A Day in May

 

Janet on our wedding day.

It was a day in May, 43 years ago. I did not realize it at the time, but it would be the most important day of my life, save for the day I entered my life. Not because it was the best day of my life, or the happiest day. Rather it was the day that led to the best and happiest days of my life and equally inexorably to the saddest and worst day of my life.

On May 7, 1977, I married my spouse of over 40 years, Janet. Longtime members of Ricochet might remember her as Quilter.

It was a May wedding, and May weddings are supposed to be unlucky. They are not supposed to last. I could make a case that both were true. It did not last as long as either of us would have wanted. Only 40 years, nine months, and three days.

It would have happened a week earlier, in April, except for the accident of the day of my wife’s birth, May 4, 1958. The two Saturdays available at my Church were April 30 and May 7. My soon-to-be mother-in-law did not want her daughter getting married at age 18. She pushed Jan to pick May 7, since she would be 19.

I was then 21. Getting married that young was less unusual than it is today, but not as common as when my parents and their siblings had married twenty years earlier. Yet it was unusually young in both families. My in-laws got married when they were in their late 20s and early 30s. My father was 28 and my mother 22 when they married. My uncles and aunts married later than that.

But Jan and I had known each other for seven years when we got married. She was the kid sister of a good friend in high school. The two of us became acquainted and eventually friends over wargames and role playing games. Good friends, because we fit each other. While we did not start dating until I was in college, it did not take much longer after that for us to decide we should take our relationship to marriage.

She was very good looking. Surprisingly for a teen-aged boy, I really did not notice. What I did notice was her intelligence, her loyalty, and her good judgment. I valued her for those. What she saw in me I don’t know. What I do know is how lucky I was to have her want me.

We were the first children in our respective families to get married – and the first among the children of my parents’ siblings. That made it a major milestone event for my parents’ generation and for my generation.

It was a surprisingly frugal wedding. Jan and I had virtually nothing and neither of us was willing to impose lavish demands for financial support for the wedding from our parents. We felt it to be our entry into life as adults. We both had jobs and were living on our own (while being full-time college students). My parents arranged for the church (Jan and I were getting married at my church, because we both saw  marriage as more than just a civil ceremony.) My mother-in-law made the bridal gown and the bridesmaids’ dresses. The men wore suits instead of tuxedos.

My younger brother was my best man. My brother-in-law and a first cousin were groomsmen.  My wife’s best friend was maid-of-honor, her first cousin, and another school friend, Rose, the bridesmaids.

Me (left) and my best man (right), my younger brother

My wife’s family was Methodists – dry Methodists. My family was Greek Orthodox. It was like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, only in reverse. Although my mother-in-law had one sister, my father-in-law had six brothers – and most of the brothers came. So did most of my parents’ siblings.  It was the first wedding for my generation and everyone wanted to come to the raree show.

It was also the last major family event at which all of my grandparents were present. Death would soon start taking them in the subsequent years.

Janet and her party. My mother-in-law made the gowns.

The things I remember most were the funny things. My mother-in-law learned that her niece was so delighted with her bridesmaid’s dress she wanted to wear it to her high school prom – which was before the wedding. Somehow final adjustments for the dress were not complete until after the prom had taken place.

My brother, holding the crowns over our heads as we went three times around the altar (an Orthodox tradition that suitably impressed my wife’s Methodist family) managed to step on Janet’s train. Suddenly Janet’s grip on my had became stronger, as she and I worked to keep her from falling.

Our “trip” around the altar

Taking photos of the wedding party turned out to be like herding cats. We got photos of the entire party, but I don’t think we got a photo of everyone together.

My uncle asked which car we would be taking to leave the church. The disreputable and ancient Ford Mustang my wife owned and which we used had been exiled from the wedding and we would be borrowing one of my parent’s car. I told my uncle we were taking the Volvo. He then disappeared chortling. Jan gave me a puzzled look when I said that, but was unwilling to contradict me, especially when I pushed on her shoe with my toe.

