Forty Years Later. I'm sure some of them were happy.
One of my favourite memories from growing up on the farm is of sitting outside the bathroom door with my brother and sister, listening as our Mom removed cactus spikes from our Dad's ass. We had a large patch of them growing wild, you see, and my Dad had managed to trip and ended up sitting in them. Normally, tweezing probably isn't a very loud activity, but that day, it was a cacophony of sounds. There was the sound of my Mom wheezing and sobbing and choking with laughter. There were the sounds of shrieks from my Dad when, through her tears, Mom's vision wasn't so good and she ended up getting tweezer-fulls of Dad-butt along with cactus needles. And then, more wheezing from my Mom. I think she cried for most of the rest of the day. As for Dad, he stood around. A lot.
Another of my favourite memories of my parents is one that was relayed to my by my sister, Jen. It was a Sunday morning, and the family was getting ready for church. My Dad strutted to the top of the steps of the second floor of our big old farmhouse, and, hands on hips wearing just his undies, bellowed, "Woman! Where are my pants?" My Mom, already dressed and trying to shoe kids out to the car, rolled her eyes, muttered to herself "You are SO annoying sometimes," and marched purposefully upstairs to the bedroom and pointed out the pants in question, laying in wait on top of my Dad's dresser.
And over the years, Dad never mentioned what Mom's habit of eating cheese right before bed did in terms of morning breath. At least, not until my sister and I brought up the subject one day, and Mom tried to protest, and Dad hesitantly jumped in with "Um...actually?"
Next month, my parents will celebrate 40 years of marriage, three kids, three kids-in-law and six grandkiddies. There have been three or four moves along the years and more career changes than I feel like trying to remember right now. And we are going to gather to celebrate and to congratulate a couple that, if you look at the odds, has no business still being married.
Mom was 18 and Dad was 20 when they got hitched, or, as they say now, "stupid young." A shy German Mennonite farm-boy marrying - and the first of his cousins to marry outside of the religion - an Anglican English girl from a Pillar of the Community family. Two years after that, I came along. Eleven months after me was Jen, and just over a year after that was our brother, Jeb. Mom and Dad farmed, during a time when farming wasn't especially lucrative and the weather was even worse, and I know there were tough times. Mom was often home alone for long hours with three little blond moppets, and really, she was still just a child herself. Mom wanted a new house. Dad wanted a new tractor. Mom wanted to travel. Dad liked his own bed. They came to a weird kind of compromise where my Dad took us kids fishing every May, and Mom got the house to herself for a few days. They argued. They laughed. They didn't always like each other. But they were always there for each other.
And they learned through the years, and the three of us kids benefited from that knowledge. I think that for as long as I have a memory of there being rules in our family, one of the biggies was that Thou Shalt Be Locked In A Closet If Thou Thinks Of Marrying Before Age 25. That is something that I've always known. And the thing is, I think that they weren't kidding. They knew how hard being married was at the best of times, but when you're 25 and 23 and have three kids under the age of three, that isn't the best of times. They wanted myself and my siblings to, in their own words "have a life" before we got married. And we watched, and we listened, and we abided. I was 25 when I got married, the youngest age any of us three tied the knot at.
And I was never under the illusion that you are always head over heels in love with your spouse. I remember hearing my Dad tell a friend of his once that at some point in the marriage, he had made the choice that my Mom was going to be the one he loved, and he was going to choose to make that work. That is something that has stuck with me after all of these years - the thought that marriage is work. And, as I move into year 14 of my own marriage, I realize how true that is. I realize that some days, a good day in a marriage is one where neither of you smacked the other one with a chair. You aren't always going to like each other. You are going to deeply annoy one another. You are going to feel like you're the only one putting anything in to the relationship. You are going to have those days. But if you choose to work at it, then you are also going to have the days where you both laugh together at the same stupid thing, or where you realize that you really are best friends. I think that my siblings and I all have a very strong sense of the possibility of staying married to someone who annoys the piss out of you. As the three of us are all charming in our own ways, I am pretty glad we all found spouses who have the same philosophy.
But I also remember watching my parents hold each other during tough times - deaths, hurts, family and friends divorcing, illness. I don't remember them saying anything, I just remember the holding. And I knew, even at a young age, that they had each others' backs.
And, most importantly, I learned from my parents that family is everything. There were always cousins or aunts or uncles or grandparents at our house, or we were at theirs. If one of them needed something, you gave what you could, and were glad to have helped. Both of my parents are extremely close with their siblings, and I am forever grateful for that model of bonding in my life.
I'm glad my parents have each other. I'm glad that they can each take turns being the practical one in the relationship, that when the first grandchild's arrival is imminent two hours away and Dad is standing at the door with a bag of apples in one hand and his wallet in the other saying "Let's GO woman!", that Mom sighs and quickly packs a bag of clean clothes and toothbrushes. I'm glad that my Dad has learned to cook (or to be pathetic enough to make friends and neighbours feed him - it's kind of the same thing) so that Mom can escape to the lake for extended periods without having to worry about coming home to find Dad buried in a sea of fast-food containers. I'm glad that Mom is there to drive Dad to the hospital every time he finds some new and exciting way to injure himself in the shop. And I'm glad that Dad has the presence of mind to complain after the fact - but not during - Mom's nightly hot flashes about how he almost froze to death with no blankets on, the fan going and the windows all wide open. I'm glad that Mom didn't hold Dad back from trying different career paths, and I'm glad the my Dad was encouraging and happy when Mom came into her own in her forties.
I'm glad they beat the odds. I'm glad they tried and didn't give up on the marriage or on each other. I'm glad they raised us with a sense of family. I'm glad they've laid the foundations for our family, and have set an example of how to work at having a marriage last. I'm glad they still kind of annoy each other, because that bodes well for me and my guy, too.
But I am still going to find every embarrassing picture that I can for the slide-show at the party.