Rob's parents and mine celebrate fifty years of marriage this summer. 18,262.5 days (yes, I did include leap days in that calculation.) of wedded bliss? Not really.
What? Am I being a grump, a pessimist, a negative Nellie? Am I about to break the news that after all these years, it's over? No. Of course not. I'm just looking at Happily Ever After from the other side of the wedding day. When the "for better or worse and in sickness and health" really happen.
I used to spend hours on the floor of our den, going through photo
albums and shoe boxes of pictures. My kids love to do the same, only they click through digital photos on the computer instead of flipping through dog-eared squares of Kodak paper. Memories captured and stored away as
keepsakes of birthdays, weddings, camping trips, the rare snow day,
Christmas mornings and Easter egg hunts, funny faces and goofy
haircuts. Faces caught laughing, awkward school snapshots, drooling babies with toothless grins, boys in football and band uniforms, girls wearing sequins at dance recitals, tired parents watching excited kids opening presents under a tree decorated with homemade ornaments. Dusty, Spot, Nicey, Sundance, Diamond, Homer and Duchess... beloved pets pulling off unintentional photo bombs before we even knew what it meant. Camping trips, matching t-shirts, embarrassing fashion statements (I'm looking at you bell bottoms and mesh muscle shirts).
There are some great happy moments captured in those boxes. Quite a lot, actually. So why the question mark after the "Happily Ever After"? The rub isn't the totality of the phrase: "happily ever after". It's the proximity of the words "happily" and "ever".
Through no fault of their own (well, if they're honest, SOMETIMES through their own fault), every day isn't a happy day for married folks. Sometimes I feel like I need a souvenir t-shirt imprinted with the words: "I survived Tuesday, February 4th" because sometimes Tuesday, Monday, Thursday.... they suck! Some whole years need a shirt of their own; 2005, 2008, 2010. Things happen and people are snippy, pushy and take it out on the person they love most. There is baby vomit, all-night ear ache duty, a flooded laundry room, a migraine headache, a disagreement over an impulsive electronic purchase or a $40 lipstick, a fender bender, a speeding ticket, a harsh comment or a mean jib.
What you won't find in those albums are snapshots of the "worse" parts. There are no photos to document the losses and trials. My father-in-law is a veteran of Vietnam. But my mother-in-law is too in her own way. She endured the separation, the fear, the post-traumatic stress too. Miscarriages and illnesses, surgeries, and sleepless nights. "Ever" isn't all roses all the time, is it?
My parents lost their oldest son. They have been caretakers for ailing parents and for each other during a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and a triple bypass and recovery. Both sets of parents struggled to raise their families during the financial crisis of the seventies. They sacrificed and saved and had to say "no" to many of our wants. But they always came through with what we needed.
Daddy, even when he put in 60-70 hour work weeks, always picked out his own cards for Mama for her birthday, their anniversary, Valentine's Day. They are always signed "I love you, David" in nearly illegible scrawl. Some years that simple "I love you" means something different I think. Maybe "I still love you" or "I love you more" or "I will love you even though..."
When I look at my very favorite photographs of their wedding days, the grooms in dark suits with skinny ties, the brides in two piece pastel suits and matching hats, smiling as they begin those fifty years, I think of Gus Waters' words in the book The Fault in our Stars: "I have wonderful news! ... You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!"
They have lived them, shared the joy, the grief, the sadness, the okay. Their cards still say: "I love you."
Handwritten (in mostly cursive!), with words marked through and a few misspelled ones included. Signed, folded, stuffed in an envelope, licked (yes, a face was made at the yucky taste of glue), addressed, stamped and taken to the mail box.
What am I?
An old-fashioned letter of course. Not a tweet, status update, message or email, but a real ink and paper letter! It is one of my favorite things to receive and one of my favorite things to send. The excitement of opening the mailbox to find something good inside. Not a bill or credit card offer or a request from a charity, but forty five cents worth of message.
I confess that I do love the convenience of email, especially for work-related tasks. The capability to send a hundred people something at one time and organize their responses, etc. is both efficient and easy. Instant communication is also really handy for keeping up with friends, old and new, sharing information with everyone at the same time and being able to connect with them whenever and where ever.
