Wednesday, September 16, 2015

True Companions

           We were practically children, closer to our teens than to our 30s. She had just graduated from college; I was not yet two years into my working life. And yet, on a Saturday in mid-September, we decided to pledge our lives to each other. Vows, and rings, an organ and a trumpet. A white dress, a black tux, and a whole lot of family.
            I recall my groomsmen and I driving out for an old-fashioned barber’s shave in the morning, then heading back to my house to play a game of Wiffle Ball before showering and putting on our tuxes. I remember walking into the church and feeling overwhelmed by the sight of so many of the people who’d filled the first 24 years of my life. I recall dancing more than I’d ever danced before, smiling for more photos than ever, and trying to find a way to freeze so many moments in my mind for all time.

            More than anything, though, I remember her. Amy. We were high school sweethearts who had stayed together – a throwback to the old days. A couple of kids who decided they wanted to grow up, then grow old, together. At our reception, we entered the Great Hall of Sailors’ Snug Harbor to the music of Randy Newman’s score for the film The Natural. Aside from the groom’s passion for baseball, the song also represented the natural fit we felt we were. I held her smooth hand, the one with the new wedding band on it, and saw the red hair flow beneath her veil. We danced to Marc Cohn’s “True Companion,” and chatted with our guests.

            That was 20 years ago today. A lot of time has passed since then, and we’ve lived a lot of life in those two decades. We’ve brought two girls into the world, while also losing grandparents and other loved ones. We’ve traveled and worked and moved and occasionally even relaxed. We’ve agreed, and disagreed, and found ways to work things out. We’ve tried to be there for the folks we love, and tried to do the same for each other. More than anything, though, we’ve grown – as individuals and as a couple. We’ve given each other space and pulled each other tight. We’ve supported and shown up for each other every day. We’ve enjoyed some traditions, while also seeking ways to make it all feel new again. It’s a delicate balance, it’s hard work, and it never stops being worth the effort and love.

            And so, after two decades of marriage, we’re hanging in there. It isn’t 1995 anymore, for sure, and soon it won’t be 2015, either. We’re closer to our AARP days than to our college ones. But some things haven’t changed over the course of 20 years. I’ll still take that sly smile, and the red hair, and the hazel eyes. I’ll still hold her hand, and talk with her about anything. I’ll still trust her and believe in her. I took a chance at age 24 in the hopes that I’d found the love of my life. It turns out I was right. I’m lucky, and I know that.

            So happy anniversary, Amy. It’s only here for a day, but tomorrow should be a good day, too. After all, you keep hanging in there with me. I’m ready to do the same with you for as long as we’ve got. Let’s keep at it. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Postcards from a Cross-Country Voyage

                For as long as we’ve been together, my wife and I have been a dependable couple who rarely stray from the measured, predictable route. We are people you can count on, but not people who typically inspire others to try new things. As we’ve raised our two daughters, those attributes made for some solid overall parenting, yet with an inclination toward the routine. Movie night on Fridays, dinner at Applebee’s or Chili’s on Saturday, and a weekend trip to Manhattan two or three times a year. During the summer, you’d usually find us visiting our parents for vacation, and occasionally springing for a weekend trip to Boston or Baltimore or Pittsburgh.
                Something starts to happen in your 40s, though, when you notice the clock ticking and realize that if you’re not going to add some spontaneity, adventure and variety soon, you might run out of time. Since we entered our 40s, Amy and I have completed endurance races (me a marathon, and she a triathlon), danced on stage, and swum with dolphins.
                This summer, we decided it was time to do something we’d long desired, yet never tackled: a cross-country vacation. Our girls were on board – even for the camping. And so, acting against type, we climbed into our Honda Odyssey at the beginning of August and drove into the frontier.
                In the end, the map, calendar and odometer show that we covered 20 states in 26 days, totaling 6,655 miles. The photos show that we saw prairie dogs and pronghorn, buffalo and bighorn sheep, mules and mule deer, and just a whole lot of lizards.
                Our younger daughter’s National Parks Junior Ranger collection features shiny badges from Arches, Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and the Flight 93 Memorial. We have baseball ticket stubs from Kansas City, Cincinnati and Toledo, as well as mini baseball bats from the Louisville Slugger factory, and a souvenir patch from the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, Iowa.
                The road took us from the Gateway Arch to the Delicate Arch, from Santa Claus, Ind., to Santa Fe, N.M., and from Park City, Utah, to Hill City, S.D. There were Badlands and Black Hills, canyons and cairns, as well as Cadillacs, ranches, and one Cadillac Ranch. We took photos at every National Parks sign with a stuffed Teddy Roosevelt doll that we’d gotten at a Washington Nationals game a few years ago, and we had a softball catch in 14 different states. We tossed the ball around outside Churchill Downs, at the Little League World Series, on a bridge in Wheeling, W.Va., in a sunflower field in eastern Wyoming, and on a veranda overlooking the North Rim at Grand Canyon Lodge.
                Restaurant receipts show that we sampled deep-dish pizza in Chicago, sopaipilla and buffalo burgers in Santa Fe, barbecue in Kansas City, and truffle mac n cheese in Sundance, Utah. Memory also shows that we had a lot of Subway sandwiches on late nights, and more than a few delicious dinners cooked over charcoal grills at campsites. Speaking of camping, we pitched our tent in the mountains of Pennsylvania, among the canyons of Utah, in the woods of southern Michigan, and even beside the highway, train tracks and airport of Amarillo, Texas. When not at a campsite or hotel, we stayed with family in Missouri and Utah, catching up on lost time and learning about life across the Mississippi.
                We traveled a lot in those 26 days, and we saw a lot of stuff. I can say that part of my goal was to broaden my girls’ horizons, and help them see how big and beautiful this country is. But parenting does not always give you a clear answer as to whether your intentions were met. I know the girls kept a scrapbook, and I know they told us they liked some of the places we visited. But I also know they complained a lot about seeing “too many rocks,” about hiking too much, and about enduring the dreadful lengths of some of our car rides. I had hoped they would spend time off their iPads, but a nine-hour drive from western Missouri to West Texas cannot be sustained by license-plate games and sing-a-longs. In some ways, the jury’s out on just what our girls gained from the trip. They’ll process it all in time.
                But Amy and I are old enough to digest these things more quickly. We know what we gained from those 26 days. Perhaps it is best described through a moment, rather than a sweeping, overall summary. For instance, take the afternoon we were all floating down the Colorado River, bulky life vests keeping us afloat, while a guide rowed our raft nearby. We stared at the sun-splashed canyons towering above us in a blur of orange and brown. Amy and I looked over at each other in disbelief. We didn’t say anything except “Wow,” but I think what we really meant to say was “What have we been waiting for?”
                Life in the 40s is shaping up to be a whole lot better than I thought. It seems as though a frantic focus on “What’s next?” has been replaced by a more centered query of “What’s now?” Amy and I don’t expect to have the amazing opportunity to drive cross country every year. But we think we can keep up some of this spontaneity and adventure. We are, after all, children of the ‘80s. And while driving through Chicago, we were reminded of Ferris Bueller, who once gave us some advice that might serve as impetus for a cross-country trip or two.
               “Life moves pretty fast,” Ferris said. “If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” We hear you, Ferris. It may have taken some time, but we got the message.