He sat down at the table where she was eating lunch. She assumed he knew one of her friends sitting with them. He didn’t. But it was the beginning.
They were married in a quiet ceremony in a little church. It was the cold afternoon after Valentine’s Day; the break from college classes was their honeymoon. Her dress was homemade. His tux was blue.
That was forty years ago. Today.
It’s a beautiful love story, but not the kind that ends up in books. She wasn’t a damsel in distress. He didn’t pretend to be a knight in shining armor. He just went to work, every day, and came home when he was done. She kept the home and bore his children. I am one of them, so I know their happily ever after isn’t built on Cinderella magic or promises of castles in the clouds.
But then, marriage isn’t dependent on fairy tales. In fact, I rather think Hollywood doesn’t know the beauty of romance beyond the honeymoon. They don’t see the husband working 50 hours a week in a dead end job. They don’t see him come home and eat a cold dinner and play with his kids and fix a broken toilet and pay a few bills and fall into bed next to his wife with cold feet and messy hormones only to get up with the merciless alarm and repeat it – for years. They don’t see the beauty.
They think eternity can somehow be counted on one hand. They think age is only a good thing in wine and wood. They don’t think happily ever after ever happens without a fancy diamond ring and a lot of promises made with bouquets of roses.
Her ring – the prongs bent as she worked around the house and the stone fell out. (She found it, much later, as she scrubbed a carpet where someone had been sick. Diamond in the rough.)
He held her hand when she birthed their children. She held his as he was wheeled into surgery for cancer.
She sat up late with their children over homework projects. He got up early to start the cold stove before shoveling the driveway to get to work.
He took a job far away so she could stay home with the children.
She drove them to ballet and soccer and piano lessons and play dates. He drove a truck around the country and sent her the paycheck.
He spent hours learning computer code at the office. She spent hours explaining long division to each child in turn.
He ate leftovers. She always made him a plate.
He grumbled over politics and poured out his frustration at injustices when they talked in the evening over dishes. She fretted over her children’s health and homework as they bent together over rows of seedlings in the spring.
She pinched pennies. He took her on vacation, with all the kids and too much luggage, all piled in the minivan.
He taught the children to shift and steer and be gentle with the clutch. She spent hours in the passenger seat as they practiced, knuckles gripping white, but silent.
She watched as he walked their daughter down the aisle and gave her away. He smiled soft and happy as he watched her hold her first grandson.
He doesn’t buy her roses. She doesn’t want them. Flowers in a vase die. He buys her seeds, he plows the field and helps water it. Every year, they watch their gardens bloom. Seeds planted – they grow. Nurtured – they flourish. Invested in – they multiply.
There isn’t a picture of their wedding day on the walls of their house. But I guess you don’t need a picture of the first day that Rome started to be built…
The fairy tales don’t tell you what the “after” part of happily ever looks like.
But I know.
“After” is where the story really happens.
Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.