But I LOVE letters. My great-grandfather sent a note to his wife, care of my Grandma Addie, general delivery in 1951. She got it just fine, even though the envelope said nothing more than Addie Rhoney, Metter, GA.
I love reading the banal little anecdotes that people share in letters, probably because they can't think of anything else to say: "It's raining here today," or "Bobby Sue is thinking about cutting her hair short," or "Do you remember the old cotton warehouse? They tore it down last week." Simple, boring details that reveal the ebb and flow of daily life.
I love that you can fold a letter back up, put it away and pull it out to read again later. I love knowing that someone took the time to write one. I love sitting down and sorting out my thoughts, putting pen to paper to write one. I love to imagine the journey; from mailbox to truck to post office then plane, truck, mailbox. A little piece of happiness wrapped up in words, carried across town or out of state or half way around the world.
Perhaps it is the sepia wash of nostalgia, but is Grandma’s
house not the safest, most pleasant place on earth? Grandmas are soft and smell sweet no matter
what brand of perfume they wear. Grandpas
are at beck and call to tell stories or read books. The food is perfect… made to order every
time! Baths always have bubbles, no one is too busy for stupid questions, and
if you want to hang out in your PJs all day, then fine!
They think you are the Bee’s Knees! The most brilliant, beautiful, kind, perfect
thing to ever walk the earth. No longer
on the hamster wheel of homework, baths, science projects, dentist and doctor
appointments, Grandma and Grandpa are focused in on being GRAND and not
Perhaps it is a means to thumb their noses at their own
children as they dole out childhood contraband: cokes, cookies, candy, apple
tarts, and unlimited bowls of ice cream. No reminders about vegetables or the threat of scurvy. Or maybe they’ve mellowed with age.
I know I find myself muttering, “You let him/her get away with
that? I’d STILL be grounded if I had
done x-y-z when I was their age!” WHO
ARE YOU PEOPLE? And where are MY parents? The ones who weren’t afraid to ground someone
So is it any wonder that we think of them the same way that
we think of them, our grandparents? As perfection in the
form of gray-haired, wrinkled, wise old souls.
I’m sure my own parents remember
them with less rosy lenses, just as my parents will be remembered as far more
perfect beings by my kids than I will ever credit them with being. Though I will concede they get smarter every
year and also made better decisions in hindsight than I gave them credit for at
the time. But I will never admit it in front of them!
Of course our parents love us with all our hearts, but grandparents are a soft place to fall. They aren't responsible for providing the discipline and tough love that ultimately make you into a responsible grown-up.
I always knew my grandparents
wouldn’t be here forever. They were ALWAYS
old for pete's sake. But I miss them, their gentle love
and wisdom... and their rose-colored view of me. Having someone love you for who you are and everything you have the potential to become is a pretty awesome gift, served up with a homemade chocolate chip cookie and an ice cold can of Pepsi.
Another candle on that cake today. Despite the fact that Rob is telling the kids I'm 40, though I only LOOK 38, I do indeed have two more years until the big four oh. Someone in this household WILL be 40 in 2013, but not for another six weeks.
This morning as I was lying in bed, trying to ignore the buzz of the alarm clock that had already been slapped into snooze submission three times, I realized how very lucky I am. Everything I need, much of what I want, so many people to love and be loved by, new ideas for a new year.... a good day to be grateful.
If you had told me me twenty years ago that I would be married to a fabulous, funny, smart man and have two clever, healthy, beautiful kids, still be bffs with my bestie and have friends in not one, but two hemispheres who are talented and generous and make my life so much better for knowing each one of them, I would have considered my cup overflowing.
Feeling grateful for the great variety of family and friends who want nothing but good for me in this life. Who are willing to hold my hand on the way, laugh with me, hold me, to just be. I have no clue how I got to be so lucky, but I'll take it with both hands and hug it tight. Thank you for allowing me to share my life with you and for sharing yours with me. I know these are deep thoughts for 6:45 a.m., but there you have it. Forever thankful nor for what I've got, but for who I've got.