Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | September 19, 2017

How it all began

Date: Aug. 28, 1985.
Place: Pine Bar, Wausau, Wis.
Time: Early evening.

I was sitting around a large, round table at the Pine Bar with a group of my newspaper colleagues from the Wausau Daily Herald. It was a Wednesday evening, around 6 o’clock. I didn’t want to go to this farewell party for one of our bosses, but on the advice of my buddy and roommate Tom Spousta, I went. I figured I’d drink a couple of beers, say my hellos and goodbyes and leave. It was an ordinary day.

The SHE walked in and I was gone.

I’ve told this story many times (but have never written it down). If you’ve been with us and we’ve been drinking, you might have heard this story. I’ve also told it when we haven’t been drinking. I’ve shared this story with friends and family over the years. Even the students in at least one of my classes at the American University in Bulgaria have heard this story, for heaven’s sake.

And so, on the 31st anniversary of our wedding (which falls on either Sept. 19 or Sept. 20, 1986 — which is another story altogether), I wanted to put it down.

* * *

early days

We’ll call this the early days. I know Melody looks the same (that hair, though!). Believe me, under all my current heft resides this skinny little guy.

When Melody Gilbert glided past my table and was introduced to “the gang,” I was instantly smitten. “Love at first sight?” Yup.

Melody was introduced to the gang and her eyes sparkled. Her smile dazzled. Her hair, well, it was bouncing and behaving. She was beautiful (and still is). But she also made the room come alive. She was a local TV reporter, I’d soon learn, and everyone it seemed wanted to talk to her.

Including me.

I was a 24-year-old kid with a sportswriting job and absolutely no game in this arena. I was clumsy around women, decidedly uncool, and my lack of a solid “pickup game” would soon become evident. But liquid courage and this gorgeous woman helped me conquer my many insecurities.

“I’ll be dating her by the weekend,” I boldly blurted out to the colleague sitting next to me.

“OK,” she said with a smile, as if to say: “Sure you are, Mark. Sure you are.”

I kept my eye on her (today, I guess, you might say it was a kind of stalker-y eye. I guess sometimes you’re a victim of your era, sometimes you’re a product of the era.).

Anyway, I saw that she had settled in at the bar with her colleague from work, Wendy, and they were deep in conversation. So I plotted my next move. What would a dorky, afternoon-drinking Wisconsin boy think of as his next move? You got it. I started ordering beers, reaching between the two TV women deep in conversation in an effort “to be noticed.”

Success! She noticed. But not in a good way.

This is the part of the story where Melody generally interrupts me and points out that she was annoyed with this intrusion. “Ewwww,” she’ll say. “Who is this guy?”

But I persisted, ignoring what were certainly stares of incredulity from the two “Newsline 9” TV stars.

Soon (obviously eager to escape), I saw Melody saying goodbye to her friends and I made my way to the front door. (Like I said, stalker-y.)

When she tried to leave the bar, I made my move.

“Leaving so soon?” I queried. (Like I said, no moves.)

“Yes,” she said brusquely.

“Where are you headed?” (I cringe as I write this.)

“Home.”

“What’s up?” (I know, I know.)

“I’m going to make dinner.”

“What’s for dinner?” (Just stop already.)

“Shark steak.”

“Is there enough for two?” (Ugh.)

“No.”

And that was that. Off she went.

I returned to my table. Finished my beer and the rest of the night became a fog of beer and disappointment. In other words, Wednesday.

The next morning, I was up at 4:30 a.m. and at the newsroom a little after 5 (had to type in last night’s bowling scores — glamorous! — and put out the afternoon newspaper).

Sometime in the late morning, as we’re putting the paper “to bed,” guess who showed up in the newsroom? Melody Gilbert! She was there, allegedly, to visit her friend Suzy. She was out for a run and was “just passing by.” Uh, huh.

Of course, I swooped in at the first opportunity (I’m pretty sure I literally swooped) and offered to show her around. There wasn’t much to see, but I made sure she saw it all. The various desks, computers, offices, the slot in the front door where the bowling scores were dropped off, the “backshop,” where the printers put type on pages before they were sent to the printing plant.

