A quarter century ago today, we stood in the living room of a Presbyterian ministerâ€™s home in Alton, Illinois, and exchanged wedding vows in a small, private ceremony witnessed by the ministerâ€™s wife, his two children and two pets.
Later at dinner with the minister and his wife, I asked casually: â€œIâ€™ve been out of the marriage game for a while but when did you drop the part of the ceremony that said â€˜I now pronounce you man and wife?â€™â€
â€œMy God,â€ he said. â€œGive me your hands.â€ We reached across the table at the restaurant in West St. Louis County and he finished the ceremony by saying â€œwith the power vested in my by the State of Illinois, I now pronounce you man and wife.â€ The waiter picked that time to arrive with our entrees. He stood there with four plates, looked puzzled, and finally asked â€œis this anything like being married by the captain of a ship?â€
A fitting start to a marriage few expected to last. Two gun-shy refugees from failed first marriages, we approached this second union with reservations. Friends started a pool on how long we would stay together. The longest guess was a year.
They say life is a stage and we met, literally, on one â€“ me, a newspaperman known for his acerbic columns, asked to play the villian in a summer charity melodrama and you, the professional actress imported from St. Louis to appear as the heroine and star. Two people unlikely to end up in love. Friends would later joke that for the first in the history of melodramas the villain got the heroine.
You resisted my advances at first. You would later tell me that you had heard too many bad things about a womanizer whose idea of a long-term relationship was a three-day weekend. Finally, I talked you into drinks after rehearsal at my favorite bar. You blamed a concoction called a White Russian for the acrobatics we later attempted in the cramped front seats of my TR-6. We finally admitted defeat to the laws of physics and consummated the evening at my house. Afterwards you would say it was the view of the Mississippi River from my circa 1835 townhouse, not my charm, that seduced you.
We gave up that home not long after the marriage and moved East to Washington for what was supposed to be a short sabbatical. Two years in Washington and back to the real world. That was the plan. Only this year, nearly 24 years later, did we finally give up our home in the Washington suburb of Arlington and move to our new home in Floyd County, Virginia. As I write this, I look out the window into the darkness of the woods that surround our home now and realize we won’t miss the concrete jungle. Nor do we need it as long as we have each other.
Not easy to condense 25 years into a few paragraphs. So many good memories. So many adventures. So much to laugh about. We reconfirmed our love on beaches and in foreign lands. We led the life of a so-called â€œpower coupleâ€ in Washington, complete with invitations to all the “right” parties, opportunistic friends, fancy cars, expensive clothes and all the other trappings that went with financial, if not emotional, success. Yet our life now, far from those halls of power and corruption, is much more fulfilling. I no longer live out of a suitcase, waiting for the call that will means heading for a exotic or dangerous locale. The complexity of life in the city has been replaced, thankfully, by the simplicity and tranquility of the country.
In a column, I once wrote about “Thompson’s theory of male-female relationships,” stating that “the reason that we, as men, are such assholes is because you, as women, let us get away with it.” But you did not let me get away with such transgressions, even when the road was not easy. You gave me the space to exorcise the demons of my past and deal with those of the present but you never let me use any as an excuse. Your forgave my transgressions more often than you should but I thank you for that and pray that it will not be necessary in the future.
A relationship that started over drinks at a local bar almost ended several times because of my fondness for all things alcoholic. And it would have ended had you not stayed, stood your ground and helped me take the first step to meet the beast face-to-face and realize, in time, that you, not a bottle, are the most important part of my life.
Yes, 25 years. Good years. Bad years. Smooth years. Rough years. Memorable years. Forgettable years. Years that surpassed the doubters, confounded the skeptics and, the end, surprised even us.
Happy anniversary my love. It has been worth every exhilarating, maddening, happy, sad and challenging moment.