We visited Mission Point Peninsula going north from Traverse City (the pinky part of the Michigan mitten) a few weeks ago. One of the stops we made was to walk around the lighthouse that used to guide ships to either the east or west forks of Grand Traverse Bay. As we were getting in the car to leave I noticed these sandals that some child took off but didn’t pick up when s/he got in the car. Someone had hung them on the tree sapling, a flag signaling to the parents who may return to the scene of the crime. A silent giggle worked its way up from my tummy and I took a photo. In post processing I decided to use an aged photo color filter that had a warm tone, reflecting the warm feeling this scene elicited of memories past. No wonder I sometimes have a hard time remembering a word I need to express myself, my brain is filled to overflowing with the memories that are woven together to make my life story.
We cleaned the deck today, scrubbing off an accumulation of dirt and green stuff growing where the sun doesn’t reach, rinsing away dropped bird seed and bird droppings. At first we scrubbed side by side, feeling clumsy and awkward as we almost seemed to be working against each other, no pattern or plan. About the time that I felt tired and thought I would have probably stopped if Jim wasn’t working with me, we seemed to settle into assigned tasks without saying a word. He continued on the rails as I scrubbed the floor. We worked, usually in silence, until it was almost completed – when we could look around and tell each other how good it looked. Our aging bodies had grown tired, pain building in my hips and back, and one of us said s/he was going in to rest for a while and the other followed. I am thankful that fifty-some years of marriage has resulted in a dance that allows us to glide through our life tasks with a functional grace.
I feel late summer in the air, and this week we have a delightful break from what could be the dog-days-heat of late summer. The daytime highs have been in the low seventies with a cool northern breeze and nights in the 50’s. Some of the annuals in the pots on the back deck are getting leggy or died from either too much rain or too much heat. Many of the perennials in the front garden are finishing up their blooming so I need to spend some time each day deadheading to keep things looking tidy so the fall blooming plants can strut their stuff to full effect. The front beds are pretty big and I’ve been wondering how much longer I will be able to tend to them. The beds are now planted mainly with perennials with a few bushes and shrubs for winter interest. I think I may start gradually changing the balance so there are more evergreens and flowering shrubs, with perennials as accents. But not this year because I added several new perennials and have some mail-ordered iris coming sometime this month. My aging strategy tends to be a combination of staying engaged to the extent my body will allow while planning for how I can make life simpler for when I have to give some things up.
We went to breakfast this morning at our favorite breakfast place in Michigan. There were a lot of cars in the parking lot, but when we went in we saw that the back end, around the corner, was empty so we sat in the booth in the far corner. We do this so we can talk and Jim can hear without his hearing aids picking up all the ambient noise of a voices. We are learning the hearing-aid friendly places to go for this-and-that conversation over breakfast, lunch and dinner – but that is another post.
Yesterday was our 55th anniversary and as usual we forgot about it until we received an e-mail from our financial adviser wishing us a happy day. It used to be a card from my mother that reminded us of the occasion. Yesterday we made quick plans to go out for supper, mainly because I hadn’t thought about what to fix for supper. You can tell that we don’t take this day really seriously, probably because we remember on most days how much we appreciate our time together, which makes a special celebration feel redundant and unnecessary.
This morning Jim said “Happy Anniversary” to me after we had each fixed our coffee with one sweetener and two creamers. I looked into his eyes and smiled. I told him how he was a perfect husband for me and that I believe each of us is a better person because of the other. We have been a part of each other’s lives for 60 years, through some very difficult years, many years when we were too preoccupied with the work of maintaining a household and raising a family to assess whether they were good or bad, and lots of times throughout that were full of joy and happiness. During this time we talked and laughed, talked and cried, talked and screamed, talked and went silent. During this time we impacted each other’s thoughts and emotions. We changed how we behaved and what we believed in. We became more of the person each of us was meant to be and also more tolerant. As we developed our own personalities over the years, we also became more compatible.
Last week I was thinking, with an internal giggle, why I had married an old man – the old man that I wake up to each morning and then say “I love you” to every night as we squirm around trying to find a comfortable position that allows sleep to take us in. I enjoyed this question over several days and thought about the wonder of growing old together, but didn’t know how it would be received by Jim. So one afternoon as we met in the middle of the kitchen with a cheerful hug that was almost sensual, I asked him why he married such an old woman. He laughed heartily and didn’t lose a beat by replying, “Ah, but I see a resemblance to a woman that I thought was really hot in a long ago time.”
We frequently laugh with our friends, Lynn and Gary, because every time they talk about somewhere they went or something they did, they disagree about details. We laugh that they went on different vacations together. Maybe we laugh because Jim and I see ourselves in the mirror they are holding up.
We have always been very close, enjoying doing things together. Someone in our past complained that we were too close, we spent too much time together. Fifty-nine years doesn’t feel like too much togetherness because now we fear that we don’t have enough years left. Its not that we have big goals like starting a new family or building new careers. No, we just hope we have a few more years for camping in the Upper Peninsula, working in the flower beds on warm Spring days, eating eggs and pecan pancakes at the counter at Blueberries, and running over to the grocery for some milk and carrots. We want more time for laughing with family and friends, or talking, just the two of us.
