Tuesday, June 14, 2011

good flying weather, part II

when my mother talked about her wedding day, she would say this: we were married on Flag Day. and that made it easy for me to remember. one of my favorite things to do as a child was to open the secretary drawer in the living room and pull out their wedding album, scouring the pictures for glimpses of the parents i knew. my favorite photo has always been the one when they are leaving the church (i wish i could show you that here) — arm in arm, my mother in her ballet-length crinoline — arm in arm with the skinny boy who would be my dad — looking a little stiff and more than a bit pale in his white dinner jacket. (the next day, he graduated from medical school and moved further away from his family with a girl he'd met only six months before.)

but my mother is smiling a hollywood smile as she steps off the porch of the church that one day i would attend. beaming, she is, a real beauty like she has never been happier in her life. i suspect she knew just what she was ahead.

today is flag day. of course that we wave the flag to honor all who have served under it — including my father, who joined the navy a year after that wedding and would deposit his wife (and new son) with my grandparents before he set sail around the world as the 'doc' on a destroyer. for us, it also means that on flag day, my brother and sister and i get to celebrate the fact that because a skinny boy from gates county, n.c., and a city girl from florida with good-looking legs, happened to meet each other at a dance, we got to be.

their union has lasted for 59 years today. (though i haven't yet called them, i suspect neither has walked out the door.) next year we are planning a throwdown with the FAM, but as they pass yet another year betrothed, i just want to fly that flag a little higher, wave it a little more crazily because i mean 59 years? with one person and nary an argument? twice as many years (and then some) than they ever were apart. i haven't even lived that long but i know it's not such an easy thing to do now is it? just sayin'.

when they'd been married for 50 years, i wrote about them. "they've been through what i've come to understand as several marriages," i wrote, "albeit to the same spouse. the newlywed year, when they were alone and getting to know each other. The next a year later when my father joined the navy. the third one came when they finally settled in a town where they didn't know a soul and made a life together. the last one, crowded with church and children and grandchildren," and now great-grands, "began when my father retired. It may be the best yet."  now that my own children are grown, i realize they actually had another marriage, then one when i moved out of the house and got married myself, forcing them to get to know each other for the first time since way back when they were turning 25. they built a beach house that year — my father's dream — and maybe yet another marriage began when they reluctantly sold it.

throughout every stage, they have been an example for many, including my daughter, who wrote about them last year here.

vance and bj are not storytellers, as i said when i wrote about them in 2002 — never outwardly shared their secret to a happy marriage with us. "they've simply lived it, hoping we would learn by watching."

i guess we did learn a thing or two. my brother and his wife have been married 33 years, my sister and her husband 32, and my husband and i will mark our own three decades together this year.

"what makes marriage last, after the kids are grown, the parents gone, the paying work behind you?" i asked nine years ago. i wish i knew. i only know it's not nearly as easy as the couple who married at 24 on Flag Day have made it seem.

their days now are filled with doctors appointments, with worry about the health of neighbors, about grandchildren with new jobs and new babies, and i imagine, about how many more years they have to together.

their favorite days are spent when all or some of the FAM can be together — like this past saturday, when they got to meet our newest member. my own grandparents met every single one of their great-grands, so since i don't have a grand yet, i'm expecting them to stick around for a good long while.

what joy it must have been to them, to look into little LG's beautiful blue eyes and know that because of them, she got to be, too.  and that the grand ol' flag first unfurled 59 years ago today has some good flying weather left in it yet.