When my wife and I married in August 1972, I was a substitute teacher for Chicago Public Schools, earning $40 a day. Marianne had a permanent position as a fourth-grade teacher at St. Barnabas Elementary School for $5,000 a year.
So whenever we traveled we stayed in quaint budget motels like the Abe Lincoln in Effingham or the Millie’s Winter Motel in Winter, Wisconsin. Marianne hated most of them, but I liked the prices, as well as the fact that I could park my 1964 Oldsmobile Super Eighty-Eight a few feet from our bedroom door.
When I finally landed a full-time job teaching English at Chicago Vocational High School, starting at $9,570 a year, we moved to Motel 6, where the sheets were freshly laundered, and you could do splurge on extras such as phone service or a mini fridge for an extra $5 per night.
By the time Mike was born in 1975, and I’d gotten a master’s degree and got a raise at Vocational, we’d book a few days over spring break at a Holiday Inn with a pool, and come home with a or two monogrammed hotel towels as “amenities”.
All of this inspired me to reminisce after our weekend at the Lido Beach Resort in Florida, given to us by our three children on the occasion of our 50th wedding anniversary.
With two pools, two hot tubs, two restaurants, valet parking, and our fourth-floor balcony overlooking the white-sand beach of the Gulf of Mexico, the Lido is a far cry from the Abe Lincoln and an extravaganza I’d ponder. twice. booking myself.
But given the love from which it came and the 50 years of double occupancy that Marianne and I commemorated, we accepted it with gratitude and humility.
While Golden Jubilees are the bread and butter of small town newspapers, including Effingham’s Daily News or Winter’s Sawyer County Gazette, big city dailies like this have urban, national and international issues much more important to cover.
But in these virulent times, a comment on how such an agreement could have been achieved by two complete strangers for half a century, would seem appropriate.
So on our first night at the resort, at Lido’s Drift Restaurant, as Marianne waited for her baked snapper, and I the grilled shrimp, we sorted through what had gotten us to this point in our lives.
“I thought you looked like actor Michael Parks,” she said.
“And you, Natalie Wood. I always do, I added quickly.
But then we got serious and both agreed that our longevity could be attributed to a single moment when I sat in the stairwell just inside the front door of our house, decades earlier.
Our three children were school-aged, and metaphorically, so was I, as I headed to a lounge bar to meet my volleyball friends for the second night in a row.
Far from the romantic, poetic folk singer and guitarist she had married, I had become an aloof, drunken Al Bundy clone, who felt that his youth, his freedom and his artistic horizons had been obstructed, even sabotaged. , by a family in need and a stressful job.
The adult in our marriage, kneeling on the stairs in front of me and sensing the danger to us and the children, extracted the aforementioned truth from me and several others that the Sawyer County Gazette could not have published in a family newspaper. , before suggesting a plan.
Like the wives of half my like-minded friends, she could have chosen to shed the baggage and start a separate life. But we had known our love as a living thing, which we both feared to kill.
Instead, I would start putting my weight on the kids, so she could break free from her own shackles, get an advanced college degree, and cultivate a social life beyond the kids, her mother, and me.
And she indulged in my frat routine—softball, fishing, beer—until she ran her course. After which I was able to build this cabin in the woods and write the novel that I had had false starts with for the past 10 years.
Meanwhile, every Saturday night would be a mandatory evaluation session, which is teacher lingo for going out on a date to a pizzeria.
Maybe it was just making a plan, or maybe the 2,000 date streak, or maybe it was everyone’s chance to pursue their dreams. But I got to know her better than before, and she, me, it seems.
Every couple has to find a key, and ours wasn’t separate lives. Instead, it was about talking and more talking and making room for who we are. Today, we are grateful and amazed at each other’s growth, and our love is the best it has ever been.
David McGrath is Professor Emeritus of English at the College of DuPage and author of “South Siders.” He can be reached at [email protected].
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