In 1967, I left my hometown in Michigan to move to Chicago with Fred, who would be starting medical school. Before I moved, I received several dire warnings from the women in my family. My great-aunt Sarah shared that she had read several cases in The Jewish Daily Forward’s “A Bintel Brief” about women who put their husbands through medical school, only to be dumped when they became rich doctors. My grandmother expressed her disapproval of the odd assortment of used household goods I was packing for my apartment. A woman should have all new stuff and get married first when leaving her parents’ home. My mother just cried. She really loved Fred, but never forgave him for taking me away from her
Remember the old chant, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Laurie with a baby carriage”? That pretty much sums up what happened. The love was the easy part. I met Fred at the movies senior year of college at the University of Michigan. Well, that’s not entirely true. I already knew him because I had dated one of his fraternity brothers. I also knew him from taking Sociology 101 together the year before. He rarely showed up because of the 9:00 a.m. start time and because it was a fluffy class that fulfilled a distribution requirement. Of course, I dutifully attended and took copious notes in peacock blue ink. He borrowed my notes, teased me about my choice of ink, doodles, and poor spelling, and got a B in the class. I got an A and thought he was funny in a sarcastic sort of way. But we were just friends back then.
Everything changed at the beginning of my senior year of college. I went to a movie, Shop on Main Street, with a girlfriend. We had just pledged to forget men and dating and concentrate on expanding our minds prior to graduating. Fred and his friend sat next to us. I left with Fred. I lost my friend forever.
We had an amazing senior year zooming around Ann Arbor on his used Honda 90 and spending far too much time partying. But graduation loomed. Fred was headed for medical school in Chicago, and I had no idea where I was going. So why not get engaged and move there with him? It made perfect sense. That first summer in Chicago, he washed trailers, I pretended to sell subscriptions to the Chicago Tribune, and we delivered phone books together. Somehow, I was hired to teach English at the same high school that Fred had attended just three years earlier. The fact that we waited a full year to get married (to make sure he didn’t flunk out of medical school, or so he said) was daring in those days.
We got married exactly 50 years ago today. Here’s what we contributed to the wedding planning: nothing. My mother took care of all of the ceremony and reception decisions, although I did get to select my gown (with her approval, of course). Here’s what we discussed before getting married: nothing. I guess we assumed the big issues—children, lifestyle, career, religion, and family—would somehow just happen without giving them much thought. And they did. Lucky for us, as we grew older we did get around to talking about the big issues. Still, three kids and a mortgage by the time we were in our early thirties made life a bit busy, leaving minimal time for these deep discussions. As I remember it, for some reason we always had them on Sunday night after the kids were asleep. This generally led to poor sleep and a rocky start to the week. But at least we kept talking.
It’s probably better to have the big stuff sorted out before getting married rather than winging it like we did. But now that we have survived the little kid catastrophes, middle school misery, high school pressure cooker, and college and career choices with our children, we are amazed to have come through with our relationship stronger than ever. Grandkids are the icing on our cake.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy gave a pretty good definition of marriage in his majority opinion in support of gay marriage:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.
So perhaps the secret to a long and happy marriage is not so complicated. We didn’t need a business plan to make it work. We just needed love to light the spark and keep the flame going. We added fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. As we just celebrated fifty years of love and marriage, I see that Justice Kennedy had it right. We grew up with each other to become something greater together than they were apart.
*I wrote this in honor of our 50th anniversary. We just celebrated our 55th, so it holds up well.
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.