our first business called Chatterbox, which ended up becoming an international phenomenon in just a few years. There’s so much more to this story, and if you want to hear more about the very beginnings, you’ll hear Marq and I talking about it in our conversations in the forest, Chapter 3.

This part of our story is still absolutely unbelievable to me. We were millionaires within a couple of years. We started Chatterbox in 1997, and Marq had his accident in 2004. In those 7 years, so much happened that made his brain injury an even more complicated part of the giant mess that our life became. All of these details are a big part of the story that is coming soon.

In the next chapter, I’m going to tell you about some of the very crazy things that can happen in your life when your business explodes and you have no idea what you’re doing. Especially to someone like me…married to someone like him. We are going to tell you a few really funny stories that still make me cringe a little….but are too good not to share.

We need some funny and light stuff before we get into the yucky parts.

Thanks for sticking with us. It’s been fun to go back and think about these things now that our 3 oldest children are in the beginnings of their marriage. We still feel like we are the same age we were back then. It’s weird to be middle aged, but we are thankful we’ve been given the opportunity to grow old!

Ok…the next chapter is a funny one. Hope you’ll stay tuned.

SO much love to you all,

melody & marq ross