Sunday, August 4, 2013

Happily Ever After?

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."

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