sixty…a long, long love story.
sixty years ago today, on a crisp january sunday, two people i love walked into the plaza hotel at fifth avenue and central park south in new york city, the very hotel where precocious eloise lipsticked the walls, roller-skated the corridors and poured water down the mail chute of the neo-rococo gatsby-esque overnight chateau. the two i love were married there. moved into an old gardener’s cottage nestled between the two rivers of fair haven, new jersey. and two-and-a-half years later, had a baby boy. five years after that, they carried home to the cottage a beautiful baby girl.
and 29 years after that, i married their firstborn. so, going on a mere 24 years this august, my beloved and i are lowly pikers in the marriage department (compared, that is, to the ones clocking their diamond anniversary today). the ones married at the plaza, they’ve long been teaching us how it’s done — this business of loving across the arc of time, of holding each other up in sickness and in health, in heart-wrenching moments and moments so fine they make you think you could reach right out and touch the stars.
this morning, for the first of the 60 anniversary mornings, there will be no shared breakfast at the maple table in the red-walled kitchen. there will be no bagel sliced and barely-buttered. no stack of vitamins tucked by the edge of the red plate, where my mother-in-law always tucked them. there will be no single cup of coffee with a splash of skim milk, one cup shared by two pairs of lips, the way they’ve always sipped their coffees. this afternoon, perhaps, my mother-in-law will help adjust the wheelchair at the dining table in the lovely place they call the atrium, the place where my dear father-in-law now lives.
in a world where only six percent of american marriages make it to the 50th anniversary — and guessing drastically fewer make it to the 60th — there is much to be learned from those that do. and while i’ve not sat down to ask a slew of pesky nosey questions, i have been watching. and since i’ve lived since 1991 with the son of that solid pair, i’ve had lots of mornings, noons and nights to ponder this living, breathing organism, the long-haul marriage.
it’s the unlikeliest of arrangements, for starters. did you ever think you’d want anyone to know that some nights you tumble into bed without washing your face, or that you gobble down a humongous bowl of popcorn at the long day’s end — no matter how late the hour? would you ever want anyone to know how scared you get before you stumble toward a microphone, or how your heart practically pounds through your chest when you raise your hand in class, or — sometimes — speak up at a dinner party? or how, once upon a time, you worried yourself into such a stew convincing yourself that the black space in your unborn baby’s ultrasound was proof that the sweet child was going to be born without a brain? and, further, you convinced yourself that the doctors just couldn’t find the words to let you in on this terrible news. and then, when you found out you’d been a total fool and the brain was fully lodged right where it was meant to be, the dear fellow who’d been gobsmacked all weekend by your worries, he didn’t even dare to toss a chilly “told you so!” in your much-deserved direction.
oh, and that’s just a teeny wedge of the intimacies that long connections bring. i mean, the standing naked — the showing off your pudgy belly, your jiggly thighs — that’s NOTHING compared to the soul-baring that comes with years spent sharing each other’s crowded space.
and there are days — maybe even months or years — when you spend way too much time considering the exit door.
but you never go.
a.) because you’re blessed beyond words that whatever isn’t right is fixable — because, oh, lordy, we all find our lives — our inner, dearest circles — populated with friends and loved ones for whom the fixing was not there — death, disease, inherited pathology, deceit. the reasons are too many and too heartbreaking.
and then, there’s b.) we choose to fix it, to work it through, to strike a peace accord. because deep down in our marrow we’re betting on this marriage thing, this connection bound through love or law, divine or secular. we’ve invested whole hog in this institution that, not unlike a pair of lungs, expands and contracts, fills with oxygen, and sometimes leaves us gasping.
and after you’ve weathered days or weeks or months of second-guessing, and you find the clouds have scuttled off, you remember once again just why it was that something deep down inside you — something that maybe didn’t even have a voice, was no more than life-divining force — you remember why you surrendered to it long ago. why you dared to wrench open your trembling heart, and let in the one best shot you had at being wholly alive.
because this someone to whom you’ve aligned no less than your very soul, this someone has breathed wholeness into you. this someone has seen who you could be, sometimes long before you could even begin to glimpse that possibility.
in my case, the man i married teaches me every single day what patience looks like. what tender loving care is meant to be. i watch him lavishly rub circles on our little guy’s back, there in the hollow between the angel blades, on the nights when sleep won’t come, or ghosts have come to haunt the little guy’s bedroom. i watch the man i love drive eight hours for a regatta in which the glimpse of a passing kid — a kid in a boat being rowed by eight or four muscled pairs of arms — lasts for maybe five seconds. and not a complaint, not a single complaint, is ever lodged.
in my case, the man i married has patiently waited for the three long years i’ve not had a paycheck. and he’s been the biggest believer that if i dared to spread my wings, i just might find the breeze he believes is there. and for a girl who never ever thought she could be good enough, it is the holiest thing in the whole wide world to wake up every morning to a fellow who utterly and absolutely believes that, armed with nothing but my heart and my words, i might infuse a dash of goodness in the world.
the man i love learned all this because he grew up in a house where that’s what love looked like. that’s what marriage meant. thick and thin. sickness and health. richer and poorer.
