The Few(er), the Proud

Few children get to celebrate their parents 50th wedding anniversary, because not many parents get to their 50th wedding anniversary. Even fewer children can say that they were present for all 50 years. I am one of the fewer.

Dad married Mother after a whirlwind three month courtship, when I was three-and-three-fourths. (Hey, when you’re three, the three-fourths counts!) It was quite a leap of faith for a 21-year-old to take on, a wife and a (I believe precocious would be the polite word) child, but he thought he was up to the task. He adopted me a few years later (my birth father had flown the coop a few months before Dad met my mom, never to be seen again, within four decimal places of “never”), and as it turns out, he was up to the task.

But our story today is about the two of them. I thought it would be interesting to review the things I’ve learned from them in those 50 years.

From Mother, I learned how to laugh. Her family seemed to live on laughter; they loved to tell funny stories, jokes, anything that generated a good laugh. If you keep Mother up too late and then get her laughing, it’s like a nuclear reaction — the first laugh leads to two laughs, leads to four, and pretty soon it’s a close approximation of a perpetual motion machine. It comes in waves; you think the first one is about to die off, and then here comes another one. I’ve seen her go on for five minutes or more, until she’s laughing tears out of her eyes.

Like yawning, laughter is infectious. When one in a group starts, you can be sure everyone else will soon follow. Also like yawning, you can never be sure when a laugh will present itself; it won’t always be at what everyone else would say is an “appropriate” time. As just one example, a good-sized group of the extended family was in a small-town in Texas many years ago, laughing and having a great time. The woman at the counter where we paid commented on how much fun we were having, and asked what the occasion was for us getting together. “We’re on the way to my dad’s funeral,” my mom replied. The check-out woman didn’t quite know what to do with that. We did: we laughed.

From my dad, I learned to value education. That’s interesting, for a couple of reasons. First, my dad doesn’t have a college degree. In fact, his high-school diploma is a GED. But it wasn’t from a lack of smarts: he was G&T before anyone knew what G&T meant (or even that there were gifted and talented kids), and he eventually got so bored with high-school he moved on to something more interesting: the Navy. That’s a post for another time.

The second reason is that Dad didn’t so much talk about formal education as he lived practical education. He is perhaps the most educated person I know. He knows a lot about pretty much everything (as he has matured, he also has become less and less reticent to share it with whoever happens to be standing closest to him). He read science fiction when it was still fiction, he’s read Discover magazine since I was in college and I feel certain could carry on a cogent conversation about string theory (if you want to find out for sure, just stand next to him). He was a math whiz in school, and as a machinest for much of his life he used trigonometry everyday. He’s grown a good-sized garden in his backyard for the last fifteen or twenty years, and can thus tell you everything you wanted to know and more about soil and seeds and watering and fertilizing and several other things I know nothing about.

From both of them I learned about meeting obligations, about doing what you said you were going to do. (I didn’t say I was always a good student.) Again, this was more indirect than direct, although there were plenty of “direct” times, for example when Dad talked about returning a borrowed item in as good or better shape than when you borrowed it, and if you couldn’t do that, then you bought a new whatever-it-was-you-borrwed.

When I was a sophomore in college, I applied for a job at a temp agency. I was looking for office work, and they gave me the usual battery of tests. I was something of a typing whiz at the time, and so passed all the tests with flying colors. As a result, for my first job, they sent me to … a factory, where I put caps on cans for two days, and then put the cans in boxes for the next two days.

On the third or fourth day, we were on break, and some of the employees were talking about other temps they’d had, who had come to work on Monday, and then walked out at the first break time and not come back. I was astounded: it had literally never occurred to me not to do the work, to leave, or even to ask for a different job. That had nothing at all to do with me and everything to do with my parents and the example they had been for me. You did what you had to do, what you said you were going to do, what you needed to do.

If those were all I learned during those 50 years, it would be enough. But (attention acrostic fans), in addition to Laughter, meeting Obligations, and Valuing Education, they also taught me love. Love as in love is a verb, is an action, is a choice, a product of the will. Love as in laughter and doing what you’ll say you’ll do and constantly educating yourself about life and your spouse. Not love as Hollywood would define it (which is pretty much the same as high-school love, since Hollywood appears to be stuck in tenth grade): all emotion and what you feel and rising and falling with the tides or the weather or what the object of your love happens to be wearing today.

That is not to say, of course, that it is a drudgery kind of love. That’s often the assumption the Hollywood/high school crowd makes, that if you’re not soaring on the wings of a dove then it’s not really love. What they haven’t figured out yet is that eventually the dove has to come to ground, and when it does, there better be something there for it to stand on. They also don’t realize that the dove will soar again, and again, but that it balances its time in the air and on the ground, and love has to too.

So, Mother and Dad, here’s to love, to 50 years of it so far, and to many more to come. Happy Anniversary! Have you heard the one about the horse who goes into a bar…?

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