After my uncle left, she said, “I thought we were taking the Datsun?” “We are,” I replied.  “But why did you tell him the Volvo?” “Later. It’s bad luck to talk about.” She must have thought me strange (although I am sure I gave her plenty of clues how strange I was before we got married, but she had enough faith in me to drop the subject.

And the two of us drove off in the Datsun, while my parents, grandparents, and younger brother left in a Volvo decorated with tin cans and “Just Married” soaped on the windows.

It turned out getting married May 7th was a bad idea for a reason unanticipated by our parents. Forever after our anniversary celebrations had to compete with Mother’s Day. Flower prices shot up, as did restaurant prices just before our anniversary. The restaurants where we wanted to go were frequently booked up by Mother’s Day celebrants. Frequently we held our celebration at home, with steaks on the grill.

I look back on that day today and can only think how young and naïve we were then. I better appreciate my parents’ anxiety through the lens of experience.  Yet we made it work. We had good times and bad times, and although there were many times we fought we always had each other’s back. Along the way, we found jobs and lost jobs, and found new jobs and had three sons which grew into fine men.

However hard the forty years that followed would occasionally become we had each other. We each had someone we could trust utterly and which we knew trusted the other utterly.

We were through the worst of the travails married couples have economically and in raising a family. The boys were grown and out of the house, starting their own careers, and finally giving us time for each other.  Then she got cancer.

We fought it for two years. Bad timing and ill fortune led us to lose that struggle. I threw everything we had into it. In the end, it wasn’t enough. She died as I held her hand.

Despite the pain of our parting, it was the price for the forty years we had together, a journey we started 43 years ago today.

I plan to visit her grave today. I know how lucky I was to have had those forty years together.

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  1. John Racette Coolidge
    John Racette
    @JohnRacette

    God bless you, man.

    • #1
  2. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    Every telling of your story makes me cry. 

    • #2
  3. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):

    Every telling of your story makes me cry.

    Please don’t cry. It was a wonderful wedding and a wonderful marriage. It ended, but all things end. What matters is not the beginning or the ending, but what goes on in between.

     

    • #3
  4. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    70s weddings are the best. Thanks for telling us about yours.

    • #4
  5. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    I hate color fade in film. I re-did my in-laws wedding photos for their 50th Anniversary. 

    • #5
  6. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Please don’t cry. It was a wonderful wedding and a wonderful marriage.

    That’s why I always cry at weddings.  The Servant of God and the Handmaid of God.  It’s as perfectly happy and hope-filled time as we can get on this earth.

    • #6
  7. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    EJHill (View Comment):

    I hate color fade in film. I re-did my in-laws wedding photos for their 50th Anniversary.

    Thanks. I’ll replace the picture in the main body with this one.

    • #7
  8. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Seawriter:

    Despite the pain of our parting, it was the price for the forty years we had together, a journey we started 43 year ago today.

    I plan to visit her grave today. I know how lucky I was to have had those forty years together.

    Amen.  And I think the luck goes both ways.

    God bless.

    • #8
  9. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    You have been blessed, Seawriter.  So, so blessed.

    • #9
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    That crown-holding gig is a trip, even if you avoid your sister’s train. I did it for my sister at her Russian Orthodox wedding.

    Ave atque vale, Quilter.

    • #10
  11. Raxxalan Member
    Raxxalan
    @Raxxalan

    Beautiful.  Must remember to dust in here as apparently there is something in my eyes causing them to leak.

    • #11
  12. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    The car switch. That was a good one.

    • #12
  13. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    A beautiful story, wonderfully told. Blessings!

    • #13
  14. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    JoelB (View Comment):

    The car switch. That was a good one.

    It was possible only because we were borrowing one of my parents’ car for the day. The ’66 Mustang we had was truly disreputable with the effects of 12 years of Michigan winters clearly etched on its body.

    • #14
  15. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    You had a wonderful and full life together. My thoughts are with you today.

    • #15
  16. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    How happy; how sad.  I’m very glad for you both that you had each other for all those years.  Fortunate, indeed.  

