Twenty-five years ago, I was playing tennis the morning of my marriage. I don’t normally whack myself in the forehead with my tennis racquet but that was what happened. Look carefully at my wedding pictures and you’ll see the little knot. My blushing bride Patrice couldn’t stop laughing and said, “Well that was a dumb thing to do!”
Twenty five years ago–and it just happened–that tennis game, wedding, birth of two kids, two houses, eight cats, four barbecue grills and 4,000 students just happened,
Somehow our marriage keeps moving along at light speed–after just a quick two week period of dating and six month engagement. We’d eaten lunch together for the first two months of the school year in the teacher’s lounge but it started in the school parking lot as we left a faculty meeting.
Patrice: “So what are you doing tonight?”
Kevin: “Um. I was thinking about asking you out.”
We were engaged and enrolled in the Catholic church’s pre-cana classes–a driver’s ed for marriage. The three couples who coached us were knowledgeable, but nobody had been married over five years (at least in their current marriage). We always wished there was a better range of experience–perhaps newlyweds, quarter and half century pairs.
So, here’s what we’d have to offer since July 4th 1992…
1. If your spouse seems like a jerk, you’re probably hungry.
We learned early on in our marriage—on our camping honeymoon actually—that waking up in the rain and folding up a tent with mosquitos surrounding us, getting into a car and entering into a traffic snarl was a recipe for a quick argument, particularly if we hadn’t eaten beforehand. Three days into the trip Patrice noticed a pattern, that her new husband was quite the jerk around 1 pm each day. Then after a late lunch he magically transformed back into the confused guy in the passenger seat trying to read a map.
We have since kept within easy reach pretzels, ice cream and, when not driving, beer and wine.
2. Man-caves and Porches – Creating safe-zones
Something about the cool, dark basement (with a football game) and an organized garage with tools handy in case the sudden urge to build a birdhouse might strike oddly appeals to me. For Patrice and a realtor we know, the two spaces are not at the top of any priority list. “Kitchens, ceilings and floors” are what matter for selling a house, we’ve been told. For our home’s bookkeeper Patrice, an organized office and a dishes-free sink are important for peace-of-mind.
When our 1929 concrete porch was finally ready to collapse, instead of spending the same money on a first floor bathroom we instead installed a covered porch with a ceiling fan and speakers—a comfy spot for reading and visiting with close friends. Granted, the extra bathroom might eventually sell the house faster, but these past ten years of memories on that porch are somehow worth it.
3. Don’t make too big a deal about gifts.
Perhaps the best stroke of luck for a sorry husband who barely remembers his own kids’ birthdays—and one is a national holiday—was marrying someone who doesn’t think that much of presents or special holidays. Our first Sweetest Day was a beautiful October installing a new beeswax seal for our toilet, a grisly view of life’s reality if you’ve ever needed one.
Random acts of flowers are always welcome, but Patrice’s distaste for the Valentine’s Day markup works well with her cheapskate husband’s contrary nature to Hallmark. Patrice’s favorite greeting card shows a yawning wife listening to her husband compare her to a summer’s day, etc. but screaming “Take me now!” when she discovered he did the laundry and gave the kids a bath.
4. Bagging lunches – Realizing that most financial issues can be figured out
When we were first married and were discussing buying a small house, it was hard to see how we could get a down-payment together with our student loans and teacher salaries. But we also realized while cafeteria lunches were only $5 it still would save us $200 per month. We also skipped the theatre and watched a few more library VHS tapes and before long we had some money saved.
This same hunkering-down when we’ve needed to has worked pretty well—granted we didn’t invest in Facebook or Dominos when it was $2 per share, but we’re both pretty good at scrounging odd-jobs. Besides, there’s the promise of riches stored in the garage and basement in my 1976 beer cans, Mad Magazine or 1981 mint TV Guide collections ready in the bullpen if disaster should truly strike.
5. “Your turn!”—knowing when to hand off the kid to the other spouse.
Those small steamy bathrooms with two toddlers splashing and screaming creates the perfect claustrophobia to send Patrice out the window. Perhaps the same cave-dwelling side of me doesn’t mind that chaos and thus took care of baths from those early years, until the kids could take their own half-hour showers. On the other hand, the notion of taking the kids to Target anywhere in the danger hours between 9 am and 9 pm fills me with dread—particularly if I’m trapped in the middle of a long checkout line with small hands reaching for the rows of candy, nail clippers and copies of the National Enquirer. So I agree to stay home and mow the lawn when given the opportunity to go shopping.
We also learned quickly to pass the parental baton when the lovely child turned into a gargoyle and the other parent was resembling the jerk from the honeymoon camping days. “Why don’t you go read a book or take a drive?” was code for “You may be more trouble than the eight year-old if you stick around much longer,” which leads naturally to…
6. Knowing one’s blind spots.
I can’t navigate. Just a few weeks ago on a trip to New York for our anniversary, Patrice got a coveted ticket for “Dear Evan Hanson” from the cancelation line and was emerging from a huge crowd looking for me. I texted “Make a quick left when you get out. I’m down about a half-block.” Ten minutes later, Patrice called me and said, “I’m already at the Marriott. Did you mean ‘make a quick right.’
