Forty-eight years ago today my parents married each other on a sweltering day out on Long Island. 1963. The year Coca-Cola introduced Tab, the first James Bond film, Dr. No, played in US theaters, Martin Luther King, Jr., bellowed his dreams from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and two ordinary people promised to stick it out with each other through life’s ups and downs, thick and thin. Pretty extraordinary, now that I think of it. Of course much has happened in the near fifty years since my mother and father vowed “I do.” Tab is now easier to find on cool, retro T-shirts than in grocery stores, 007 has shaken and stirred the screen through a montage of fashions and bombshells, and the march toward equal rights for everyone plods slowly on.
Today, though, I think about the things my parents have experienced in forty-eight years of marriage as the world has buzzed and hurtled through time around them: Losses, gains. Births, deaths. New houses, old houses. Lost jobs, new jobs. Snow blizzards, blackouts, train rides, bus rides. Shore vacations, business trips, postcards, souvenirs. Home improvement projects (or, well, disasters). Drive-in movies, jazz concerts, dinner parties, cocktail parties. Christmas trees, flower gardens. Briefcases, suitcases. Oh yea, and then there’s my sister and me. Not to mention the highway of things their marriage has weathered that I don’t have a clue about, the private ebbs and flows of a relationship known only to the two partners themselves.
I’m no expert, mind you. I have been blessed by deep, true love, though have walked solo through most of my years. Perhaps there’s some greater reason for that, perhaps not. I have both excelled and failed miserably in matters of love, and yet my heart beats on and open. I’d like to think I will say, “I do” one day, but perhaps it’s not in my cards. So what makes them so damn lucky, I suddenly ask myself, a bit bewildered as I ponder these two shrinking, elderly people I’ve known my whole life.
But perhaps that’s it right there. It isn’t luck at all, is it. It’s hard work, brutal, bone-wrenching, blood-sweat-and-tears work. It’s commitment to something you may want to walk away from more times than not. Sometimes it’s listening and acknowledging more than speaking. It’s saying you accept each other’s differences and actually meaning it. Often it’s laughing when you’d prefer to cry. It’s holding the other, when you’d rather be holding a beer, a remote control, a book, or just about anything else at that moment. It’s biting your tongue when you’d prefer to scream, “You’re a f***ing @#*(&!” but giving each other some slack when the harsh words do slip out. It’s giving each other the freedom to go off into private space for a while but reveling in each other when you return.
I watch them closely when I visit. My father’s face still burrowed in a newspaper or crossword puzzle. My mom quietly brushing water colors onto a canvas at the kitchen counter, yelling out, “Jim!” when their separation in different rooms becomes too much for her. My father’s classic eye-roll and pursed lips, then “What?!” I watch the world overwhelm them at times…miniscule cell phone buttons, computer error messages, customer service representatives answering their panicked calls from India or God-knows-where-else.
As their visitor, I no longer need to witness the rip-roaring fights of yesteryear; perhaps those have faded like the paint on their walls. They bicker and pick, interrupt and pout. But they also sneak each other little love pats in the kitchen as my mother continues to spread whatever he wants on a sandwich after all these years. My father chews slowly, swallows carefully now, nodding occasionally as my mother chatters nonstop through lunch. My mother pores holes into her magazine as my father repeats the same story over and over again until most people listening would scream. They still take their annual September vacation to the Jersey Shore, though they could go any day of the week all year-long. And at the end of each day, my father takes his bicycle cruiser for a spin around their gated community while my mother mixes their watered-down martinis. They meet up on their cozy matching sofas to talk about the whomever’s and what-not’s of the day—never before toasting each other as they have from the start: “Je t’aime.” Simply love, though nothing simple about it.