    • #16
  17. carcat74 Member
    carcat74
    @carcat74

    Our 46th anniversary is this coming Sunday- – -yes. Mother’s Day.  Both our mothers are gone; his in 2003, mine in 2013. We never had children, but our nephew is making up for it- – – his second daughter with his second wife was born on my mom’s birthday, April 19th (she would have been 82). Nine days later, she had me—9#, 7oz.—at Chanute Air Base, in Rantoul, Il.

    My sister has one son, who just announced her 1st grandchild to be born in the fall. She’s over the moon!

    Mom had a radical mastectomy in 2001, but she never had a recurrence. She fell in the nursing home, hit her head at the temple on a dresser, and never woke up. Hit my dad hard—he’s 88, and still in their house, with my sister’s help.

    It’s hard……

    • #17
  18. Online Park Member
    Online Park
    @OnlinePark

    Thank you for this. I did shed a tear probably because four years ago this month my husband died suddenly of a brain aneurism at 71. We were married in 1970 and I said in his obituary  and I say now that we lived a wonderful life together with no regrets.

    I try to tell my adult kids that regardless of the politics going on around them and now the pandemic, they have wonderful nuclear families and must put their focus there first. it’s easy to get sidetracked.

    • #18
  19. Weeping Member
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    Thank you for sharing your story, Seawriter. I really appreciated reading it. I cried some, but mostly smiled. I’m glad you have all the wonderful memories that you do. I suspect if we could talk to Quilter right now, we’d find she feels the same way about your marriage: it was a wonderful blessing. :)

    And just because I always finding overlapping dates interestng, I think it’s really cool that I was giving birth to my second child (a daughter) on Quilter’s and your 22nd anniversary.

    • #19
  20. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Weeping (View Comment):
    And just because I always finding overlapping dates interestng, I think it’s really cool that I was giving birth to my second child (a daughter) on Quilter’s and your 22nd anniversary.

    My younger brother’s birthday is May 3. Jan’s was the next day (a year later), May 4. Our anniversary was May 7. This made me one of those blessed husbands that never forgot his wife’s birthday or our anniversary. Her birthday was the day after his birthday. And if I added his birthday and hers (3+4) I got the date of our anniversary.

    Life will never again be so simple for me.

    • #20
  21. danys Thatcher
    danys
    @danys

    Such a wonderful moving story. Happy anniversary.

    Marriage roots us and compels us to grow.

    Maybe we marrieds need to speak more about the gift of being a team as we grow through life, and speak with sincerity and happiness. 

    Mr danys & I celebrate #31 later this month, another May wedding. I didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to last long.

    • #21
  22. WalterWatchpocket Coolidge
    WalterWatchpocket
    @WalterWatchpocket

    I need to respond, but collecting my thoughts is a difficult chore.

    Your narrative is parallel to mine.  I am a widower of three years, after 50 years of marriage.  Like you, I consider myself one of the luckiest men alive.   Like you, I ask myself, what in the world was she thinking, when she married me.  But, I am profoundly grateful.  Every time,  she referred to me as her husband, I got a little thrill.  Like you, we married relatively young, but I think it was one of the reasons we had such an intense relationship.  We matured and grew together as the years slipped by and held on to each other more and more tightly.  Like you, I married an extremely bright girl.  I consider that to be a profoundly noteworthy asset.  But unlike your  post , I would add an attribute that you did not mention, but I’m sure was an important element in your marriage.  Maintaining an intense physical relationship through out a marriage is fundamental.  She needs to feel attractive and desired her entire life.  After all, that was/is the reason we married in the first place.

    On the other hand, even after 50 years of a successful marriage, I feel woefully inadequate in analyzing the current marriage environment.  There is much I don’t understand.  You would think that for as old as I am with a solid marriage experience, I would be a lot smarter.  It is frustrating.  The times have changed, but not human nature.  Or, perhaps, I’m mistaken.  Is it that my experience cannot be generalized?  How is that?  It is a mystery to me.

    After three years, I still have what I call “grieve attacks” daily, but today, after reading your post, I’ve had two.  But that is ok, because after each “attack”, I feel relieved, invigorated and thankful for our time together.  Thank you for the post.

    Regards, Walter

    • #22
  23. carcat74 Member
    carcat74
    @carcat74

    WalterWatchpocket (View Comment):

    I need to respond, but collecting my thoughts is a difficult chore.

