Happy Mother's Day & Happy Anniversary! May 8, 2016
My parents first saw each other the morning of March 28, 1965 in a little hotel in the German alps. Five weeks later, they were married.
Nancy Lunsford was a vivacious brunette who had been touring around Europe until she ran out of money and had to get a job. At 22, she was working as an au pair near Munich. Jim Miltenberger was a studious 28-year-old naval officer who had just spent two months in a submarine under the North Atlantic. On a whim, they had both decided to go skiing in Garmisch, a town that had hosted the 1936 Olympics and was (and still is) a resort known for catering to American service people. Jim checked into the Eibsee Hotel, located at the foot of the cable car that ascends to the Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany. Nancy was already there, having been sponsored by an army nurse girlfriend.
Nancy and Jim noticed each other while picking up their skis, and they met on the tram. This may have taken some maneuvering, since the tram was both large and crowded. Riding up the mountain, they saw hardy sunbathers on blankets on the snow and heard rumbles like jet planes flying overhead. The noises were avalanches roaring down the nearby cliffs. At the top of the slope, it was an alpine postcard day, with bright sunshine in a cloudless blue sky. Mountains went on forever and six inches of new snow glistened in the morning light. Jim and Nancy skied the piste and rode the t-bar all day, and then had dinner and skied together the next day, in equally gorgeous weather. Unfortunately neither had sunscreen, and the blazing sun turned their faces redder and redder. Nancy took the train back to Munich late Tuesday night. She knew her host family was upset with her, but she did not care. Jim stayed the week and invited Nancy back the following weekend. They laughed when they saw each other's peeling faces and swollen lips. They skied that weekend together and the next and Nancy noted in her journal that Jim may "be the one."
Fate is amazing. If either of my parents had decided to go skiing a day or even an hour later, they probably never would have met. My mother grew up in her parents’ yacht club in Colonial Beach, a Virginia town 60 or so miles downriver from Washington D.C. and my father was from the farmlands of Bedford County, Pennsylvania. She was brought up around speedboats and sailboats and dreamed of performing at the top of the waterskiing pyramid at Cypress Gardens in Florida; he had never been on the water except for two glorious weeks canoeing through Canada. My mother did not go to college straight after high school, while my father studied engineering at Penn State with a Navy ROTC scholarship. Neither was even planning on going to Garmsich that day. My father had been studying French on patrol with the intention of going to Zermatt in Switzerland. The doctor on the ship suggested that he come to Garmisch instead and, if he did not like it, he could continue south. My mother had spent the previous week touring Italy with a friend. He dropped her off at Garmisch on his way back to work since she wanted to ski that day.
After skiing together for three weekends, Jim and Nancy toured Munich together, where she got a call from her father stating that her mother was sick. She decided to go home and had her ticket for April 16. (My father may have been an influence in that decision.) Jim’s leave was almost over as well and he waited around in Rota, Spain for several days until a military flight opened up for him to return stateside. Jim called Nancy once they were both back in the United States and invited her to come to Charlestown, South Carolina. He would bring her back to Colonial Beach on his way to his next assignment, in Groton, Connecticut. She came to Charlestown around the 20th of April and stayed with Jim's friends. They talked, walked, sailed Jim’s boat (which he had built himself with the mentoring of the aptly named Mr. Shipley), and spent as much time together as they could. Sometime that week they decided to get married. Tender words were presumably exchanged in the powder blue VW Beetle in the friends' driveway, but neither could remember the exact proposal details. It was probably something like, "I love you, will you marry me?"
"What are you doing a week from Saturday?"
On May 1, towing the sailboat, they drove to Colonial Beach together and Jim asked Nancy's father for permission to marry his daughter. He was asked, "Do you know her well enough," to which he replied, "Yes, sir." Being a young naval officer and having his own boat probably did not hurt his chances with a man who owned a marina. On Monday, they applied for a marriage license and then drove the next day to Pennsylvania, for Nancy to meet Jim's family. The boat stayed in Virginia for this quick trip. They intended to have a small wedding on the afternoon on May 8, but the people of Colonial Beach though otherwise. The United Methodist Church was packed with friends of the bride and her family and then everyone descended upon the yacht club for a reception. When throwing a last minute wedding, it helps to own a restaurant! Jim's family was represented by his mother and two brothers. The bride was beautiful, in a pale pink suit hastily purchased earlier that week, white gloves, and a pillbox hat, while the groom was dashing in his dress whites. A former commanding officer graciously came from Newport News to stand as best man, while Nancy's dearest friend served as maid of honor. Nancy and Jim departed late that afternoon, towing the boat, to start their journey north and begin their new life together.
They had a little glitch. When they reached Havre de Grace, Maryland, they checked into a hotel but Nancy was sick with some mysterious ailment. They unhitched the boat and had her admitted into a local hospital, but were then told that she had to go to the naval hospital across town. The two spent their wedding night separately, in a hospital and the local BOQ. It was never clear what was exactly wrong with Nancy, but she was discharged a few days later and they were able to continue on their journey. They set up housekeeping in Groton and met many other newlywed couples. It was fortunate that my father was on shore duty for much of their first year together before returning under the ocean for his next patrol. That is probably when my parents truly got to know each other, despite what my father told my grandfather.
Shortly after the two were married, they read that there had been an avalanche in Garmisch, that killed dozens of people and swept over the terrace of the hotel where they had stayed. Had it been a few weeks earlier, my parents could have easily been its victims. They have since returned to Garmisch and have also skied in Zermatt together several times. My father learned years later that they speak German in that part of Switzerland. He dusted off his French earlier this year when they visited Val d'Isére, a huge ski resort in France. My parents, Nancy and Jim Miltenberger, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary night (together) on May 8, 2015 in a hotel by the Newark airport, before taking their two children, three grandchildren, and an au pair to Mexico for a week. They departed a month later for a celebratory cruise to the Baltic. It has been 50 years, and they still like to travel and ski together. And an old boat sits in their backyard, ready to sail.
Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave a comment below!
Sheri Miltenberger, May 2016
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