A Beautiful Marriage

kissing-sailorv4May 17, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of my parents’ marriage. If you ask my dad about the magic behind this long, mostly happy marriage, he will tell you squarely and emphatically, that my mom is the reason the whole thing stayed between the ditches. Stuey had some luck, landing in the right place at the right time professionally, and he worked hard–he also played hard–but Colleen was the one who decided the marriage was going to live up to its potential

goslings08Mom and Dad had the basic old-fashioned deal. He earned the paycheck, she managed the home. This deal still works for a lot of couples, though few of those couples have seven children. After a set of twin boys, and a girl, Mom had a slight gestational hiatus. Dad must have thought three kids was a big enough family, but Mom told him she’d get “fat and civic-minded” if she couldn’t have more kids.

minionsFour more children showed up in eight years, and I think even Mom was a little nonplussed by that abundance. While Stuey was off making big science, going on expeditions into the wilds of British Columbia or out to the Galapagos Islands, Mom was stuck home alone for weeks at a time with uppity teenagers and wild-eyed college students.

And lots of laundry. Merciful powers, did that woman do endless laundry. Laundry EVERY DAY, and this goes back to the days of the old wringer washer, and a triple-rope clothesline in the back yard. Cooking for nine people was no day at the beach either, and yet Mom had a hot meal on the table every night at six.

wringer washerThe woman worked her behind off, for decades, and in addition to creating a comfy, pretty home for us, she entertained nearly constantly. No graduate student ever spent a holiday alone far from home, no visiting professor ever wanted for dinner invitations.

As an adult, I can see that in many ways, my Dad was the more dependent spouse, and he will say as much. Mom made the decision, over and over, to be what Dad needed. His gifts were more limited–he was best at being a college professor, and he tried hard to be a good dad. Mom was and is the magic that connects Stuey to a larger circle, that keeps him challenged to be his best self, and whose love has created a setting in which Dad–a shy, retiring, sometimes easily frustrated man–can shine.

years of loveWhat strikes me about their marriage is the degree to which each partner contributed what they could, be it clean laundry, a steady paycheck, a hot meal–along with good faith and acceptance of the other person. And yes, for those who’ve asked, my parents are very definitely the inspiration for Percival and Esther Windham, of course.

If you could choose one couple to feature in a romance novel as the role model for a mature, loving relationship, who would you choose, and why?



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23 comments on “A Beautiful Marriage

  1. I mentioned when I first started commenting here on your blog, my Mom was dying and we were hoping she was able to make it until their 60th anniversary party. She didn’t make it but passed away five days before the party and three weeks before their actual anniversary, August 20.

    When Dad spoke during Mom’s eulogy, we learned they had had their first kiss ON STAGE in a tent during a performance of “Bohemian Girl”—Dad was the stage director and Mom was the lead, Adele. As well, Dad had been Bob Fosse’s vaudeville partner and *Uncle Bob* had lots of lovers and wives and one child but Dad had only one wife and six kids. Dad told me many times, he didn’t envy Bob’s life of fame and fortune because of Mom and us kids and our family. It was so much more important than any of that.

    I have thought to write something in tribute to their love–“in sickness and in health” became so real last summer–and call it “The Daughter of the Queen of the Night,” the Queen being one of Mom’s favorite roles. But a novel would be so much better.

    So Grace, I would choose my parent’s love story for that romance novel. Any story that starts with a kiss in a gypsy tent on a stage behind the scenes has to be good!

    • Thanks for that tale of love gone right. Funny thing, though, I don’t think love ends. I think you six kids, your dad, all those roles… the love lingers and lingers and lingers… forever.

      • Their song was “The Song, has ended but the melody lingers on”—and we had a version with Frank Sinatra play with her slideshow for the wake……at the end, the most beautiful woman’s voice sang…..we got chills and Dad teared up. We are part of their melody!

  2. My own parents marriage ended when I was only 10 years old. Neither one remarried and they did maintain a relationship through out their entire life. Sometimes friendly – sometimes not so much.

    I am the only one of my siblings who did not marry. Three of them had multiple marriages, but two of my sisters have been married to their spouses for almost 50 years. All I can say is that it takes a lot of hard work to maintain a relationship like that, but I think both of them would say that it is totally worth it.

    I myself am a little cynical about marriage, but I really don’t want to be. Maybe that is why I like HR books so much.

    Too many times I have found myself at a wedding thinking “I hope their marriage lasts long enough to get this shindig paid for.” Isn’t that awful? (smile)

    • Well… My mom was in nurses’ training when she and Dad married, and nurses weren’t supposed to get married, so their wedding was secret. They had to marry in the vestibule of the church because Stuey was a Protestant. I gather that equated to “heathen” as far as her parents were concerned.

      Mom always said her ideal was to have a small wedding and a big marriage. A sound plan.

  3. What a coincidence– today is our wedding anniversary as well! 12 years certainly doesn’t compare to 70, but it certainly gives one hope that the institution of marriage can be a successful thing.