    Your narrative is parallel to mine. I am a widower of three years, after 50 years of marriage. Like you, I consider myself one of the luckiest men alive. Like you, I ask myself, what in the world was she thinking, when she married me. But, I am profoundly grateful. Every time, she referred to me as her husband, I got a little thrill. Like you, we married relatively young, but I think it was one of the reasons we had such an intense relationship. We matured and grew together as the years slipped by and held on to each other more and more tightly. Like you, I married an extremely bright girl. I consider that to be a profoundly noteworthy asset. But unlike your post , I would add an attribute that you did not mention, but I’m sure was an important element in your marriage. Maintaining an intense physical relationship through out a marriage is fundamental. She needs to feel attractive and desired her entire life. After all, that was/is the reason we married in the first place.

    On the other hand, even after 50 years of a successful marriage, I feel woefully inadequate in analyzing the current marriage environment. There is much I don’t understand. You would think that for as old as I am with a solid marriage experience, I would be a lot smarter. It is frustrating. The times have changed, but not human nature. Or, perhaps, I’m mistaken. Is it that my experience cannot be generalized? How is that? It is a mystery to me.

    After three years, I still have what I call “grieve attacks” daily, but today, after reading your post, I’ve had two. But that is ok, because after each “attack”, I feel relieved, invigorated and thankful for our time together. Thank you for the post.

    Regards, Walter

    Now, I’m crying, bless you, sir…..

    • #23
  24. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    It’s a wonderful thing to be married. It’s a wonderful thing to be married for a long time. It’s a wonderful thing to be married, for a long time, to a person you love and cherish and loves you back!  You’re a lucky guy! And by lucky, I mean someone who knew how to learn and grow and adjust. That is how marriage lasts… I’m so happy for you that you have such great memories. I’m so sad that you lost your love too soon. Congratulations for all those years you got together. May is our anniversary month, too. May 17th will make 47 years for Mr. CowGirl and I.

    (And I just loved all the clothing in the photos because you were SO IN-FASHION for the times!)

    • #24
  25. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    This moving remembrance is part of our monthly group writing project on the theme: “May Day, Mayday, May Days.”

    There are two major monthly Group Writing projects. One is the Quote of the Day project, now managed by @she. This is the other project, in which Ricochet members claim a day of the month to write on a proposed theme. This is an easy way to expose your writing to a general audience, with a bit of accountability and topical guidance to encourage writing for its own sake.

    Stop by and sign up now for “May Day, Mayday, May Days.”

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #25
  26. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    I met my wife as a blind date on New Years Eve 1972. We got married in July, 1973. That was kind of quick. 

    We are still here, and aiming at the 48th anniversary this summer. I guess I can say that most of our irritations have been minor, and there has never been any chance that this partnership would end prematurely.

    I’m grateful for finding a partner that would go the distance with me (God knows I can be difficult) and we are just hoping that we can ride this for a few years more.

    • #26
  27. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Mark, God Bless.

    • #27
  28. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Headedwest (View Comment):
    We are still here, and aiming at the 48th anniversary this summer. I guess I can say that most of our irritations have been minor, and there has never been any chance that this partnership would end prematurely.

    I’m grateful for finding a partner that would go the distance with me (God knows I can be difficult) and we are just hoping that we can ride this for a few years more.

    My parents managed 67 years.  You could easily have another 20 years.

    • #28
  29. Jeff Petraska Member
    Jeff Petraska
    @JeffPetraska

    Wait, you found a pretty teenaged girl, in the ’70s, who played wargames and role-playing games?  You found the proverbial needle in the haystack, Seawriter!  But then, I think you already know that.  God bless you.

    • #29
  30. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Jeff Petraska (View Comment):

    Wait, you found a pretty teenaged girl, in the ’70s, who played wargames and role-playing games? You found the proverbial needle in the haystack, Seawriter! But then, I think you already know that. God bless you.

    What made it better was a lot of the members of my high school gaming club were outraged at the idea of a girl joining. More fools they. I saw the opportunity they distained and took it.

    • #30