Our local paper ran an Associated Press article about John and Ann Betar who have been married 80 years. Wow, that was a long commitment to make on their wedding day. It wasn’t possible for me, as a young bride on our wedding day, to imagine what it is like to live 80 years. But to live long enough to be married for 80 years is mind blowing. We promised each other to be married “till death do us part,” but 80 years somehow sounds much longer than death.
John is 101 and Ann is 97 and they still live in their home along the Connecticut shore. My husband and I have been married 48 years – which sounds piddling next to 80 years – but long enough to be able to read between the lines of their story and to know a thing or two about the challenges of maintaining commitment and of the great rewards.
Ann and John grew up across the street from each other and John drove Ann to school in his Ford Roadster. They fell in love but Ann’s father had already arranged for her to marry someone else. They eloped, which must have upset Daddy. Were they able to mend these family ties? Did they feel jealous when the other spent too much time with old friends or parents who needed help on Saturday afternoon? Did they ever fall in love with someone else along the way? What secrets did they keep from each other to preserve the marital trust?
Ann was 17 and John 21 when they got married. They still had some growing up to do and living life changes us. As they grew at different speeds, did they ever wonder if they still loved each other. Did either ever have dreams of great adventures, that scared the britches off the other? Were there regrets of opportunities missed? What did they tell themselves to keep from running off when the grass seemed greener on the other side? There was a period of time when my honey and I stopped loving each other but luckily it was at different times – and we were too poor to afford a second residence. Neither of us thought of moving back with Mom & Dad because we knew they wouldn’t allow it. Now I’m glad that we had to work it out on our own.
In the article, the Betars make it sound easy with only a few simple rules. “We just live with contentment and we don’t live beyond our means.” Did he ever feel overwhelmed as he tried to support his growing family with the earnings from his grocery store? What about those lean years when shoes and coats were needed and the car broke down? Did they argue because one wanted to save and the other wanted to spend? I kept the budget in the early years when there was never enough money so I knew there were things we needed and he insisted we save a little each payday. We fought, we compromised, and I’m glad he insisted on saving some.
John says they “just go with the flow.” But they raised 5 children and anyone who has children knows the flow sometimes becomes a raging torrent. Did Ann ever cry when she learned she was pregnant again? Did she ever get tired of cooking for seven people and get mad because no one picked up after themselves? I once got so mad that I threatened to go on strike – which then made hubby mad. Did John keep the peace by eating meatloaf every Wednesday even though he hated it? Did Ann bite her tongue when John exaggerated how big the (fill in the blank) was?
I’ve been trying to think when the change came about. When did we start knowing each other so well that we were able to finish each other’s sentences? When did we become so comfortable with ourselves that we no longer felt irritation with the other’s quirks – at least most of the time. I don’t quite remember when we started being able to snap at each other when we needed to but then to quickly shift to laughter and a hug.
How wonderful it is to wake each morning and look forward to seeing his smile and warm good morning. We know it is a good morning because we have another day together. I want to say that the stress of having a young family made getting along difficult in the early years. Then I remembered that we traded that stress for the stress of aging bodies and chronic illness and a fixed income. We seemed to find more compassion and understanding along the way. Maybe we recognize how precarious life can be. Maybe we fear that we don’t have much time left with each other. After all we only have 32 more years together if we are to celebrate our 80th anniversary – like the Betars.