Dreams to Ashes
Morse family photo
By ROY PETER CLARK
Jane Morse could not remember the last time she had kissed her husband Mick. It had nothing to do with a fear of contracting AIDS. Their passion for each other had died years before. She wondered if it had existed at all.
She would take refuge, however briefly, in memories of a time that seemed as distant from her current suffering as northern Spain is from small-town Michigan.
She was Janie Brandt back then, a fiery little girl with dark hair and a brilliant smile, the tiny rebel of a farming village called Union City. Roger Jacobs was the first boy to kiss her. That would have been in 1960. They were sixth graders and chased each other during recess.
Then there was Ronnie Brewer. They'd ride bikes through the tree-lined streets and past cornfields and farm houses. High school meant going from bikes to cars. She kissed David Watkins in the back seat of his classic black Ford. Jane's mother disapproved, which made the rebellious Jane want to kiss him harder - harder than she kissed Larry Corey, Morris Bollegraf, Skip Knapp and Eric Tundevold.
All of them must have seen in Jane an energetic, fun-loving girl who lived for Friday night football games, house parties and car trips to Battle Creek. In her little white and gold majorette outfit, her dark skin and dark eyes almost exotic, she must have inspired in them the urgent stirrings of midwestern manhood. Who wouldn't want to kiss her?
At her graduation from Union City High School in 1967, her handsome young journalism teacher came up to congratulate her. He shook her hand but said something that surprised her. He said that he "wished for something more than a handshake." The teacher's name was Mick Morse.
Kids at school already suspected that Mick had a crush on Jane. During their senior year, Mick let her drive his car to take the school newspaper to the printer. He tolerated lots of classroom mischief from Jane and her friends, a group of smart and smart-alecky young women who had promise well beyond what Union City had to offer.
It might have caused a scandal in a small town for a teacher to date a student, so Mick Morse waited, but not for long. Before summer's end, Jane got a call from Mick. He asked her for a date. He took her to dinner and then to a play at The Barn Theater. He drove her back to the farmhouse and kissed her good night. It was a modest kiss, but nice.
They dated whenever Jane came home from Central Michigan University. She glowed from the attention of an "older man." She was fresh out of high school and he was almost 30. She found him cute, athletic and boyish - he was the high school's basketball and baseball coach. But, more than that, he was a brilliant young man and a great counselor and teacher.
She had heard about his almost perfect academic record at the University of Michigan, where he majored in Latin and French. He could play almost anything on the piano. She came to see, in his dreams and aspirations, a path out of Union City. Just getting away to college had helped her escape from what she saw as the "littleness, the small-mindedness" of Main Street America. Imagine a bright, ambitious teacher being interested in her.
Jane was home for the weekend - it was March of 1968 - when Mick popped the question. They had been on a dozen dates and found themselves, once again, on the couch in the TV room, the place they liked to neck while Jane's parents played cards in the next room.
Morse family photo
It was an odd and urgent proposal - almost in the form of an ultimatum.
He said things like, "If you don't marry me now, it might not ever happen. I just don't know if I'm going to stick around in Union City." He seemed to feel the way Jane felt: that this town was too small to contain what he wanted to become.
They went shopping for an engagement ring, and Jane, ever the rebel, turned down a diamond in favor of a smoky topaz oval.
Mick and Jane were married in June 1968. It was a lovely wedding in the First Congregational Church, a pretty brick church with white doors and stained glass windows. Mick's family drove down 90 miles from Fennville. Mick wore a white tux. Jane looked glorious in her wedding gown, barely hiding her eagerness to shed it and, with it, her virginity. She would put herself and her body in the arms of an older man. He would bring to the marriage bed a knowledge that she lacked. In her fantasies, they would be transported by their passion. She would give of herself completely.
A two-hour drive from Union City carried them to a tiny motel in Ann Arbor, where Mick had gone to college. They made love. It made her feel warm and good, and she wanted more. The next day they drove to a verdant spot in Gatlinburg, Tenn. They made love again. The feeling was so new that she wanted to savor every sensation. She could imagine a lifetime of lovemaking stretched out before her.
But something strange happened. On the third day, Mick seemed to shut down. It was as if God had reached from heaven and closed tight some great valve of passion in Mick's body. He wanted to read and to sleep.
She lay in the dark beside him, her dreams turned to ashes. Something was very, very wrong. It would take her more than 20 years to find out what.
THE SERIES: This is the fifth installment of a 29-part story.
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