She was dressed in running shorts (I say they were yellow; Melody says pink. Or I say pink and Melody says yellow. Again, if both of us are engaged in telling this story, there are a few fits and starts.) and a T-shirt. I don’t remember much about the shirt. The shorts, though. Think 1980s fitness fashion. Yup. Yum.

Shortly after the tour, Melody and Suzy departed while my heart went pitter-pat for the next several hours. She noticed me? She must have! She liked me? I think she did. Will I see her again? When? Where? But the weekend was fast approaching and if I was to fulfill my pledge to be “dating her by the weekend,” I better hurry up.

That was Thursday.

Friday came and it was the first weekend of high school football games. Busy night. I think we published Saturday and Sunday mornings, so it was all about getting prepped for the big night of sports in Wausau.

I had to cover one of the local high school’s football games. When it ended, I raced back to the office to write the game story. I crashed through the outer doors of the Daily Herald’s office as Melody was coming out through a set of the inner doors (I know!). She was there again. With Suzy again.

Our eyes met. Sparks flew.

Me, out of breath from running toward the newsroom — and from my racing heart: “You’re here. Where are you going?”

She and Suzy were going to a local bar (it’s northern Wisconsin; it’s what we do).

“Wait for me,” I pleaded. “I have to write this story, but I’ll be there soon.”

It was a date.

I ran into the office. Banged out a forgettable story (I’m sure), typed in the boxscore and said “bye” to my pals putting out the paper (sorry, Spou). In 45 minutes, I was back out the door and racing for the bar — Scott Street Station, maybe?

When I arrived, Suzy slipped away, and Melody and I sat for the next three hours, deep in conversation. Music blared. Disco lights flickered. Smokers smoked (it was 1985, after all). And it was just the two of us. Falling in love.

* * *

Postscript: We ended up back at her apartment (of course we did, there was so much more to, um, talk about). Oh, stop that. Nothing happened. Melody wasn’t that kind of girl. I mean, she was the kind of girl to invite a stranger to her apartment at 2 a.m., but that’s all. No funny business.

Anyway, she was the weekend reporter at Newsline 9, which meant she had to wake up in the morning and get ready for work. So as she jumped in the shower, I took a look around her place. (Not in a freaky sort of way. Stop that!)

When I got to her kitchen, I stopped dead in my tracks. The shark steak dinner dishes were still in the sink. From Wednesday. (Remember?) Along with whatever else she ate the rest of the week. (It was Saturday morning, bless her heart.)

I was one of three boys raised by a working mom and dad, so I did what we were trained to do. I filled up the sink with soapy water and went to work. By the time Melody got out of the shower and saw what I was up to, any defenses she had just melted away. I was THE ONE. Still, no hanky panky, though. Like I said, she wasn’t that kind of girl. But we have been together ever since. And I couldn’t be happier.

* * *

Post-postscript: A little over a year later, we were married. It’s been 31 years and we’ll count them down as long as we’re lucky enough to do that. Three years later, Jenna came along and I guess you could say that this is our origin story. It’s kind of sweet and I like to tell it. But it’s always more fun when Melody interrupts with her own interpretation of events from those crazy early days. If you’ve read all the way to here, thanks. I hope you’re lucky enough to have a love like this in your life. We all deserve it.

recent pic

Still happy — and a little crazy — after all these years.

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Responses

  1. Damn, Mark, I’m verklempt… Happy anniversary!

  2. Happy anniversary, Mark! Here I thought you were off on another adventure! But I enjoyed hearing about how your life adventure all began. Keep up the great writing.

  3. Happy anniversary!

    By the way, we got married on 19.09.2000!!!

  4. Loved reading the story that we’ve heard before – but not all the details.
    Love you both sooooo much!!!

    • No no. I didn’t mean I didn’t love the details, just that hadn’t heard all of them before.

    • Oh, and there are so many more details. Haha. Xoxo

  5. LOVED this story, Mark. I THOUGHT I’d met “my Melody” back in 2008 (I think Mel met her, a woman named Amy, when I was teaching at IFP) but it only lasted a year. What got me about your story was how you fell into a supportive pattern with Mel and that’s probably the backbone of your relationship. I still hope one day (yet) this confirmed bachelor finds “her.” Hope spring eternal. 😉 Great to have you both back in town. Cheers, Mike


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