Twenty years ago, I painstakingly cross-stitched my parents a letter for their 25th wedding anniversary. The fact that thing continues to hang in their kitchen is a testament to their love and commitment to their children. What in the world did I know about marriage as a single twenty-year-old college kid? Ummmm…nothing. Not to mention I selected rose and navy as the colors for the cross stitch and that feels horribly wrong now.
Mom and Dad, you are released from having to display it. I promise, there will be no hurt feelings.
(Also, how COOL was I to be cross-stitching as a single, twenty-year-old college student?)
Tomorrow, my parents celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. I have been working on what I wanted to say to them for weeks. It really shouldn’t be this hard to figure out how to congratulate two people for their 45-year commitment. Especially since they are two of my favorite people.
I think I struggle because what I know about their marriage is very little. So much of a marriage is in the intimacy two people share. We, as the children, can stand witness to how they treated one another, how they treated us, and how we functioned as a family, but to speak truthfully about their marriage? About their struggles and victories and compromises? That feels just beyond my grasp.
What I do know is they have loved each other sacrificially, faithfully, even when maybe they’d rather not. I know they created a home that was loving and strong and safe. They served God, each other, their children, their family, friends, co-workers, church members and neighbors well.
Mom and Dad were hands-on parents, both doing baths and bedtime stories and goodnight tuck-ins. They chaperoned field trips, paid for youth camps waving from the parking lot until they couldn’t see the bus anymore, and bought me another pair of Guess jeans after Mamaw DRIED them.
And they are responsible for some of my biggest belly laughs. Because they have always been their own comedy routine.
Dad teased us mercilessly but in that way that makes you feel loved and special and adored. But the battle of wills between the two of them? That’s not teasing at all. It’s straight cover-your-mouth-and-giggle hilarious.
Mom has been trying to train Dad to close the kitchen cabinets after opening them for 45 years. Dad is a great cook and these days, the lazy days of retirement, he does most of the cooking.
Mom does the cleaning. It’s a passion for her. Maybe that’s a Southern thing. Regardless, she values cleanliness and order and hospital corners on the bed sheets.
Mom says she fell for Dad because he was kind, she knew he would be a good provider, and he kept a clean car. It was only after she married him that she learned his car was clean because Mamaw would tidy it up before his dates.
And for a woman who currently has her Clorox toilet wand sitting on top of a silver platter in her bathroom, realizing her new husband was not at all tidy was a blow.
She has admitted defeat on that front.
But 45 years in, she is still trying to get Dad to close the kitchen cabinets after he opens them.
45 years, y’all.
Dad continues to resist being trained.
He will not be moved. I mean, why close a cabinet door if you might have to open it again relatively soon?
And to me, that battle is the perfect representation of their marriage as I witnessed it.
Fiercely committed to each other. Doggedly committed to their individuality.
For his part, Dad chose to let my mom be herself. He encouraged her to go back to school to get her bachelor’s degree, supported her through her master’s degree, and cheered her on during her National Board Certification. He never allowed himself to compete with us for her attention. We won. He celebrated that. From what I saw, he rarely got in her way at all. Unless it was with one of those darn kitchen cabinet doors.
My mom is a true steel magnolia.
Through all those years of attending school and teaching school, caring for Dad and encouraging us, loving family as they left this earth and preparing us to leave her nest, Mom was at every dance performance, every basketball game, and sitting at the kitchen table (IN THE DARK) (NOT FREAKY AT ALL) waiting on teenagers to return home.
Marriage is not easy. But my parents have made it to their 45th anniversary because they lean on each other while allowing one another the space to be themselves. They grew and changed together and grew and changed individually.
Or, as in the case of the kitchen cabinets, they stood their ground like the two strong-willed individual human beings they are.
And I am eternally grateful for that example they set for us.
Love you, Mom and Dad.