I have been married to Holly for twice as long as I haven’t been. This past weekend, we celebrated our 40th anniversary.
The festivities began at our daughter’s and son-in-law’s farm where our family gathered. We were chased out into the snow by an artsy photographer, looking for just that perfect backdrop. In several scenes, I had to sit on an overturned washtub, complete with a layer of ice adhering to it. My north end was in shock most of the day. The highlight of the family photos was a shoot where our three kids stood behind Holly and I squatting on the tub. The kibitzing between those three stretched back more than 30 years.
We then moved to a charming little hall in Rosthern for a “come and go” tea. Folks from many different pieces of our lives stopped by to visit. Four grandgirls sat at the guest registry and charmed every one. Two grandboys roared around burning off energy. “Opa, you’re it!” “Opa, can we go outside?” “Opa, can we go find a tractor?”
The Edmonds, Holly’s family, arrived early. They chose their tables, sat and visited politely. Olferts, on the other hand, didn’t show up. They were expecting to get fed later in the day, so why would they appear before that appointed time? When they did appear, just ahead of the pizza, they simply stood in circles to shout and laugh, and the din went up exponentially. One sister saw it as her duty at this celebration to apologize to the Edmonds family for imposing her brother on them for 40 years. “Yeah, I know, but he’s kind of a buffoon, isn’t he?”
Family isn’t everything, but it’s close.
Forty years ago Holly and I were wildly young and (I’ll speak mostly for myself) wildly immature. I knew which questions mattered and I certainly knew the answers. A concept of “God” wasn’t relevant to the questions, and certainly not the answers. The minister who officiated, now a kindly old friend, still chuckles, still marvels when he thinks of those two, and the journey they were beginning.
Maturing as a couple was hard work, especially when one knows so many answers. Children came along shortly, and energy was diverted from maturing to being the best parents we could be. In spite of many mistakes, three vibrant and strong children emerged. However, as they began to move out in their teens, Holly and I were forced to look again at each other. We still had many years to put in together. Without the common daily focus of children, how would we make our life together good?
On my part, it was finally time for some “hurry up” maturing. That meant accepting that I didn’t in fact have as many answers as I had always assumed. It also meant that I needed to stop assuming which questions were important to Holly. I had to learn to listen, to listen and to simply care, and not to listen and solve.
The profound result of that change in listening style was a new and deep appreciation of the many layers of this person who has chosen to share my life. I discovered that Holly is wise, she is passionate, she is loyal, she is courageous, she is funny. And damned good looking too! Forty years ago, I really was only aware of that last one.
At that celebration on Saturday, we could only scrape up one parent between us. I missed my mother keenly. But we acknowledge that our determination, despite all the obstacles that we encountered, our determination to see this thing through is connected directly to the examples of fidelity handed to us by our parents. Not everyone has that model before them. We are thankful.
Perfect families exist only in fiction, and would be really boring. I give thanks for the struggle that was modelled, and the struggle I have shared. Maybe we’ll do another 40.