Friday, June 16, 2006

June 16 my parents will celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
It’s the kind of milestone worth noting. The institution of marriage has taken a bit of a beating (and that’s from heterosexuals— “protecting” marriage from gay folks is like sending more troops to Iraq to protect Iraqis from mad cow disease—not the biggest problem needing attention).
Fifty years of marital commitment is no small feat. There are millions of us who couldn’t pull it off.
My parents are good New England stock, which means they were raised in an environment a bit less emotionally demonstrative than here in Venangoland. In New England, if you pass a car crashed into a tree, you think twice about stopping because you might be intruding. If your hand is accidentally cut off, you try not to bleed on anyone else, and you certainly don’t interrupt someone else’s conversation to ask for help.
So for my siblings and me, assembling our parents’ story has been a lifetime hobby.
My mother started out in a privileged family, attending a classy private school in Boston. It appears that my grandmother was basically a flapper, my grandfather the sober young man who settled her down. But somehow they lost it all; they moved the family into a small cottage in the sticks of New Hampshire.
That was Rye, where my father’s family has lived since the invention of dirt. He was the son of a contractor; his mother eventually became a New Hampshire legislator.
My mother grew up working; there are a lot of her stories that include the phrase “I never did X because we were too poor.” She started out two years ahead of Dad in school, but lost a year to illness.
My father’s youth is—well, not what you’d necessarily expect if you know my father. His parents shipped him off to private school—to straighten him out. Most of his classmates went on to Yale; he made do with the state university. My father was a hot-rodding ladies man. My mother went to Keene State College to become an elementary school teacher.
Somehow they came back to each other, and they were married after she graduated from college, the summer before his senior year. She worked while he studied, and at the end of the year, he received a college diploma and a son.
He took a job offer from Joy and the family moved across the state. They lived with a nice older couple until they bought a house of their own. Joy told them, “Sell your house; you’re going to Pennsylvania.” They sold the house. Joy said, “Oops. We meant next year.” They rented a place.
They moved to Franklin, about twelve hours from home. We made the trip back twice a year, saw the family rarely. My mother’s father died when she was about 40, and Grammy Binmore moved to Franklin where Mom could look out for her.
Were there times that put a strain on their marriage? I don’t know. They experienced losses and disappointment. Their children have certainly given them some hair-greying moments. But if there were any great rocky moments in their marriage, we never saw any signs. No matter what else I felt about home, it never once occurred to me that it was anything but stable and rock solid safe.
Their marriage is not, as near as I can tell, grandly romantic in the classic sense. My father proposed on a New Year’s Eve. He had told my mother that he was buying a new car stereo; instead he surprised her with a ring. She was mad at him for lying to her.
My mother grew up with music, but had to leave that behind when her family went bust. Years after we had moved here, my father drove us to Sharon and made her pick out a new organ. He bought it; she cried all the way back to Franklin.
They don’t do every little thing together. He fixes windows at the church. She quilts with the ladies downstairs. He fixes things in the attic at DeBence; she works at the front desk. They take care of the people around them. They have little disagreements about what happened when, about how to carve a turkey. They are a constant source of amusement to their grandchildren. They take care of each other. They are a great example of how people can make a good life for themselves by looking after others.
Their fifty years of marriage would not make a good novel or movie, but it makes a marriage that any couple would be happy to have. No doubt this weekend there are other couples tying the knot; may they all have a bond as strong and lasting.

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