I have often been asked the question, “What is it like to be married to such a famous man?”
My standard reply goes something like this, “Well, he wasn’t famous when I fell in love with him, and he’s still the same good guy.” I have also been asked several other questions such as, “What are you doing here?” or better yet—as I walk into a room and the inquirer is looking over my shoulder—”Where’s Nolan?” My mother taught me to be polite, but many times I wanted to scream, “I’m a person, too!” Even though our life is less hectic now since Nolan’s retirement from baseball, it wasn’t too long ago that a woman shoved a camera in my face and said, “Here, take our picture” as she put her arm around Nolan and posed. I just had to laugh.
I never dreamed that my life would be linked with the word “fame.” When Nolan graduated from Alvin High School, he had his heart set on going to Texas A&M and maybe playing baseball for the Aggies. But the coach told Nolan to go play baseball in junior college for a couple of years and get back to him. Two years later Nolan was pitching for the New York Mets. Red Murff, the scout who signed Nolan, told me that one day I would have to share Nolan with the world. I quietly thought to myself, “I’m not sharing him with anybody.”
Since I married Nolan only one month after graduating from high school, my plan was to continue going to college and become a teacher or maybe a tennis coach. But I soon found out that my dreams were easier said than done and plans change. In our first year of marriage, between my going to class and Nolan playing baseball, I think we spent maybe three months together and this plan was not working. The School of Hard Knocks became my alma mater, and I felt like a fish out of water in New York. I had never had a door slammed on me (I was clueless about tipping doormen who hailed cabs), or a grocer yell at me (I suppose I was touching the produce), or a neighbor bang on our door (because we arrived home late at night after ballgames), or cars honk and drivers yell at me (for no reason whatsoever). Talk about culture shock for a small-town girl from Alvin who had never even left home by herself. I was miserable and homesick, and so was Nolan.
It was difficult for me to understand all these feelings and frustrations, and Nolan had frustrations of his own. I was lonely, and I was wasting my time and feeling unproductive. I guess it was a good thing I liked baseball. Nolan was only there half of the time and when he left on road trips, I wanted to head on back to Texas. Our other problem was having no security in the game, in fact, it was difficult to live on our annual salary of $7,000 even in those days. Nolan would pump gas or get part-time jobs to make ends meet in the off-season. Luckily, we survived, and in l972, we were playing for the Angels in sunny California.
By the late 70s, Nolan and I were blessed with three small children, he had achieved more success with his career, and we had a little more financial stability, though nothing like today’s salaries. During those years, there was a popular television show called Candid Camera. The show’s original producer and star Allen Funt was then married to Marilyn Funt who wrote a book called, Are You Anybody. In it she interviewed several celebrity wives to show some of the trials and tribulations—as well as the positive aspects—of being married to someone famous. I was mesmerized by this book because she put into words some of the things I had been experiencing while trying to cope with my husband’s career and his fame, not to mention trying to care for three small children. Dealing with the media, dealing with women who prey on famous men and coping with loss of privacy were not taught in school. And even though most of the women interviewed were Hollywood wives, the book still helped me in knowing that others shared similar problems and concerns.
So, things didn’t go according to the plan. My life with Nolan has been somewhat crazy but never dull—the term “emotional roller coaster” comes to mind. But things turned out as they were meant to and I got a front-row seat to an exciting Hall-of-Fame career that took me places I never imagined. In fact, it’s given me a unique perspective of my own that I look forward to sharing with Buzz readers. Oh, I almost forgot, I can also get pretty good seats at baseball games.
Editor’s Note: The Buzz would like to welcome Ruth Ryan as a contributing writer. Be sure to look for Ruth’s thoughts and perspective in upcoming issues.