Six ways to 65 years; Relationship Advice from a Platinum Couple

Grandparents' wedding picture

At my grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary party, my new fiancé, Mac gave an impromptu toast to the happy couple.  Fifteen years later, we never imagined we would once again be celebrating with Joe and Dot for their 65th anniversary.  Last month, we were lucky enough to do just that.

My grandparents are part of The Greatest Generation.

He, a World War II Navy veteran saw The Battle of Normandy in the Atlantic, Okinawa in the Pacific, and lost his parents and almost his own life in a tragic accident all before the age of twenty-one.  A devoted husband and well-meaning father with a strong work ethic who can fix anything, Joe greets life with a smile.  My grandfather is a youthful, spirited song and dance man, musician and opera lover who has serenaded and entertained generations of children.

She, a family and community matriarch who experienced divorce, fierce sibling rivalry, and an alcoholic, estranged father during her youth is a compassionate but no nonsense lady with strong opinions who keeps emotions close to the vest.  A church elder, domestic financier, caregiver, therapist, hostess, Frank Sinatra enthusiast and rabble rouser, Dot has raised, fed, housed, guided and knit elaborate sweaters for generations of children.

Joe and Dot are salt of the earth folk who grew up only a few miles from each other.  They met at work after the war, fell in love and married in four short months.  In their hometown, they raised three children in a modest, two-family house where they still live today.  Now in their late eighties, while the rest of us are busy reading up on which way to lean, they are quietly leaning on each other; much more now it seems than days long ago.

Grandparents 65th anniversary picture

And so with sixty-five years of couple hood under their belt, I asked my grandparents to share six pieces of relationship advice, one for each decade of marriage.  Here is what they had to say:

  1. Have your own friends, take time to socialize individually with them, and be supportive when your partner does as well.  Trust each other; jealousy is not love.
  1. Swallow your pride.  Even when you know you’re in the right; let your partner think he is the right one every now and again.
  1. Let the person who is committed to and better at saving money be in charge of the finances.  Then try and save as much as you can.
  1. Life is a bowl of cherries; some picks are sweet, others rotten.  Always try to keep a cool, level head when snacking.
  1. Sing to your child if you have one, especially as he awakes in the morning.  If singing isn’t for you, create a daily ritual; he will always remember it.  And when your child does something wrong, don’t always tell your partner.  Sometimes too many cooks in the kitchen complicate things.  Work it out one on one with your kid; he’ll remember that too.
  1. At the day’s end, take time to decompress and give your partner time to do the same.  Be thoughtful and aide the process; have a cocktail ready for her when she gets home from work.

6 ½.   Follow your heart, stand by your love, and keep promises to each other.  If you have second thoughts or believe you can’t keep your word, don’t get married.

As the eldest grandchild who lived with them until I was five and then again at twenty-two with countless visits in between and thereafter, I had a ringside seat to much of Joe and Dot’s relationship.  My take away from watching them?

Flirt, dance, sit outside, visit, celebrate, play cards, laugh, argue, reconcile.  Life is a fast and fleeting ride so keep the relationship as interesting as you collectively see fit and be sure to have a good time.

Couple hood is complicated work; everybody has their stuff and it’s not all moonlight and canoes.  But if you go by Joe and Dot, trust, compromise, balance, communication, support, love, honesty, commitment, cocktails and a song go a long way.

Gram and Pop dancing

The Hovel

cherry blossom tree pic

Here in the Northeast, the mourning doves are cooing again.  The sound reminds me of the spring I was pregnant with my first son.  That year, a couple built a nest in a cherry blossom tree outside the window of our soon to be nursery.  When we brought him home from the hospital, two eggs hatched from the nest.  The family took a liking to our Urb-Burb neighborhood and set up permanent residence.

Each season, after the first buds appeared my son, Bubbe and I would sit in his rocker, peer down onto the pink and red blossoms, and watch for the doves.  When the birds returned, much like my growing boy, they were a little bigger, bolder, and wiser.  Our rocker time evolved into a game of I Spy for him and a welcomed mother and son tradition for me.

This spring things are different.  One year ago our family said goodbye to the doves, that glorious tree, and our home of two decades; The Hovel.

