Today marks thirty three years that we have been married. As I ponder this large and growing number of years, even visiting the place where it all began (Cunningham Park in Queens) in a fit of nostalgia, I think it fitting to put it all in perspective. There have been so many journeys, side trips, roller-coaster rides, surprises, challenges, adventures- it might take another thirty three years to write about it all. So here is a synopsis, a timeline, a rundown, an abridged version of our little slice of history.
I am a senior in high school. It is January- the year is marching past, and I am beginning to gel my plans for aprés-graduation life. I plan to head out west to find my fortune or at least the next part of my trip. A friend invites me over one evening, and there is her boyfriend with a friend of his. Good looking, ice-blue eyes, gorgeous smile, sweet words; and we make plans for a date. He arrives on his motorcycle and off we zoom. We stay up night after night for weeks chatting. I mention things I would like to do and he makes them happen- my first ride in a convertible (he borrowed one from a friend); my first drive-in movie (one of the last drive-ins in New York and he found it); my first road trip (on the motorcycle down to North Carolina). He claims love at first sight; it takes me a while to reciprocate as I have plans that do not include a boyfriend, independent cuss that I am. The school year ends, he attends my graduation, he promises to follow me out to Arizona, and weeks later he rides that Yamaha 650 across the country, arriving with second degree sunburn after taking his shirt off because of the desert heat. A month later, on my eighteen birthday in September, he asks for my hand. I know I have found a good one, and I say yes. Our announcement to friends and family is met with everything from scorn to eye-rolling to doom-saying. Few people are supporting this plan. He takes me home to Iowa to meet the family and friends there; it goes badly. We are truly on our own, against the world.
It is August. He takes off for home to meet up with his siblings and drive on to New York. I fly back east to get ready for our wedding. We have chosen a park in Queens as our “venue”; my brothers get there an hour early to rake a path in the leaves; my dad has arranged for a friend of his who is in training as a Baptist minister to officiate; my parents, not dealing well with the idea of a potluck in the park, have reserved a room in a restaurant for our small party of forty after the ceremony. We do not make alternative plans in case of rain. We do not book a hotel room for our wedding night. We do not care about anything except beginning our life as husband and wife. Thankfully it does not rain, and after driving around Long Island for hours in our wedding clothes looking for a hotel room (it was the weekend of the Democratic National Convention and there is not a room to be had), we find a place to spend our honeymoon night. None of it matters. It is the best wedding we have ever attended. We spend our honeymoon on the Amtrak to Iowa, then fly home to Tucson, where we both work crappy jobs while taking college courses.
We are broke; dead poor, and choosing between paying rent or buying food week by week. And yet, we are so happy and in love. We manage to have fun with no money; after all we are eighteen and twenty one, and people that age know how to have fun. Over the next several years, I graduate and he starts a construction company. I am teaching and he is getting up at 4 a.m. to pour hot tar on roofs in the desert heat. We learn to ski, do lots of hiking, jump into last minute road trips overnight to the beach in San Diego, or head down to the wild, empty beaches of Mexico for fun in the sun. He builds our first house at the base of a mountain when I am only twenty three and he twenty six. We begin to plan a family. We do a stint as foster parents and then, in 1987, I become pregnant with twins.
Just after my wedding, my mother went to a party where there was a psychic taking turns doing readings with each of the guests. My mother shows him a photo of me and he says that my twenty-sixth year is going to be a big one. Wherever he is, I would like to say: holy guacamole are you good! During the year that I am twenty six, I give birth to the twins, graduate with a master’s degree while teaching full time, and publish my first chapter in a professional book. Whew. When the girls are thirteen months old, I become pregnant again. Our son is born, and we are now a complete family. We go through growing pains, my hubby and I, as we adjust to the new reality. Things get tough, seemingly impossible to surmount, but somehow we make it through.
The summer that I was pregnant with our son was a brutal one, weather-wise. It hit 100 degrees in May and stayed there until after his birth at the end of September. After ten years in the desert, I’m done. I swear I won’t spend another season of hell. During the time that I am off as a teacher, there is nothing to do but sit in the water-cooled house or drive around in the air conditioned car or walk around the air-conditioned mall. It is dreadful that I, who love the outdoors, cannot enjoy it due to the overheated summer months. I develop skin cancer; the doctor says to stay out of the sun. In the desert?? We talk and it comes out that hubby has never liked the desert. He misses the four seasons, the varied landscapes, the choices of things to do and the proximity to get somewhere without driving for eight hours. We make plans to move back to the east coast. It is not easy and it does not go as planned, but we sell everything and take off back east with three babies under the age of two, no jobs, no home, nothing but hope and optimism. It’s good to be young.
We make it work. We get jobs to pay the bills and he begins his business in the city. The girls begin kindergarten in the city schools and I see nothing has changed since I went through. We move to Westchester; hubby finds us a house, or project, to move into. We stay several years, and then move onto the next place, further up the road. Our kids enjoy life in the suburbs, attend a fantastic public school system that offers academic, arts and sports options any kids could enjoy. We make new friends and hubby’s business does well.
The kids grow up. They do so whether you like it or not. We grow with them, changing as they change, re-configuring our relationship with each other, with our families, with our friends. Hubby’s business goes through feast or famine stages. We enjoy camping and skiing and walking around the city with the kids; cheap entertainment is the name of the game. We rarely get a babysitter and go out or go away for a weekend. Grandma watches the kids when we ask, but we don’t ask often and it is not because we have no money (although we don’t). It is because we love our little family and we love our time together and we know it is not going to last forever. We manage a couple of big family vacations during this period. The kids all graduate from high school; begin their life journeys. We rename our house “Empty Nest Bar and Grille” and begin to reconnect as a couple and to rediscover ourselves as individuals. It is not always easy or smooth; but it is good. We have made it to and through our twenty fifth anniversary, which we celebrated with a big party. Some of the original wedding attendants showed up and it was joyous. We look back and I think, well we sure showed those naysayers back in 1980! We restart our adventures in real estate, moving into a fixer-upper and making plans for the future.
And here we are. Today is our thirty-third anniversary. Hubby is working overtime to get ready to go to Martha’s Vineyard for a week of relaxation and celebration. Two of the kids are coming to join us there, and I cannot wait to spend time together. It is becoming rare to have all five of us in the same place at the same time; something I struggle to accept. I’m working on it. So tonight, we will raise a glass and toast ourselves, our journey to this point and our hopes and dreams for the future. Cheers to us!
If you want a clue on what I think made it work all these years, see my post from our last year’s anniversary.