may the God of goodness, the God of love, shine down today on the ones who, back on january 30, 1955 — when “bad day at black rock” was playing at the picture shows, and the ames brothers’ “the naughty lady of shady lane” was number 1 on the charts — back then, those blessed two began to etch their story in the marbled walls of time.
the lovely black-and-whites above, that’s my papa-in-law, the newspaper man, blowing out his birthday candles (in 1970, i do believe), and the radiant-faced one (which i can’t get to nestle side-by-side, and so is just below), a teacher nestled with her little charges, that’s my beloved mother-in-law, one of the loyalest readers of the chair that ever there was or will be. bless them both. i love them with all my heart.
i don’t often — rarely ever — write about one of the deepest connections of my life, my marriage. this one is stirred by the big anniversary. and i know — too well — that the true intimacies of any marriage don’t belong anywhere near the public square. as well as the truth that so many of the folks i love most dearly have chosen not to be in such a union. or have life-savingly mustered all the courage in the world to step free from one that suffocated or shattered them and the dearest ones they loved. but these days i so often find myself pondering the truth that a marriage, especially a getting-long one, is practically its own living, breathing entity. across the arc of time, it ever shifts, deepens. it’s the deepening that most captivates me, and i can only scratch that surface here. so the question i bring to the table, one for which everyone might have some answer, is this: what is it about the deepening relationships of your life, the ones that last across the years, and survive rocky terrain, dry seasons, and an abundance of struggles, what has that deepening brought you, and why is it so essential? and what invites the deepening?
happy blessed diamonds, dear A and G. xoxox
Beautiful! Hope it went great in Milwaukee last night – it looked like you were going to have a lot of supporters in the room!
All the best, MDP
twas a lovely night. and a lovely crew kept me upright. i love the east side of milwaukee. oh so much!
Happy 60th Anniversary to your beloved in-laws! Sixty years, how beautiful.
Romance is a wonderful component of marriage, but I feel the marriages that last are deeply rooted in friendship. That’s certainly how it is with my own dear husband and me. We’re childhood sweethearts who’ve been holding hands since we were fourteen. We grew up side by side, laughing and talking and relishing one another’s company. We’re still the best of friends.
Wishing your dear in-laws, and you and your precious husband, many more years of love, joy, and togetherness. xoxo
dear amy, so beautiful. so true. i melted at the sentence that you’ve “been holding hands since [you] were fourteen.” and what a blessing for both of you. it’s that friendship — at heart — that is so sustaining. and for which we are so blessed…..
Amy is right, and so are you, dear one.
This should be required reading for everyone about to be married, and for couples every five years on their anniversary.
Love all the photos; the one of you and Blair is absolutely stunning.
And I have just one other thing to say. You are always, always good enough.
xoxox love YOU, dear nsp!
A happy anniversary to your inlaws.They DID raise a wonderful son! And as my own parents and inlaws have 123 anniversaries between them, I agree with you. Marriage is a living organism that evolves with time. Friendship and respect is certainly a foundation. But your query on old friendships makes me think of the mustard seed, or maybe plant tubers. You cut them down every year, pay no heed to them for months, but they just multiply and deepen beneath the earth, unseen for that important time to come in your life, be it spring or when you REALLY need to talk with someone who knows you from years ago. They are our roots….(and why I shall always come home to Chicago). Thank you for sharing.
so so beautiful. 123?!?!?!?!? that’s astounding. and look at the beauty that came from it? our beloved DC gardener….xoxox
I love this post and all the reply’s. I love that Amy has been holding her husbands hand since high school.
My parents, who are gone now, made it to almost 55 years. They just had an old fashioned deep commitment and faith.
My in laws have been married 67 years. They have gone through hard times and have a deep rooted faith. He dotes on her. Still remodels the house or buys her furniture or red enameled cooking pans.
My husband and I have been married 27 years. We started out rough. But I do not believe in walking away from things and felt in my heart God telling me if I made it past 5 years we would be OK. Our marriage is better now than when we were newlyweds. Marriage IS something that evolves. We have changed and grown up and our faith is stronger and we have done it together.
this reminds me of the wisdom shared by a dear friend of the chair who sent me an email and wrote that it’s “the getting to the other side” that is one of the glories in life. believing light might come at the end of the long dark tunnel.
and none of this is to undercut in ANY way those we love who knew the wisest bravest thing they could do was get out from whatever life-draining bond was breaking them. i’ve held far too much heartbreak in my arms to ever think otherwise. what’s compelling here is the truth that even in the best love stories there might come long spells of not knowing. five years had to have felt like a million — especially coming at the beginning of your now 27 years. and bless your in-laws at 67 years. oh my. i’m sure they have stories and wisdoms to impart……i wonder what they might say are some of the wisest lessons they’ve carried along the way….
as always, thank you for pulling up a chair…..