    After watching my own partents tumultuous marriage end in divorce shortly after we married, I am ever so thankful for the example my father and mother-in-law, Frank and Irene Krankowski gave their son.

    They helped plan the traditional big-fat-Polish wedding, taught me the finer points of polka, paprikash, pinochle, and more importantly, taught me the finer points of the Polish sense of family. My family is their family and is always included. There are no “step kids or step grandkids.” They forgave me for keeping my father’s name (I am a medical professional). They have been married 49 years. They fiercely challenge each other when needed, and defend each other as fiercely. The finances are what they are, they are to be managed responsibly, and arguing about it will not change anything. A retired mechanic and grade school teacher. So my husband has grown up with the idea of Mom making more than Dad.

    They raised three very functional boys who chose their wives well. My best friend from college and I married the two younger ones:), and I count our other sister-in-law as one of my best friends too. We girls do a girls trip while the boys do their annual fishing trip. And yes, the girls are banned from the cabin while they are doing their thing.

    I am especially thankful today that they have instilled such good values in their sons.

    • You might enjoy this excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers.” He looks at a town in Pennsylvania that clung whole-heartedly to its immigrant values, and experience astonishingly positive results.

      Family, fun, togetherness, loving thy neighborhood… it’s good for us.

  4. You must really care about your future spouse before you marry. Marriage is a partnership and partners need to agree and compromise.

    Relationships in marriage become very familiar or everyday compared to the excitement of first love and discovering about each other in a new romance and marriage. Thus LOYALTY becomes very important as the marriage ages and couple ages. If you are sick you want someone who cares to take care of you and stand up to doctors, nurses and hospitals.

    If there is noloyalty there is not much of a marriage.

    • Well said, Margaret, and I’d go one better. My parents were loyal to their children. At home, we might get on heck of a tongue lashing, but my mom told us over and over, “You can commit murder, you can rob a bank, make the worst mistake in the world, but the first place you’d better come for help is home.”

      No murdering or bank robbin’ have gone on, but all seven of us have turned to home for help.

  5. I kind of like my sister and her husband of (something like) 45 years. They have never been picture perfect… they have struggled with big things and little things… they have found moments of amazing self-awareness and growth. They have regressed. But when the crisis hits they “circle the wagons” and present a solid united presence.

    Don’t know about anyone else, but I’m impressed

    • I don’t always see eye to eye with my sister, but once upon a time, when I was pregnant without benefit of matrimony, feeling nineteen kinds of scared and crummy, she was so flat out kind to me. Not a hint of judgement, just common sense and quiet reassurance.

      When it really, really, really counted, she came through for me. I have never forgotten that, and it has balanced some of the more petty disappointments we’ve handed each other.

  6. It’s difficult to choose between my parents Mary & Shakespeare and my mother’s parent’s Bud & Myrtle.

    Mary & Shakespeare met at a church ice cream social when he was 18 & she 15. My mother decided that night she would marry him. For Shakespeare there wasn’t another woman for him for almost 60 years. Mary was the only girl he had ever dated. Mary dated a few other boys during a year break up they had. They lived through poverty, WWII, what we now call PTSD from my father’s service in WWII, seven years of not being able to have children, then four children who were challenges.

    Mary had cancer four times and each time Shakespeare was by her side, loving her through what doctors said was terminal. Mary had heart problems, lung problems and after 54 years of marriage she died from liver & kidney failure. He was by her side to the last breath. I was blessed to be their youngest child and thus I got to see sides of them and their relationship that others never saw.

    A strong man with a love so deep for one woman that we almost lost him as well when she died. A strong man who worked hard every day of his life to rise from poverty with the help of a stubborn woman who lived in a dirt floor garage as they built it into their first home.

    They’re both gone now and I miss them daily, they were my best friends other than my husband.

    I would tell about Myrtle & Bud but I’ve already spoken too long.

    • Margie, what a wonderful story. I especially like the part about four “bouts” of terminal cancer. Love has ideas medical science will never fathom.

      I know what you mean about being one of the younger siblings, too. I’m number six, and I know for a fact my dad in particular mellowed a lot as he aged. He was a more philosophical, confident father by the time I came along… easier to love as he is. Mom finally got some of her life back, enough to go play tennis once a week, or have lunch with a friend. My older siblings had more tense, tired parents than I did, and I don’t envy them that.

  7. Congratulations to your parents, Grace!

    My in-laws are a good example of a caring couple. He spent many years as an enlisted man in the Air Force and then traveled a great deal with his ‘retirement job’. The bicker and tease, but you never can doubt their love for each other and their children and grandchildren.

    My parents set their own example, but more of a cautionary tale of how important communication is to any relationship as well as a testament to the importance of marrying your spouse for who they are NOT what you can make them into.

    • My mom has often said about couples that sorta-kinda-got-on-my-nerves. “Well, yes, they might be a little hard to take, but then you catch them in a good moment, and you can see, they really are holding hands.”

      Stu and Colleen are still, really, holding hands.

