I sat at the table at my niece’s wedding and watched with love and tenderness but also with amazement. My aunt and uncle were dancing. A special request had been made to the DJ on their behalf to play their wedding song, “For Sentimental Reasons” by
Nat King Cole. A wedding song from seventy-five years ago. Yes, they have been married for seventy-five years. Watching them and seeing them look at each with such tenderness and love as they danced brought tears to my eyes.
How have they done what so many people can’t do today including myself; a newly divorced mother of three. How have they stayed in love? How have they stayed married for seventy-five years? My uncle is now ninety-two with my aunt two years behind him at ninety which means they started dating when he was seventeen and she fifteen. So much has changed in seventy-five years. How have they weathered the storms?
I come from a close-knit Italian family, so we saw them frequently when we were younger, and I’ve been kept informed of their lives through my mother who is my aunt’s sister. As I sit and stare, I think back at what I remember of them when I was younger and try to figure out what their secret is.
Peering back into my memory, I remember thinking that they always seemed more playful than my other aunts and uncles, less serious and were able to joke around. I remember them laughing a lot together. They would look at each other with love and often would hold hands or put their arms around each other. That can’t be all there is to it, though, a laugh, a touch, a joke. What has allowed them to stay married for seventy-five years? What is their secret?
I planned on staying overnight at the venue and knew that they did as well, so I make a mental note to ask them some questions at breakfast. I am jarred back into reality when the dance is over, and we all stand up and clap. They walk gingerly back to their table, holding hands and smiling from ear-to-ear. My uncle, ever the gentleman, pulls out the chair for my aunt before taking his seat. Jaded from my divorce, I shake my head in disbelief.
At breakfast they sit down next to me. Both frail but obviously very happy to be visiting with the family. I begin by congratulating them on their seventy-five years of marriage. They look at each other with tenderness and chuckle at my congratulations. They ask me how I’m doing since my divorce and I tell them that I’m adjusting. With that I ask them, “What is your secret of such a long and successful marriage?” Again, they look at each other and chuckle.
My aunt begins, “It hasn’t always been easy. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we got through them.” My uncle chimes in, “Marriage is like a dance. Sometimes it is wonderful because you have someone to hold onto. Sometimes, though, you need to hold up the other person or they have to hold you up. And sometimes, you’re tired and don’t want to dance at all and just want to sit down.” My aunt continues, “But you can’t sit out too long,” she says as she wags her finger at me. “There were times that we could have thrown in the towel, but you just didn’t do that in those days. Marriage was forever and you just stuck it out,” my uncle adds. “Yeah, you didn’t give up on your marriage like kids do today,” my aunt continues. Seeing the look of hurt on my face my aunt grabs my hand, “We’re not judging you. Divorce has happened in our family. You know your cousin Mark and his wife have been divorced for a few years. It’s just a different world today, that’s all.”
They continued to talk. It seems that one speaks and then the other continues with the thought. There is a back and forth; a dance between them. A dance that has been choreographed over the years. I sit in amazement at the ease at which they talk to me sharing their thoughts waltzing through the conversation.
“But what about the difficult times?” I ask them. I know they suffered through hard times, everyone does. “Yes, it was difficult to raise a family,” my aunt reminisces, “Sometimes we didn’t have enough money, but we managed to get by. We didn’t want more than what we had. We had a house, enough money for the necessities and if we had extra, maybe we’d do something like take a day trip when the kids were young.” My uncle swoops in, “Fancy vacations, fancy cars, going to dinner and things like that just weren’t done; and we didn’t even think of it. We were happy with what we had.” My aunt continues, “I don’t know, we just did, that’s all.” It can’t be that simple, ‘you just did’, I think to myself.
It all seems so simple, and yet, I know that it is not that simple. Newly divorced, I am living proof of that. How has such simplicity been lost on my generation? It seems that they were happier with less. Why is my generation not happy with less? It seems that my generation strives for things, but I’m sure they did as well. The house they own wasn’t given to them after all, they had to save up for it. They raised four children and raising children isn’t simple. It is difficult and causes stress on a marriage. How do you ‘just do it’?
As I drove home, I thought of how the world has changed during their lifetimes and wonder how they have kept up with all of those changes. They were born in the 1920s and 1930s and lived through the great depression and World War II. They lived in the time before antibiotics when people died from infections and diseases that we routinely cure today. They lived before television with the radio and newspapers being the only means of communication. They lived in a time with less convenience. They didn’t have take out, home delivery of groceries and meals. They couldn’t just pick up the phone or boot up the computer to get instant information. Life was simpler in so many ways, but harder in so many others.
I think about my life and how I’ve allowed it to become so complicated and wonder why my ex-husband and I weren’t able to dance through our marriage as my aunt and uncle have danced through theirs. I will remember what they shared with me and decide to begin to simplify my life. When I arrive home, I call my ex and ask him to come over for a visit so that I can share my aunt and uncle’s wisdom with him. Maybe, just maybe, we can begin to dance again.