Today would have been my parents’ 55th wedding anniversary. Consider this: they were married the year the credit card was introduced; three years before DNA was discovered. Think about the year they got married:
- the first organ transplant took place
- the first Peanuts cartoon strip was printed
- the Korean War began
- Senator Joseph McCarthy began the Communist Witch Hunt
- Truman was President
They had their whole life together ahead of them, their promises to each other, their dreams, their future spread out before them wide and waiting for them to inscribe their lives upon it.
I have a laminated pressing from the April 16, 1950, edition of the New York Herald Tribune. The wedding at Christ Church, Staten Island, her from Dongan Hills, him of Union City. Their marriage got all sorts of press, my favorite heading "Union City Man’s Bride" above a stunning photo of my mother, the same photo that hangs in my hallway. She carried a cascade of Eucharist lilies and stephanotis. I do not even know what stephanotis is. I will find out. There are articles of her bridal shower, articles of his marrying her, her marrying him. All news and celebration. All promise and joy.
Twelve years before I was born.
It’s difficult to imagine your parents’ lives, difficult to imagine that they had a life before you. Because you lose your point of reference. At my own age, I’ve known them all my life. And yet they had their life and their lives together, long before me. Such a partnership I cannot really imagine, though I lived with it. I remember one particularly difficult time in the book of our family – I think that all three children were being out of line - I mouthed off at something to my mother, and my father told me in no uncertain terms that it was not acceptable to talk to her that way, not only because she was my mother, but because she was his wife. And they were a team. They loved us, but they were a team, and we their children were not to cross either one. He drew the line there and I saw it and respected it from that day on. What he said was cross me, but not her. I admire that, and haven't forgotten it.
I asked my mother once, just after a post-college break-up, how she did it, how she managed to be and stay married, what her secret was. She smile at me and thought a while before answering. She told me that while she was sure that I expected her and wanted her to say it was all about their love for each other, that she couldn’t say it was that. What she did say was that while you can’t have it without love, in fact the reason why they kept their marriage alive was due to respect. Obviously, I’ve not forgotten that either.
They were (and are) so different, those two. He of the sea and the fields, of interest in all walks of life; her of tennis and art, volunteerism and social placing. Both valued education and both possessing business minds admired by others, both successful in their own right. Together they were partners. He saw her dreams and met them, she accommodated his.
Great strength existed in their marriage. Agreements and sacrifices that I’m aware of, and many, many more that they kept to themselves. Theirs was a partnership indeed. He once told me that she was the greatest business asset he could have ever married. It wasn’t always great – not even near – or even always good. But it was theirs and theirs alone. They got married and they promised. And they kept their promises. He didn’t walk, neither did she. I’ve seen more than a few times when either could have and no one would have blamed them. I’ve seen times when their marriage was as fragile as a hummingbird’s wings – but I never doubted because beneath those wings was a structure of steel. I’ve witnessed the partnership tested but never the love or the vows.
Their marriage reached past space, past time, past existence. Which is why I’m thinking tonight, Happy Anniversary to the two people who made me different in an all too common world of divorce. And I say thank you for staying together when you didn’t have to, maybe even at times didn’t want to. But you did. And what a lesson that is.
On their anniversary, I always used to send them each a card and thank them. Today, she’ll get roses. Not for the 55th but for the 54 that went beforehand. Troubled times not forgotten, God blessed their union. And God blessed us, their children, by allowing us to witness such a pairing. We are cooking at their house this evening. We will all miss him tonight, but no one as much as she.