The Hovel was originally my husband’s place.  Mac purchased the quaint, turn of the century Victorian style house in the late eighties using money his father had left him in his will.

For a dozen years, he rented out spare bedrooms to supplement mortgage payments to, as a friend described, “a parade of cretins.”  Rock stars, sparrow heads, and a couple of regular guys made up the crew.  Together they enjoyed poker games, Tyson fights, dates, beer, and general shenanigans.  It was good fraternity house fun.

Around the time Y2K threatened to destroy our technological way of life, domesticity disrupted The Hovel’s rhythm.  I moved in.  Newly engaged, moderately enthusiastic, and abundantly neurotic I immediately commenced The Hovel’s fumigation.

Curtains went up.  Neighbors took notice.  The family to our right, who had yet to acknowledge my husband, invited us to go for ice cream.  When I planted flowers in the front yard, the elderly lady across the street yelled, “It’s about time!”  And after single handedly de-jungling overgrowth that swallowed the side yard, the father to our left said, “Whatta ya know, you have nice property.”

My newly betrothed begrudgingly went along for the ride.  Mac eventually got over the domestication hype; but so did I.  As projects piled up, responsibilities ensued, and my husband’s stubborn connection to The Hovel became evident, my enthusiasm waned.  I wanted out.

Then Bubbe was born, followed a few years later by The Skootch.  Our children breathed life into The Hovel.  She started to feel more like home.

But as they grew, her quaintness became claustrophobic.  I felt burdened by the upgrades and upkeep.  I wanted out again.  Each time I suggested a move Mac repeated the mantra, “People live with less.  We know what we have.  It’s a good house.”  I cursed him and The Hovel.  He was gum stuck in a sneaker groove and I resented it.

Well into my seventh year of scraping, Mac finally caved when my tune changed from lack of space to lack of confidence in the schools.  We prepared the house and put her on the market.  Two weeks later I received a new lease on life; The Hovel sold.

The evening before we closed, I stopped by to finish cleaning.  Our home stood empty; a hollowed, lifeless shell.  I went up to the nursery, looked out the window and for the first time, cried at the thought of losing her.

Too sad, I avoided that Urb-Burb neighborhood until recently when I had to pick up a package that was accidentally delivered to The Hovel.  The new owner offered to give me a tour.

With the exception of a fresh coat of exterior paint, a stately historic house plaque, and some thoughtful, decorative touches the house was more or less the same.  My brain rewinded like a mixed tape of greatest hits.

There was the living room; home to cushion forts, flying sessions, and makeshift mini-golf holes.  The kitchen countertop where the boys took their first sponge baths and Bubbe sniffed spices, always tasting the cinnamon.  The familiar nicks in the floor cabinet that The Skootch emptied daily to make drum kits from pots and skillets.

We walked through the dining room that hosted two brises, several Seders, countless birthdays and our first Christmas tree, and across the pine wood floor where my little guy took his first bowlegged steps.

I peeked in the narrow, upstairs bathroom where the boys innocently called from the window to their friends below to let them know they were out of the bath and naked, stepped around the iron floor registers whose ducts no doubt still housed my big guy’s marble collection, and admired the dent in the attic carpet where his bed once stood.

Outside, I gazed at the corner of the driveway where Bubbe and The Skootch shot hoops with Mac and smiled at the garden hose that fed a cascading irrigation system that always seemed to run long after I told the boys to stop wasting water.

The owner and I said our goodbyes at my favorite place, the front porch, where Mac and I spent endless evenings just trying to figure it all out.

It was strange to be in a space that I knew intimately, looked similar, still felt a connection with but knew didn’t belong to me.

But it was okay.

It was okay to mourn the loss of my house.  The lack of the tangible did not erase the intangible.  I no longer have the setting, but I still have my stories.  Thankfully, those memories will live for as long as my brain allows.

Leaving The Hovel behind was not a sad occasion but a passing of the torch.  She will always be the first home Mac and I made; the place where our children spent their first night after coming home from the hospital, and the place where we loved, laughed, grew, built friendships, and became a family.

To the new owners; as you welcome your newest addition this spring, keep an eye out for those doves.  Embrace the blossoms.  Write your stories.  Cherish your memories.  Love The Hovel.

We know you’ll take good care of her.