When I need love
I hold out my hands and I touch love
I never knew there was so much love
Keeping me warm night and day
Miles and miles of empty space in between us
The telephone can't take the place of your smile
But you know I won't be travelin' forever
It's cold out, but hold out, and do I like I do
When I need you
I just close my eyes and I'm with you
And all that I so wanna give you
It's only a heartbeat away
From “When I Need You” by Leo Sayer
It was a much simpler world 40 years ago, although at the time we didn’t think so. We were 21 and thought we had all the answers. We were wrong about a lot of stuff, but somehow, most of the time we managed to get the important things right. Just because a decision is the right one doesn’t make it easy to carry out, however.
It was a magical time and we lived in our own little kingdom, where we discussed great literature and classical music and shared our secret dreams. We made several different wedding plans, but finally decided we didn’t want to plan a big wedding and wait for over a year, we just wanted to be together. We lived an hour and half apart, and the distance was too far. (Insert the lyrics “When I Need You.”) Besides, the tolls for long distance phone calls still added up by the minute back then.
By today’s standards, our wedding might be considered kitschy and charming. In reality it was simple and cheap. There were 28 people in attendance, all of them relatives. We were married by our brother-in-law Gary, who not only had a hand in introducing us to each other, he was also the photographer. My sister Becky and her husband Jim stood up with us.
My dress wasn’t even a wedding gown. It cost $35. Sewn from unbleached muslin and what appeared to be some grandma’s lace tablecloth, it was a Jessica McClintock design for Gunne Sax. Gauntlet sleeves zipped from wrist to elbow, adding a Renaissance influence to the American prairie style that was sweeping like a wind over the wheat field of 70s couture. I still have the dress. It was brought out of retirement for a brief stint in the footlights as one of our oldest daughter’s costumes in a high school production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Insert lyrics from “Sunrise, Sunset.”) To complete my ensemble, I pinned a wreath of baby’s breath in my short hair, wore wooden sandals with a three-inch platform, and no bra. I cried all the way down the chapel aisle and through the entire ceremony. With pink eyes and blotchy cheeks, in the photos I look like I’d just been to a funeral. Tim just looked uncomfortable in his new tan suit.
And we were off.
We were broke, and only had seasonal jobs at that point, although Tim had earned a brand new Bachelor’s degree the week before. We borrowed my dad’s orange Catalina and drove to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky for a 3-day honeymoon. We hadn't been on the road for an hour when we saw a dog lying injured in the middle of I-75. It was Memorial Day weekend and traffic was heavy. It would have been a matter of seconds before she was killed. But Tim dashed to the middle of the two lanes, and with a speeding semi bearing down, scooped her up and ran back to the car. I ripped the protective plastic from my dress and spread it on the back seat for the dog to lie on, and we rushed to the nearest vet. He reported she would survive the head injury, so we paid him with the $100 Tim’s dad had given him the night before (we never told him what happened to that gift) and picked up “Honeymoon” on our way back.
We didn’t know it then, but that pretty much set the tone for our entire marriage. It’s been a circus parade of pets, livestock, wildlife, and kids. It's been an expedition that included a few brazen acts of bravery and spur of the moment decisions that actually worked. Our life together has consisted of well thought-out plans and golden opportunities punctuated with mistakes and bad choices that were followed by the long, drawn out consequences. We soared transcendent with joy through the births of our daughters, prayed for them, encouraged them through their challenges, and cheered at their successes, and continue to do so today. We’ve felt sheer terror, loss, and heartbreak, leaving us to cherish the blissful calm and order of the everyday. Most years have been good ones; a few have been burdened with pain, grief, and despair. Those years, at the close of December, infused with hope for the new, we were happy to turn the page on the old.
Each of us has been weak while the other was strong. We have hurled hurtful words at each other and then wished we could yank them back. We’ve also told each other many times over: “You can do it,” “I’m so sorry,” “I forgive you,” "I'm proud of you," and “It will be alright.” The words "love you" are heard often in our house. We share many interests, but allow each other the space to try new things. We can laugh at ourselves.
We can’t take all the credit, though. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, a lasting marriage doesn’t stand alone. It takes belief in a higher power. And, although we are a team, every team needs supportive coaches: parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, neighbors, and mentors who teach by example, guide, listen, advise (when asked), offer a strong shoulder, and even reminisce about family history. We hope that we are that for our daughters and their husbands, and eventually the other grandchildren who come along. We happily accept our present role for our two-year-old grandson is simply to provide physical comedy, silly games, stories, snacks, and bear hugs.
We attained independence, experience, growth, maturation, and dare I say wisdom, as we journeyed – sometimes dancing, sometimes stumbling – from one venture to the next. However, no matter how many decades span out behind us, new insights occur almost every day as marriage is a living thing. Our wedding was small and humble, but we have joyfully had three glorious marriage celebrations with our children. Some things never change; I cried at all of them, too. Our first house was tiny, and we have lived in many in between, and now we open our home for our growing family.
Just as one person cannot tell another how to live, the same goes for marriage. We can’t share our formula because we aren’t sure what it is, and each partnership is as individual as the two people who create it. All I know is that we are a better whole than we are halves.