My parents just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. I wondered what it’s like going through life with the same person for so long. The other day I asked their secret. The answer surprised me. But first, let’s back up. This story began in 1954 when my 24 year-old father stopped to help a middle-aged woman change a flat tire.
It was a sunny September day in Hyannis, Cape Cod. In those days Dad drove a periwinkle blue convertible and flew planes over Cape Cod bay. After he fixed the tire, the woman asked, “Would you like to meet my daughter?” Dad was in a hurry and politely declined.
But the woman persisted and my father met a lovely 22 year-old with chestnut brown hair and dark eyes. She attended secretarial school. A spark began. They married three months later.
My parent’s wedding ceremony was simple with just family and a few friends. My mother’s ring is a modest silver band. “What matters is the love behind this ring, not how fancy it is,” she’d often tell me.
We moved from Cape Cod to Connecticut when I was eight. Life was steady and normal. Every night my father returned from work, announcing, “I’m home!” We ate dinner together in the kitchen. At night we’d gather around the television watching shows like “Laugh-In” or “The Monkees.”
Mom liked to read in the den – books by Tolstoy, Dreiser and Wolfe — under her hooded hair dryer. My father liked to listen to music in the dark. He lay on the living room couch taking in classical, maybe the latest Jack Jones song or a Broadway musical like “Man of La Mancha.”
Once in a while he’d come up behind my mother, put his arms around her and tickle her. She’d laugh, begging him to stop while my brother, sister and I squealed with delight. At a dance, my parents were often first on the floor, arms entwined, content smiles on their faces.
The few fights over the years were trivial. There were never long silences, tensions, or shouted words. Most nights I’d go to bed with the sound of them watching television or talking in the living room.
I thought everyone lived like this. I thought everyone had a happy family and childhood. It wasn’t till I grew older I saw that wasn’t the case.
Sixty years have passed since that chance meeting on the Cape. These days Dad has late-stage Parkinson’s. Mom’s his constant caretaker. Instead of dancing and tickles, there are doctor visits, medication schedules and round-the-clock aides. Every few months Mom takes a much-needed break and Dad stays in a nursing home. It’s ironic they’ve spent more time apart in their later years than when they were younger.
And yet even after a few days, they need each other. “How’s your mother?” Dad asked when he last spent time in a facility. He looked pale and I noticed he picked at his food. “She’s fine,” I said, but saw how he missed her. The next day Mom brought Dad home and that night made his favorite dinner of roast beef with mashed potatoes. A few days later his color and appetite returned.
I think of that simple band my mother wears and realize she’s right. Some things are more important than jewelry. The other day, my 21 year old son said, “Grandma and Grandpa are a good example of love.” I had never thought of that, but it makes sense. Yes, my parents are a good example of love.
And their secret to staying married sixty years? I asked them recently over Thanksgiving dinner, ready to hear some deep, earth-shattering wisdom. Instead they looked at each other and shrugged. “Who knows?” they said. “I guess we got lucky.”
That’s it, I thought? That’s the big secret? But then it made sense.
They married young. We all change as we age. Sometimes we grow apart. Sometimes we stay friends for decades. Judging by other couples, not everyone makes it.
Looking at my parents, I realized luck does factor into any good marriage. Add to that deep, abiding friendship, lots of love, and sometimes…a chance meeting on a bright, sunny Cape Cod day.
(Postscript: My father passed away peacefully in July, 2015. My mother was by his side).
How long have you been married and what keeps it going? Comments are always welcome and if you’d like to share, please do! Thank you!