One unusually sunny Eureka day in 1968, my dad, who worked for the Pacific Telephone Company, went to install a new phone at my mom’s apartment. He arrived to find her enjoying the sun in her backyard – in a very tiny swimsuit. He was so taken with her that he pretended to be missing a piece of equipment so that he could go back to see her the next day.
Three months later they were married.
Forty years after that they still leave each other love notes on the bathroom mirror.
You would think with role models like that, I would be great at relationships, and I am. I’m great at jumping into them without thought; I’m great at completely screwing them up, and I’m really great at getting out of them in ridiculous melodramatic ways. Somehow I didn’t acquire the same skills that seemed to come naturally to them.
A few weeks ago I was sitting at the dining table at their house. My mom and I were sharing fudge and conversation, both of which are treats during the madness of the holidays. She was telling me about how Dad wanted to take her on a vacation for their anniversary. Having only been married a few months, it seemed like the perfect time to ask her the question I’d wanted to for a long time.
“Mom. I really need to know. What’s the secret to staying married for forty years?”
She barely paused. “Oh honey, just be kind to each other.”
Could it really be that simple? I thought about that for a minute, and I thought about the way that I’d always seen my mom and dad relate to each other. Things had not always been perfect. There were bounced checks, fender benders, rebellious children and all sorts of other typical things that make two people snap at each other once in awhile. I’m sure there were other things too – more serious things that my brother and I may have never known about. But I can count on one hand the number of times I heard either of them speak harshly to the other.
When my dad grumbles because he can’t find something, is certain my mom has hidden it from him and has to go on a “god damned treasure hunt” to find it, my mom sweetly smiles and helps him look for it.
When my mom is upset because my grandmother has said something thoughtless and cruel to her for the umpteenth time, my dad holds her hand and tells her that everything will be alright. And he goes to fill Grandma’s woodbox and fix her television regardless.
They kiss each other every time one of them leaves the house, even if it’s just to run to the store, and while talking to one another on the phone, I’ve never heard either one hang up without saying “I love you.”
After thinking about that, I realized that my mom had summed up the philosophy of their entire marriage in one sentence. Just be kind to each other.
I guess sometimes the most difficult questions are solved with the simplest answers. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.