Nothing but everything…

I am the daughter of a great romance.”  This is a line I have often used to describe how I see my parents’ marriage, but the words aren’t mine, it’s a song lyric by Dar Williams, and it’s the truth.  It’s really how I see myself as their adult child and deeply appreciate the love I see my parents have, and have always had, for each other.  My dad recently said to me that they didn’t have stars in their eyes, they knew it was part business, part romance, the plan that is, their plan in the spring of 1966, to make a life together.  Tomorrow, 6/11 is the 50th anniversary of the day they were married…In a little church, in a little beach town, on a little island, with very few people in attendance, and a little diamond on my mother’s finger, and a little bit of money saved for their future…it was all very small but they created something so big…

The way that my Dad sometimes looks at my Mom is both devastating and divine; Divine in that I get to bask in the glory of a real life love story, and devastating in that I acknowledge, every single time he says, “she’s the best wife I ever had” that no man has ever treated me the way my father treats my mother, and it’s likely no one ever will.  It sometimes makes my heart hurt.  My chance to share my life, someone to grow up  and grow old with, with a partner for a lifetime, has passed me by.  When I dwell on that I feel crushed, but when I think about how lucky I am that I got to have THAT for parents, well, I feel blessed beyond measure.  Despite my own failures at love, marriage, relationships, family, partnering, coupling, merging, combining, I got to be a part of something wonderful, and that they are still in love and still creating a life together, is really something special.  They were friends for several years but only dated for several weeks before their wedding.  That they knew in their early twenties what mattered to them, and how to make it happen, still boggles my mind, as an unmarried woman at 48 who has yet to figure out either…

They started out with nothing, but together turned it into everything.  They each had a car and they each had a job and my dad had $100 saved.  They drove to Williamsburg for their honeymoon and told me the other day that the motel cost $6 a night.  My mom, ever the organized, found her ledger from the first year they were married and texted me the other night that their entire honeymoon cost less than $133.  Geez, I thought, I’ve spent more than that at the liquor store when I’ve stocked up for a dinner party…and from THAT they have come to THIS…comfortable in their retirement, their smart choices with living well but never beyond their means, never having debt, never wasting money on interest or fees, budgeting monthly so they always could pay cash for their cars and always had money for unexpected expenses…they did, and do all those things Suze Orman would be impressed by and which financial planners applaud and encourage, and so many of us, myself included, fail to master.  Every time my mom tried to help me organize a household budget and sort out my finances, or untangle a mess I got myself into with bills, she always sadly said, ‘it takes two,‘ two people to be partners in life and love,  and I know she must be right, as I’ve always been a one…

Two people could not be better suited for one another than my parents, who like the same music and have the same ideals and beliefs and philosophies on most everything.  While my mom prefers a Reese’s peanut butter cup and my dad prefers a Mounds bar, their likes and dislikes and habits and ways of doing things are otherwise very similar.  Two non-foodies, non-imbibers, dinner party decliners…the list of things they don’t do is really long, but you know what they do do?  They work together for hours in their yard and take walks at night around their property and look at what they have and what they have created, and then they rock together in a teak glider and look at planes as the moon comes up.  Some might see it as a boring life or too simple, with not enough “action” but I see it as comfort and joy.   Two people who are comfortable together and with their choices and joyful in the results of their planning and hard work and commitment.  It is near impossible to compare any relationship to another, but my parents’ relationship in particular is so unique, to compare it to anybody’s is out of the question.  I barely understand how it works so well but I am part of their family and their plan and have seen it with my own eyes for my whole life, two people really in love and really perfect for each other.  Truly a match made in heaven if ever there was one.

My mother met my father when she was 15, on the island where she grew up (and her family had been since 1863) and where my dad’s parents had a summer-house.  My dad started working as a carpenter on that barrier island after the great storm of 1962, and got engaged that year to a different local girl, and this by the way is one of the most oft told  stories my mother shared during my childhood when I would ask about how they met…but he broke up with this girl and broke off their engagement when she took the $100 he gave her ‘to start their life together,’ and bought a guitar.  My mother, practical as ever, who still has the stainless cookware she got when she got married, always liked to tell us that story, and always added vocal emphasis to the “and she used that money to buy a guitar!”  I think she liked to remind my sister and me that she was a better match and catch for my dad, pretty AND practical!  He got drafted into the Army when my mom was a senior in high school and later in the winter of 1966 after his military service was over, and he had traveled all over Europe and thankfully for them both, did not end up in Vietnam, he came back to the little island he loved and rented an apartment on the block next to where my mother still lived with her parents.  He was on 11th Street and my mother was on 12th Street and they went on their first “real” date in April of 1966 and got married 8 weeks later.  AND ARE STILL MARRIED, and STILL LOVE EACH OTHER, and I get to have them as my parents!

I can honestly count on one hand the number of times I have heard my father raise his voice.  My father is the epitome of cool, calm, and collected.  I tend to hold things in until they are so bottled up and suppressed that I burst like a shaken can of soda, this, I do believe, I get from my mother.  I like balance but am also very emotional and I sure get my two halves from both of my parents.  I have known many people  who had, and still have, very bad “feelings” or ideas about marriage because the example they grew up around was dreadful.  Their perspective of what it means to be married, or part of a couple, and truly committed was terrible because of their parents.   I’ve known women who had fathers who were drunks, or perpetually unemployed or underemployed, who were not providers and on whom nobody could depend, or crass belligerent oafs, and who simply have had a lifetime of bad ideas on men.  I’ve known men who had mothers who were lazy, needy, and couldn’t cook or didn’t like to clean or were very un-motherly and un-affectionate.   I’ve known a number of people who shared stories of falling to sleep at night, quietly crying, hearing their parents fighting in the kitchen…I never heard any of  these people talk longingly or lovingly about finding a mate, a spouse, a partner with whom they could share a home, a future, and a life…It seems to me when you have parents who care deeply about each other, and have great respect for one another, treat each other with kindness and compassion, you can’t help but to long for love, for better or for worse, or happily ever after, and til death do us part…it’s all I knew…

My parents’ marriage, and frankly the life they have created together, is enviable.  Something I always believed in, saw as good and worthy, and yet always beyond my reach.  For some reason, confusing and positively baffling to my parents, I have been unable in my life to ever find that kind of true balance in a relationship…an extra crunchy Jif to one’s Welch’s concord grape for example…my parents really seem to be perfect for each other in every way…and if they are not? if it has all been a trick? well they have created an illusion, a most believable ruse, that they are.  If my father does not truly and deeply love and appreciate my mother, and if she does not truly and deeply love and appreciate him, well it’s the biggest bamboozle of my life!!! Sometimes it’s embarrassing, to be their grown daughter, still in such a state of flux, still single, and never successfully creating, not even coming close to, what they were able to do together…like the great line from Nora Ephron, “I’ll have what she’s having”  is how I have often thought of my mother’s life with my father.   We are very different, me and my parents, different in far more ways than we are alike, but, where we are similar is I guess where it matters, I guess really it’s all that matters…we put aside our differences all the time because of love, and I see now that they must have always done this with each other.  Love always wins.  They are good people, my mom and dad, and that strong moral compass that guides me is surely one of the best gifts they ever bestowed to me.   They deserve this happiness, this peace in life…  They expected nothing and yet created everything…

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