p.s. i forgot to mention: yup, i too love the amy-hand holding detail. i think i hear a collective sigh going up from the table, all melting at amy and the held hands for all these decades……
Oh, such a lovely post, my beautiful friend. Seeing the faces up above was a delight and the photo of YOUR blessed day … just LOOK at the way you’re gazing at him! Beautiful then and now … all four of you. Happy #60 to those lovebirds and many more. xoxo
scrumptious hug, pammy jo. xoxox
hoping at least half of the lovebirds sees this, and knows how many wishes, hopes and prayers are swirling their way…..xoxo
All I can do, only five years into my second and final go, is sit at your (metaphorical) feet and take in the wisdom of your almost-24 and your in-laws’ 60 (wow! damn!) years working on that grand and joyous experiment. Bravo!
grand and joyous experiment, hard and hair-pulling-out experiment. experiment. practice. try and try again. it’s the friends i love who’ve been shattered, and never given up hope, the ones who’ve put themselves back out there, who’ve found the love that stitched their heart back into whole, those are the friends whose resilience, whose faith, fills me. and why i cried so hard at your wedding. a triumphant trumpet blast indeed. xoxox
There you go making me cry again.
What a compendium this is of love/loss/love. All those make up any long term relationship. Love always wins…as one of our wise internet woman bloggers notes. I am into “love” for thirty something years and it so messy. It is a mess some days and not so much other days. In the end though I think it depends on how much we love and respect our own souls. When we can recognize our own truth and beauty (no easy task) then it will all fall into place through others…partners, friends,family, and lovely souls that the universe sends our way. I love the pictures shared here…the energy of love just jumps out and says “It is possible” and that is all anyone can ask.
love-loss-love…..the poetic rhythms of a long union.
“how much we love and respect our own souls…..” and therein is the line that i will consider the rest of this blessed, white-on-white-on-white swirling snowstorm day.
and, “it is possible…” do we not live to find our way toward the crevice where light streams in, the place where “possible” finally illuminates the way…..
as always, wise one, thank you for bringing your dollops to the table. xoxo
So well said! Thank you. And congratulations to your dear in-laws.
At 47 years married and still counting, I can indeed confirm that “there are days—maybe even months or years—when you spend way too much time considering the exit door. but you never go.”
My husband and I are both stubborn, and each of us often wants to have the last word! But I think that stubbornness also has helped us stay together. We tenaciously hang on … to our commitment to love and support each other … to those promises we made in 1967.
Amy’s observation that “the marriages that last are deeply rooted in friendship” makes oh so much sense. On those days when I fret too much about the “state of our marriage,” knowing that we’re friends as well as married partners is truly helpful. I wouldn’t want to give up on that friendship.
jan, your last sentence just zinged to the core of my heart…..
thank you for framing it so utterly clearly…
I just read your ‘sixty’ piece out loud to my dear husband of 43 years and shed several tears of joy and gratitude in the process. We reminisced about both of our parents’ marriages, one 59 years and one 45 years, and the influence of their love and example on us.
Like you, I often delight in observing how good to the core my husband is!
Interesting timing in that we just read Blair’s piece in today’s Chicago Tribune and had a deeper appreciation for him than the stellar journalist he is.
Thank you, Barbara, for deepening my gratitude!
he is definitely a keeper. and that might be the sweetest thing i’ve heard: you reading the words aloud to your dear sweet long-time mate. and the conversation it sparked about the 59ers and the 43ers. sweet. thank you…..
What a gorgeous post, and a touching testament to a beautiful couple. To your evocative questions: I think the deepening brings a sense of sturdy stability to an ever-evolving, ephemeral life. Being in a lasting, long-term relationship means you live with someone who, as life shifts and you change, can always remind you of your core–because, once upon a time, you showed him that, and he is the one with whom you continue to share your most vulnerable self. As the years pass, that long-standing relationship is where you can always start from a place of intimacy and familiarity, where you can slough off all the layers of becoming and change and be constantly reminded of what lies underneath it all.
“the soul-baring that comes with years spent sharing each other’s crowded space” … so perfectly put. What a treasure for you and for your in-laws that you bear witness to their love throughout the years–and that you have your own at the center of your life.
dina, i am always entranced by the way you capture words to capture the elusive. so the line above that stopped me in my tracks was “ever-evolving ephemeral life.” and the vulnerability. at its core, isn’t that one of the bedrocks? we’ve dared to show our truest selves — our uncertain, doubt-riddled, but deep-down hopeful, believing selves — and it’s that glimpse of the ephemeral that we vow to hold — for each other, for ourselves. and from there comes so many birthings…..deepenings…..
thank you for bringing your thoughts and your words to the table. always….
i often find word wonders on the weekly e-blast from brain pickings, curated by the brilliant old soul maria popova. this week’s contain this writing from rilke, penned in the seventh of his “letters to a young poet,” sometime in may of 1904. these words seem apt to our discussion of long-time love….
“To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and so loving, for a long while ahead and far on into life, is – solitude, intensified and deepened loneness for him who loves. Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over, and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate – ?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world for himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things. Only in this sense, as the task of working at themselves (“to hearken and to hammer day and night”), might young people use the love that is given them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must save and gather for a long, long time still), is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives as yet scarcely suffice.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet.”