My parents celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary yesterday. I sent them a card, but really didn’t give it much thought. Since, though, I have. Given it much thought, I mean. And here is what I came up with:
One: They didn’t celebrate anything.
Celebrating isn’t their style. I wasn’t with them, but I imagine they raised a glass at dinner, and commented about how time flies, and could you please pass the margarine?
Two: Forty-nine years.
That means next year is 50, and we should do something special for them. For my parents 40th anniversary, I convinced my sisters that we should do a party – about 60 people invited to a sea-side barbecue at my parents’ home. My second sister, a caterer, would be in charge of food, and my oldest sister would line up a photographer to capture the event. We would get my parents out of the house, then bring in the rental tables and chairs, set up, the guests would arrive, and when my parents came home, SURPRISE!! The best day of their life, right?
Ya, not so much. My grandmother fell quite ill, and my mom wouldn’t leave her alone. So as the tables started getting rolled down the side lawn from the driveway, we were obliged to enlighten my folks as to what was going on. I believe my dad’s first words were “WHY. ARE. YOU. DOING. THIS?” I looked at my dear, dear, dad and said, “It’s for Mom.” And then he said, “Oh. Okay then.” and we went on to have a great day.
Still, for 10 years, we’ve been referring to that event as “the infamous party”, and we have vowed to never do it again. Which leaves us (me, really, because I’m the only one who will actually think about this) searching for some way to honour them next year.
Three: 49 years, 50 years.
Only old people have those kinds of anniversaries. When did my parents become old? They aren’t old – my dad still fishes his own prawns and climbs 30 feet up in trees with a hand-saw in one hand and a rope in the other. He lifts up cottages, for god’s sake. That’s not old. My mom is full of aches and pains, but she is also full of life and joy and still knows there is much left to see and do in the years to come. I’m not ready to think about my life without my parents. I’m not ready to think about MY mom, lying in a nursing home bed, waiting for someone to come and empty her bed pan, or to get a call that my dad collapsed while he was putting the camper on the back of the truck.
Nor am I ready to be the matriarch, or anywhere near any generation that would include a matriarch. As long as my parents are here, there is a nice, artificial cushion between me and mortality.
I know they will be together forever. They are partners, best friends, advocates for each other. Theirs is not a frilly, romantic love, but it has not degenerated into tedious co-dependence either. People talk a lot about respect, and we like to think that we are respectful of our partners, but often it is only lip-service. My mom and dad truly respect each other. They do not complain publicly about the other, or make a cutting sarcastic remark, or use the other as the butt of a joke. They love each other more than that, and they are from a time where honour and respect were taken seriously.
Sure, they bicker, they frustrate each other. But I don’t think I have ever heard them actually yell at each other. Certainly, I have never witnessed a violent argument, never seen the abject cruelty that we sometimes inflict on our partners in times of great pain or anger.
This is a gift they have given me: to know what a marriage can be. To know that it is worth working for, and that when you feel most alone in the world, your partner will be there to take your hand, or hold you up. In a society where so many marriages fail, this is a gift of possibility: it can succeed. It can make you stronger. Marriage can be the Thing on which you depend.
I married later in life, and I will be an old woman when I celebrate my 49th wedding anniversary. But know this: I will celebrate, because a happy marriage is a thing to rejoice.