  8. Today has been a rough day. It has been a Monday. I can’t take the class I want this summer, I have to wait until the fall.I told my husband what had happened. He said “I proud of you. You are still my hero.”That means a lot. Sigh.

  9. I was surprised not to see more feedback to your question.

    It is a hard one, so maybe I should not be.

    Myself, I can’t answer your question.

    What I can do is share is about my parent’s marriage as writer fodder since, like most people, the marriage I am most familiar with, outside of my own, is that of my parents.

    In short, my knee jerk reaction is that C & H were a love match and gave a good example of commitment thru out their marriage. She wasn’t easy to live with (temper), but he was stubborn and often had the patience of Job, as they say. But it was the end, I think that showed the true mettle of a person in a marriage.

    They married in 1963. She was 21, he was 25. In her mid to late 50s, H had a series of strokes. Although she was left physically able, her brain/ mind was not.
    He took care of her for the next 15 yrs despite her tantrums, temper,child-like behaviors/reactions and forgetfulness. The last few years it was obvious erosion of …the relationship?… had occurred, that he was often emotionally hurt and miserable despite the ‘stiff upper lip’. Yet he kept on being a good caretaker because what else was there to do about it? He passed in 2011 after two years of cancer (still doing his best to take care of her). She still lives, in the care of one of their children.

    I think that C’s hardest test was those last years, trying to remember he loved her, why he loved her despite her medical condition. She was truly nasty to him–sort of imagine the tales alzheimers relatives tell you. And yet he loved her. Or tried to remember to. Perhaps love does conquer all?

    A thing he said one day in discussing my own failing marriage was, he was no longer sure there was a particular special person for everyone (a revealing concept?). We pondered that some together. I asked him if he regretted being married to mom given the way things turned out. He said it wasn’t easy but she was his wife for better or worse. Not a ‘real answer’, for some of us. But that is what he said.

    Their story before that was, of course, full of all the usual trials and triumphs of relationships, money issues, children issues. Thru out our childhood, we were always aware they loved each other and they loved us. They were demonstrative, but in a modest way.

    Another aspect you might ponder. They had four daughters. Despite the examples of love and commitment, 2 are divorced (D1 married 3 yrs, D4 married 15), one is living separated (D2 married over 20 yrs, separated by his choice last 7–he was from a divorced family), and only one is still married (since 1995). There is some speculation that the surviving marriage is still there because the guy is catholic–she has lupus. Was the example of the daughters parents a pro or a con? I don’t know. That’s the thing about ‘real life’. We never know. We just do the best we can, hope for the best. Sometimes there is a HEA, sometimes there is not.

    One thing Dad and I did agree on. Neither of us regret having loved and been loved by our spouses. That part was always a blessing.

    Best luck with the writing!

    • Mawwage is complicated! You often hear that half of all marriages end in divorce, and many of those that stay together aren’t happy.

      Yeah but.

      As the economy went into its slide, the divorce rate dropped too. People simply could not afford to split up and pay two rents, or sell the house at a significant loss, etc. As the economy has improved (somewhat… well, maybe), all the domestic relations attorneys in my jurisdictions have been waiting for the “divorce rebound.”

      They’re waiting for all those couples who put up and shut up “until we can afford a divorce,” to untie the knot. Many divorces are initiated in the spring, when tax refunds hit.

      But…. nope. Maybe it’s still the case nobody can afford the divorce, or maybe, when you make the decision to stick, you work harder to make the marriage functional within whatever limits you can’t exceed. Just a theory.

      Sounds like your dad got slammed with the very longest, hardest test imaginable, and he aced it.

    • Thanks, Jenny. It occurred to me that I’d written a little about Dad not too long ago, but Mother’s Day came and went, and I failed to acknowledge what an impressive woman my mother is. Might have to start on a sibling series now…

  10. Congratulations to your Mom and Dad.
    My parents have always been my heroes. Clara and Jim married when she was 19 and he was 20. Jim died Dec. 31, 2013 at age 94. They were married 74 years! In spite of marrying so young, Dad had a mature approach to marriage from the beginning. Mom asked for an allowance, Dad said, you know how much money we have, if you think we can afford something, buy it. Mom then had to be very responsible about spending … and she was. I wasn’t born until after they’d been married 11 years, and then they were happy to concentrate all their attention on me. Lucky me! They were both nurturing although neither had been raised in nurturing homes themselves. My parents were not demonstrative in their love, and did not say I love you at the drop of a hat, but there was caring in their actions and respect in the way they acted and spoke to each other so that I felt loved ALWAYS. I was blessed.

  11. A Christian romance author, Janette Oke has a pioneer series, Love Comes Softly, with a couple named Clark and Marty. Through 12 books they grow in love and friendship and preside over a large and loving family. Oke once said she had to stop writing about them because they were getting to the point where one would have to die and she couldn’t do that! They were a marriage of convenience and necessity that became a love match for the ages. Growing up with parental examples of love not lasting, this fictional couple gave me hope.

    Congrats to your parents and to you for recognizing and treasuring their love.