For years our family has held confusion over June 9. Under our normal line of thinking for many years today would be my parents 34th wedding anniversary. They finally tied the knot after 8 years of dating, as their friends so subtly reminded them in window paint on the back of their 1965 Thunderbird.
There have been bouts of time though, where we actually managed to get our story straight. Recently going through paperwork, one of those times surfaced again. While their marriage license was issued on June 9, they actually exchanged vows and signed their certificate on the 11th. We’ll call it their anniversary week for safe measure.
This reflection couldn’t have a more fitting start. You see, it really wasn’t too big of a to-do. They had a friend who presided over the ceremony, and two more friends who served as witnesses. Friends and family from Michigan didn’t come into town.
In April, when I was home for my Mom’s memorial, I so enjoyed looking at photos from their wedding – something I don’t think I’ve ever actually done, not to my recollection anyway. They didn’t have a fancy wedding photo album, or canvas prints hanging over the mantle when I was growing up. There was no mantle, as a matter of fact.
Dad looked pretty fly in his untucked white linen shirt and slacks, aviators and remanence still of his epic 70’s fro. Mom looked like an angel in her cute little white, vintage sundress and wedges with white bows on them. Baby’s breath crown atop her head, forever my favorite flower child. Just two hippie kids who did a lot of growing up together, and weren’t done yet.
After “I do’s” had been said, they drove around the plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in that slick white Thunderbird dressed for the occasion; locals tossing flowers and shouting blessings.
Someone made a generous heap of tamales, Mom and Dad changed into tank tops and sandals and they had a big bonfire on a mesa on the outskirts of Santa Fe. I couldn’t help but smile, coming across a photo of Mom with a slap-happy smile across her face and a can of Coors in her hand. Honestly, it could have been one of the last beers she ever drank – Mom wasn’t much of a drinker. I found myself wishing I could have been there to party with her that night; I long to know this younger side of Mom – we had so much fun together during my lifetime, just imagine the fun we would have had then! Dad too. But Mom, with a beer?! Well, wouldn’t it have been something to be there for that!
They weren’t perfect, didn’t lead the perfect marriage, and never pretended otherwise. They didn’t take fancy anniversary trips or follow the traditional guide for anniversary gifts – paper, wood, leather, diamonds – or however it goes. Frankly, they never had the means to, but even if they had, I’m not sure they would have been caught up in appearances and traditions. Lovely as the gestures may be, that just wasn’t their style. Besides, the substance of their marriage was far beyond counting anniversaries and chasing perfection indeed.
My Mom and Dad taught me that marriage is a lifelong commitment. They taught me it’s the most important promise you’ll ever make. That even when you think things can’t get any worse; even when you’re on the proverbial brink of strangling the other person, marriage is about finding your way back.
It never ceases to amaze me, looking back at points when my parents were the angriest at each other, that they could still find something good to say about each other. Even if it was only the acknowledgment that the other was an amazing parent, or was incredible at their job – things that wouldn’t necessarily have anything to do with solving the conflict at hand – nonetheless, they were always able to recognize strengths and positives in each other.
And boy, did they laugh. I’ll always remember laughter being huge. There are so many happy memories, recounting them could take as much or more time than it did to live them out.
One time a woman at the same table as us at a wedding started laughing and spit out some of her food, and my Mom was lost in hysterics knowing it was taking every fiber of germaphobe Dad’s strength not to absolutely lose his shit. The people around us were all clueless, but she knew just by looking at his face this wouldn’t be the end of it. It just happened to be right before someone stood up to say grace. This seemingly insignificant event provided gut-wrenching laughter even years later. Once Dad got over being beside himself, I can remember him mocking the whole thing; “Dear Lord, save us from the shrapnel of this meal!,” and Mom laughing until she cried every. single. time.
They taught me the value in knowing someone, at times even better than you know yourself. And they showed me the value of unwavering support when the going gets tough.
But perhaps most importantly, they showed me first hand what “in sickness and in health, until death do us part” really means. To find that person is to be truly lucky in life. That person who will without a doubt set aside everything and care for you when you need it most in a way no one else, including yourself, possibly could. For marriage isn’t just remembering important dates and posing for photos, it’s about being there, even when it isn’t pretty, until the very end.
In honor of their first wedding anniversary “apart,” cheers to all the laughter and all the times they propped each other up too. Imperfections aside, these two set the bar mighty high for what it really means to say “I do.”