Nostalgia Turns to Laughter on a Wedding Anniversary
Recalling an observation from years and tears ago
By Ed Goldman
Forty-two years ago today, at about 10:15 a.m. on 8/7/78, Jane and I were married on the beach in front of the Capitola Venetian, one of the oldest condo developments in California.
The service was performed by a nonsectarian minister from nearby UC Santa Cruz whom Jane had found in the local phone book. The witnesses, in addition to some curious seagulls, were the woman he’d been living with for several years but wasn’t married to, and a 13-year-old girl, who looked like both of them and spent the entire ceremony looking down as she sifted sand through her bare toes.
A Capitola Wedding: 8/7/78
I mention the couple’s non-marital status only because as soon as the pastor kicked things off by saying, “Dearly beloved,” the woman burst into tears and didn’t stop for the entire ceremony. In retrospect, we decided it might have been because she was witnessing still another wedding that wasn’t her own. She wept through the pastor’s reading from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” which we hadn’t selected and gently giggled about because it had been all the rage among college girls when we’d been in college (we were now in our late 20s). Then the pastor read a portion of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift from the Sea,” which we also hadn’t picked but whose lyricism, especially in this seaside setting, quickly turned our gentle giggles to throat clearing and nose snurfing. Getting married suddenly became a solemn occasion.
Our marriage ended sadly, nearly 29 years later, when Jane passed away after a nine-year tug-of-war with breast cancer. But even though our life together was tragically abbreviated, we at least had the chance to experience a lengthy union, though not the half-century-plus that some of my contemporaries have.
I’m now 69 and will be very grateful to usher in 70 this fall—as, in fact, I’ve been gratified by every birthday and grateful for every day of my life—even the afternoon when I was five years old and someone stole my tricycle from the playground. We lived in New York City’s East Bronx borough, in an apartment community called Parkchester, which had been built under FDR’s Works Progress Administration. I’m providing a little ambiance so that you’ll understand why, in that setting—a working-class urban neighborhood in the 1950s—it was perfectly acceptable when Stuart, my middle brother, spotted a teenager riding the trike in a comically, wobbly way, his legs obviously much too long for it, about 250 yards away, ran him down, yanked him off the vehicle and punched the daylights out of him. Stu, it should be pointed out, was only nine and pretty skinny. But when he lost his temper, he could be gigantic and scary. So, yeah, forgive me, but that was one of the days, though tinged with violence, revenge and a small amount of blood, I’m very grateful to have experienced.
Fast-forward, as they say (though who, exactly, “they” are isn’t clear), to my early days of widowhood. I thought at the time what would really get to me would be watching young couples, of any orientation or culture, snuggle as they walked down a street. Young people passionately in love have a way of walking more-or-less atop or grafted onto each other, as though they didn’t have to be immobile or horizontal to embrace or even seriously pet. Put another way, the heart may want what the heart wants, but in my experience, horny is as horny does.
Instead, what stabbed my soul from time to time—just a little, and even after remarrying, divorcing and having had a number of relationships since Jane died—was every time I’d see a couple, blessed to still be together in post-middle-age and beyond, just sitting together on a bench with their lattes or walking their equally-ancient dog. And more often than not, holding hands.
My favorite example of this ideal came one afternoon when a still-healthy Jane and I went to a late lunch at a local bistro. At a nearby table, a couple who appeared to be in their late 70s (at least), were finishing a bottle of red wine. They chatted and touched each other’s wrists and forearms. “You know,” I said to Jane, ”that’s the first time retirement has ever looked appealing to me. That married couple over there will probably go home, take a long nap together and get up in time to have dinner.”
She was absolutely correct. And when I did lose her some years later, and saw older couples drinking lattes and walking dogs, I still felt sad but also allowed myself the same gentle giggle a reading from Kahlil Gibran had inspired decades earlier.