In September 1950, two kids in their early twenties set out to make a life together. Those two kids are my now octogenarian parents. Last summer, we toasted them at a lakeside celebration. Sixty years is a long time. Quite frankly, I am in awe of my parents’ achievement. Although, I’m not quite sure if I should call it auspicious, pure stubbornness on both their parts may have had something to do with the longevity of their marriage. That and true love.
They pledged to love and cherish each other in good times and bad, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer. Like all marriages, they’ve had it all, the good, the bad, the ugly and the absolutely wonderful.
There were times when, if they weren’t broke, they certainly felt like it. The year we moved back to Boston from Connecticut for my dad’s new job, comes to mind. The move and the job were cause for joyous celebration until the Connecticut house languished on the market for months and months and months. For almost a year they juggled two mortgages. In rosier times, my mother used to laugh and tell the story of my dad’s first order with his new firm. As delighted as they were with his success, they couldn’t go out and celebrate because their bank balance was teetering around zero.
There was the very scary summer when my mom developed thrombophlebitis and suffered a pulmonary embolism. She was one month pregnant with my brother at the time. In the end all was well and our family of four became five. My sister, brother and I are three delightful, now grown children. Mom’s grandmother bracelet jangles with two more generations, six beautiful grandchildren and two terrific great-grandchildren.
More important, there were many, many idyllic days on New England beaches and ski slopes. Plus lots of fun evenings with family and friends. We have shared jokes and stories, argued, ranted, raved and laughed. A lot. My parents are enthusiastic people and they live life with enthusiasm.
While I can’t guarantee it, I think the secret to my parents’ marital success was their ability to create a true partnership. (That and their feistiness. Both of them.) My mother stayed at home but she was no meek and mild sitcom mom. I don’t ever remember her uttering in a threatening tone, “Wait ‘till your father gets home.” She just took care of her sometimes naughty children then and there. She also handled any and all crises when they happened, called contractors, plumbers and electricians when she needed them, juggled the social calendar and entertaining, watched over everyone’s health and wellness and managed the family finances. About the only thing she refused to do, was get the car serviced. She always said the guys at the garage treated her like an idiot. And she was nobodies’ fool. She was smart, opinionated and funny, held her own in any conversation and never wore an apron. We all knew she loved my dad (still does) but she never gave him that adoring Nancy Reagan look.
Because she was so good at taking care of the home and family, my mom freed up my dad to do his job and do it really well. Dad was in sales, he was good at it. He was away a lot; traveling on business. Neither ever had to worry, they were both confident that everything, and then some, was covered. Of course they were lucky to be raising kids in a time when families could not only live but live well on a single income. And I guess we were pretty lucky to be raised that way. (Although, I must confess, when I was a teenager, I didn’t get why my mom would willingly stay home.)
About seven or eight years into their retirement, a few tables started to ever so slowly turn on my mom and dad. Maybe we didn’t realize, or maybe none of us could admit to realizing, that my mom was beginning to show the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. The disease’s progression has been slow, steady and sure.
My dad now takes care of all of those things that my mother used to cover. He handles everyday things like laundry, little things like keeping track of birthdays and big things like managing their finances and healthcare.
Their old division of labor has disappeared. But in their own way, they are still partners and their partnership is as strong as ever. Of course it could be stubbornness but call me a romantic, I’m betting on true love.
What about you? Is there a special couple or person you admire? I’d love to hear from you.
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