Time has a way of wearing us down like wind and water erode sharp-edged stone into smooth. Withstanding the test of time, my parents managed to maintain, and soften their relationship by smoothing down the sharp edges.
It took them a lifetime together to accomplish this. I admire them tremendously.
I didn’t always feel that way. As a child I was disappointed that my parents didn’t fit the romantic models I’d seen in the movies.
They were a good looking couple but they didn’t quite measure up to Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. They were ordinary, hard working folks with four kids to raise. Dad wore work overalls. Mom wore house dresses. They could dress up right nice once in a while. But they weren't they type to adorn themselves in exotic attire, dancing through life like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Mom had lots of nice high heels so even in her house dresses she did have a certain savoir faire about her. Although Dad once said he would like to wear a cravat, he never had reason to wear the ties we kids got him for father’s day. Once we figured it out, we switched over to cookies instead. Dad liked oatmeal.
He didn’t buy her flowers, perfumes, chocolates, or jewels. She didn’t meet him at the door with a martini wearing a flowing lounger or negligee, at least not that we kids were aware. He often quietly dragged himself in after working a double shift. She often set aside the dinner that had grown cold, and went to bed with a book.
Overt signs of affection were not displayed, which led me to become one of those kids who, after learning the facts of life, said, “not my parents”. Not because I didn’t think it was possible, but just because I had never seen any touching. With the extenuating circumstances of a lost birth certificate, I even thought I was adopted for a while. My parents did a lot of things together, but I didn’t believe they did “that”. What fools we little kids be!
They painted the house together; they worked hard trying to run a business together. They drove on trips together. They argued vociferously. Somehow, the made peace when we weren't looking. Romance, in the traditional hearts and flowers sense, was not a part of their lives from what I could see.
Not Anthony and Cleopatra, they were more like Ma and Pa Kettle, herding us kids through life, struggling to make ends meet. They carried on through success and defeat, whichever was the result of the day. And a stoic resolve to get through the next one with more hope for improvement.
I often believed they didn’t know what love was. That was when I was all–fired, absolutely, positively sure, that I really knew what love was.
But, since that time, they married through sixty eight years of richer and poorer, sickness and health, love, hell and high water, deep snow, and earthquakes.
What did they know about love? A lot.
What do I know about love? Zip.
I have been married and divorced five times, six. if you count the one I married twice. I know that I haven’t the foggiest notion of what love is. Though, I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I know what love is not. I think my parents know a whole lot more of love than I ever imagined.
Using their lives and marriage as an example, I’ve learned that it is not romance. Anyone can play out that scenario. But, it cannot withstand the test of time. It gets boring after a while… all that worry and tension to create a romantic atmosphere. It’s empty without love to sustain it. Surely romance is part of the beginning of love, like flowers need springtime to grow. But, I’ve learned from my parents that love is related to how you handle the more pragmatic things in life.
Like, getting up in the morning and letting the other one sleep in, and preparing your own breakfast, if necessary, or making sure your mate takes his or her medicine, and reminding whoever is driving the car, there’s a stop sign at the corner hiding under the branches of the big shade tree. Helping each other put things away, whether it’s in the kitchen or the tool shed. Tolerating the mess and just going to sleep when tired, to deal with it the next day. Watching TV, or maybe just snoozing nearby in the easy chair, while the other watches a favorite program. Letting the cat sleep between you, so you both can enjoy its purring, even if it interferes with snuggling. Taking turns talking long-distance to the kids or grand kids on the phone, and not breathing too loud if you’re the one on the extension phone. Praying, and reading scripture together in those golden years. Helping each other remember things:
“Where’d I leave my keys… my socks? …my purse? …the car? What day is it? What time is the doctor’s appointment? What was the name of that family who ran the shoe store in town when we were dating?
There’s also the nagging, the nit-picking, the snoring, the sharp words, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, stubbornness and disagreements, and the the wisdom to agree to disagree. But mostly, I think there’s the hanging-in-there through it all, forgiving and forgetting, and letting go. But, most of all I think my parents knew that love is that which softens the hardness of life and withstands the test of time.
Their favorite love song, which always gave them starry eyes and always gives their kids tears in their eyes.
The Anniversary Song
by Al Jolson
Oh, how we danced
On the night we were wed;
We vowed our true love
Though a word wasn't said.
The world was in bloom,
There were stars in the skies
Except for the few
That were there in your eyes.
Dear, as I held you
So close in my arms,
Angels were singing
A hymn to your charms,
Two hearts gently beating
Were murmuring low,
"My darling, I love you so."
The night seemed to fade
Into blossoming dawn;
The sun shone anew
But the dance lingered on.
Could we but relive that
Sweet moment sublime,
We'd find that our love
Is unaltered by time.