Friday, June 20, 2008

Happy 20th

Just posted, then saw the date. So I must post again. Because today is June 20th. The 20th of every month was a big day in our family growing up. My parents always--literally ALWAYS--told each other "Happy 20th!" and often went out to dinner alone on that night. Maybe not every month. But every month they did something--to acknowledge each other. Because they were always looking forward to this day. June 20th. They got married on June 20th, 1955, and every single month for their whole marriage, they acknowledged it. Can you imagine that?

My parents had a very good marriage. They really loved each other. There have been times when I've questioned how that could have been so, but I wasn't between them, and from where I stood, it was really true. And these are the things I saw:

They were very affectionate. My dad always kissed Mom goodbye in the morning, and hello when he got home at night. And dozens of times between, he'd pat her back, give her hugs, touch her. He let her know that she was important to him. Even when she was in one of her frightfully black moods--and those happened five out of seven days a week--he just leaned in and hugged her, told her he was sorry she'd had such a bad day. They weren't afraid to show us that they loved each other physically. OK, sometimes Dad would tease her, pulling on her zipper, and she'd slap his hands away. "Please," she'd say, "The children." But she was laughing too, and I felt very safe in their love for each other, at least until I got to be in middle school and began to be embarrassed by it. You know how that goes.

They supported each other's passions. My dad was very involved in Boy Scouts, had camp-outs once a month, hikes every Spring Break, camp and 50 milers every summer, went to National and World Jamborees. Dad's troop had 67 (I think) Eagle Scouts in the years he was Scout Master, under Dad's 'gentle' prodding. And Mom supported this. She could have made it miserable for him--I know her personality--but she didn't. She made heavy cake for the 50 milers, sewed neckerchiefs, made casseroles for potlucks, even after her sons were out of the troop. She was a pretty good scout about the whole thing. And Dad was supportive of all of Mom's various hobbies--passionately started, less passionately finished, but still...the macrame plant hangers in the seventies, the cross-stitch in the eighties, the Bible studies in the nineties (she stuck with that, but then he was a believer by then and engaged in them as well!)They went on diets together sometimes, or he watched her diet and somehow lost more weight than she did. But they were each other's biggest fans, one way or another.

They never fought. It's impossible to explain to anyone who isn't one of my siblings how this could possibly be true, but I am not exaggerating one whit. My parents never had a fight. Granted, my mother raised her voice--on a daily basis, mostly at us kids, but sometimes at dad as well. But my dad didn't fight back. He simply said, "I'm sorry," every single time. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Do you understand what I'm saying? No matter what the issue, no matter who was really at fault, no matter how out of control she was--and trust me, she could get out of control--he said he was sorry. Now I know, I know some of you reading this are thinking that such a man was a wimp for not standing up for himself. But I'm here to tell you, my father was the exact opposite of a wimp. He once said it didn't cost him anything to apologize. He knew the truth of the situation but if it made her feel better for him to apologize, that was the best thing he could for her. But let me tell you something about this non-fighting I saw growing up. It kind of scarred my parents' kids and was VERY hard to replicate. When Beve and I got married, our first fight just about did me in. I was absolutely certain Beve no longer loved me because he'd actually answered back when I disagreed with him. Didn't he know what he was supposed to do? [Our fight was over panty-hose, by the way. He accused me--he, a mere man!!!--of putting it on wrong, and therefore, getting runs in them, thus creating the need to buy new ones. I was--as you women might guess--quite angry. "You don't know what you're talking about. You can't put them on like pants!" I told him. "Just try it," he said. "You try it!" I yelled, throwing the panty hose at him. He stomped out of the house. Both sooo mature.] We had to learn how to fight fairly, with love and forgiveness. Not merely with words but with truth.

They were each other's best friends. My parents weren't social creatures. They didn't entertain a lot, have a plethora of friends. My mother didn't have BFFs whom she called every afternoon to gab about her day. They had each other. They liked nothing better than to sit down every evening with giant (and I'm talking GIANT!) bowls of ice cream--maple nut for Mom, mint chip for Dad, both drowning in chocolate sauce--and talk over their days at the elementary school and university. Mom would tell him all about the issues with her kids, and he'd tell her his struggles with the University senate he was trying to develop. And they talked about their kids. After they griped about their days for a while, they'd watch TV together until Mom couldn't keep her eyes open. Dad always stayed up hours later than she did. Dad knew a lot of people in town--he was pretty popular on campus, but they just never ever entertained. Mom didn't have it in her, I think. And he lived with it. He was a quiet man too, so it worked out. Mom retired ahead of Dad, and she was waiting for him--so they could go off and do things together. People asked him what he was going to do when he retired and he told me, "I tell them I'm going to watch your mother read." Dad's sense of humor, gotta love it.

All in all, I think those are pretty good clues to their marriage, which lasted 42 years. I paid attention--one way or another--and my marriage is better for having lived with theirs. And I guess that's what most kids do, after all. We watch our parents' marriages, and then we make our own from that model or the opposite of it, please God. Makes you wonder, though--who's watching you? And what do they see? Is what they see someone you are proud of? Someone God is proud of--in the best possible sense of that word?

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