I’ve noticed that our conversations, as we are doing and going, are lit by little jolts of memory, flashbacks to earlier experiences. Flashbacks of things our children said or did, vacations we took, people we knew during all those growing-up-together years, things we both remember, usually. What differs are the details. He remembers my father telling about Grandpa building his house and I remember being in my parent’s kitchen. He remembers changing the flat tire on the trailer and I remember fixing peanut butter sandwiches and grapes for the kids to eat while sitting on the grass along the side of the road. Maybe when the pieces of our differing memories are put together, they create an accurate picture. Maybe they make up an interesting fairy tale.
Who cares. What I treasure is the joy I experience as new days together with Jim and new observations we share with each other are enriched by the intertwining of memories of the different lives we lived together.
We heard them arrive the night before, well after dark when backing into an unfamiliar and dark campsite is always difficult. I heard the patches of conversation waif under our open window, like a summer breeze that may develop into a storm. It brought a smile as I remembered the hundreds of times I would have to take a deep breath and do a walk about in a tight circle to cool myself. I was curious about what our new neighbors looked like, what kind of lodging they brought with them; as if these two pieces of data would tell me their whole story.
I was sitting at the table by the window the next morning, with laptop open, mostly minding my own business or maybe engrossed in the photos of the previous day. They were getting their breakfast supplies, moving in and out of the door of their one-room bedroom/kitchen, just a few feet away. I heard words about the size of bowls and amount of cereal and sharing blueberries, a male voice with an edge but not escalating. I didn’t hear the female voice even though they seemed to be having a conversation. Then they sat down, eating their cereal, talking quietly.
Have they been married a very long time, or are they newly-weds on their first trip together? I’m not sure I would want to start a new relationship traveling in close quarters – we appreciate the fact that we have 50+ years of working together and knowing how to create some friendly distance while spending up to 5 weeks in something less than 150 square feet. We know how to schedule our individual morning routines around the other’s routine in spaces that the law of physics states can’t be occupied by both. We aren’t quite so good at negotiating nocturnal difference. I like quiet time writing or reading or working puzzles – alone time at the dinette. He likes quiet time in bed with lights off and eyes shut, asleep with me next to him. But most important, we have learned how to laugh about how my hand signals point him in two different directions as he is backing up. And we have decided to pay a little more to have pull-through sites.
While I cooked oatmeal I wondered if they are happy, do they trust each other to be there when the going gets bumpy, do they work equally hard to meet each other’s needs. As I poured the coffee and JB pulled on his tee shirt I looked out the window and they were gone. JB washed up the dishes, and I sat looking at the empty picnic table, thinking about how wonderful marriage can be and how difficult it is making it work.
Sending you love today, the day after the contrived day designated for people in the US to tell their sweetheart that they love him/her. I think it drives men nuts – trying to figure out how to tell their significant other that they are loved. This is especially true when television ads are telling them to buy expensive jewelry, chocolates, and even a car as an expression of their love. Other sources indicate a meal at an expensive restaurant is the perfect way to say “I love you.” When we went to the Publix grocery last week he looked at the roses that had been marked $5 more than the week before but advertised as being on sale. He walked on because it rubbed his sense of fair play the wrong way.
Of course there are the romantic fellows who love to spend money on their sweetie. I suspect that behind every romantic fellow who is spending big bucks is a woman worrying how to pay next month’s credit card payment. JB, after 51 years of blissful marriage, still spends time fretting about what to get me and I am still telling him that I really don’t need or want anything so he shouldn’t spend the money. He understands this because he is more frugal than I am. But there is still that nagging message that boys should buy their girlfriend candy in a red, heart-shaped box. He did that when we were teens and dating – and with his very meager income it was a hardship that said “I love you.” I ate it up. The sentiment and the candy. I saved the box to hold mementos of our dates, like movie stubs and dance cards with no names listed because I danced every dance with him.
I don’t need the chocolate now because of weight issues (always) and would only be delighted if the chocolate came with a hefty price. My taste in chocolate has been refined with age. If he paid that much for the chocolate I would feel bound to eat it all, right? You can see how complicated all this romance can get.
Being the practical type I think we should just cut out the romantic crap that costs a lot of money and focus on what really matters. What matters is that we greet each other with a warm smile each morning and say that we love each other before we go to sleep each night. What matters is that we don’t do things that require us to tell lies and destroy trust, that we forgive each other when we get stressed and snarky. If every day is treated like Valentine Day, going to the grocery together is a romantic date and eating a grilled cheese sandwich super in front of the TV is as sweet as a candle light meal in a restaurant with white linen table coverings and napkins.
JB and I both need to hear that we love each other, but large sums of money don’t make the pronouncement more believable. What makes us so secure in our knowledge that we love each other is our consistent expressions of caring in everyday living. I’m thinking we need to show our love for each other tonight with a trip to the Dairy Queen for a mini Blizzard. I love the Snickers.