“Oh. Yeah.” You see, it was a left when I was staring at the entrance to the theatre, after all. I’ve been known to circle the gas pump to find an open spot, thus shuffling my bearings so that when I re-enter traffic I’m heading the wrong way and wonder why “Welcome to Ohio” appears roadside.
Our same honeymoon trip led to similar “scenic routes” and head-shaking from my new bride. In a spiteful moment I shot back, “Well, some of us can’t draw!”
7. Laughing at nearly everything
As life moves along and you find your marriage outlasting presidencies, professional baseball players’ careers and several coats of paint in your living room, those spousal idiosyncrasies that migrate from endearing to irritating over the course of a marriage stay more and more on the humorous side of the meter.
My trail of used socks throughout the house and Patrice’s vacuum left unattended in the living room floor for a couple days are now punchlines we fondly remember. Our friends’ six year-old son Jack was visiting and correctly identified a little-used mop when Patrice was getting ready to clean the floor—an object rarely seen by our daughter Abby who began the anecdote with, “Mommy, what’s that thing?”
Recently, we were taking the dog out the front door for a walk when something looked different on the front porch. We then noticed the coffee table was missing then remembered that that morning the Vietnam Vets had come by for a pickup of bags of clothing and miscellaneous items for donation—along with our coffee table. Newly married Kevin and Patrice might have been angry and got on the phone immediately. Instead, we started laughing and couldn’t stop until we’d reached the corner. By then, Patrice had posted to Facebook a photo of the lonely loveseat with a quick recount—and we’d received fifteen LOLs by the time we’d made it round the block.
My dad’s family plot in a nearby cemetery goes back four generations and I can fondly remember jokes and funny stories from 9 of the 11 current occupants—but I think I only know about the careers of 3 of them.
8. Truly appreciating the network of family and friends
We’ve been fortunate to marry into families that like to laugh, play games and generally be there for one another. Patrice’s seven siblings have all lived within an hour of us for most of our marriage. My mom and Pat live two miles away and my sisters, while living out of town, are such a regular part of our lives we see them more frequently than some neighbors who moved just a half-mile down the road.
When Aidan’s 10th birthday was upon us and he’d not clearly stated what he wanted to do for a party, we let it slide—until the morning of the Fourth when he was very upset that no one was coming over. Patrice got on the horn and with such a large, handy cache of family nearby we had an instant party in the yard.
We’re blessed to be in a neighborhood that is equally supportive and chips in on little or no notice—whether it’s to help store food during a blackout, borrow lawn chairs, babysit or get a drive to the airport. Patrice’s neighborhood book club has been rolling along for well over a decade—sometimes even including discussions of books, but mostly as supportive and friendly as five or six of us dads meeting to watch the opening round of the NCCA tournament or to see the Lions lose.
9. Taking a step back and seeing the long-view.
At the risk of visiting the cemetery too often in this piece, it’s hard not to remember that the love and laughter created by a loving couple is truly the greatest gift and legacy that can be passed from one generation to the next. My great-grandparents, Mollie and Henry, are buried just north of my dad—and when attorney Henry died in 1946 his wake was visited not only by big execs from his main client at GM but also late into the evening by many auto workers and veterans who shared with his kids stories of how Henry would help them out with generous handouts on his walk up the street to take the streetcar to work.
My grandma Laura’s stories of her dislike of cats (one stray was tossed out a window) and pity for the neighborhood children heading down her street for school, “Those poor kids.” My dad’s cousin Roger survived a terrible car accident as a teenager and was actually instructed to have a glass of medical beer at the dinner table. He’d raise his glass to his disapproving dad, Governor Harry Kelly, and say, “Sorry pops. Doctor’s orders!”
For twenty-five years of marriage, it’s reassuring that our marriage has probably yielded 250 anecdotes—many oddball stories that our adult children now laughingly tell their friends—including the beautiful picture of our two kids on the Ludington pier smiling sweetly, along with the backstory of hellion Abby just moments before refusing to walk another foot and screaming to be carried the half-mile back to the car.
10. Right and left hand
Perhaps my greatest appreciation of our marriage is probably visible at one of our crazy ad-hoc parties in the driveway for the Woodward Dream Cruise or in the crowded living room near Christmas. We both love the drop-in aspect of these get-togethers with the fun of not knowing who’s going to stop by (and what great food they’ll bring!). I like setting up chairs, tents and tables and Patrice actually doesn’t mind going to Costco or cooking stuff! We might actually bump into each other once in a while at these parties and then we’re off doing separate things—but not really. We’re as connected as a right and left hand—each doing its own thing, but with the body of an loving, funny bunch of family, friends connecting us.