A Love That Lasts
I learned from my own observations of my parents’ relationship and others that love does not have to be perfect, but it should be right.
This month I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary with the only man I have ever loved. I suppose it has become rare for marriages to survive for that many years, and even rarer for those relationships to be truly happy ones. I like to think that ours is a unique union, given that I first met my husband on a blind date when I was only sixteen. We married just two years later, the summer following my high school graduation. I was an “old” eighteen year-old, with some insight about what love should look like. Looking back, I knew a lot less than I truly believed I knew. But, I was right about one thing-ours is a love meant to be.
I guess I was more than a little influenced by the long-standing marriage of my parents. I would like to say that theirs was a relationship to long for and to emulate, but that would not be true; not even close. They shared so many differences, even in physical appearance. My father’s 6’2 skinny frame was the perfect opposite of Mama’s obese 5’2 frame. Watching them walk side by side was a little amusing; I suppose you could say they looked like the number ten when walking down the street.
Mama met my father in a soda shop where she worked when she was just sixteen in Waller, Texas. To hear her tell it, it was a match made in heaven. Mama was a plump girl with an hourglass figure and low self-esteem. She said she had developed early, and ate to cover the curves to protect herself from the advances of the “older boys”. The woman I knew as an adult was fairly attractive, though I cannot remember a time when she was not obese, which was a contributing factor to her death in the end. I think of her dark hair, large blue-green eyes and creamy skin and I wonder at her lack of confidence in her teen years, and I used to try to imagine what her life would have been like if she could have seen herself as others surely did.
Mama was always led by her emotions, and the day my father folded his six foot-two inch rail-thin frame into the door of that soda shop, she melted. My mother was the oldest of seven siblings, and was bored with her life in the small white farmhouse near the Salt Mines where my grandfather had worked his entire life. My father was known for his charm, and Mama fell for it completely. She said she loved his red hair and ice-blue eyes, his overall “sexiness”. I always shook my head in disbelief when she told the story of how she actually fed ice cream to my father from across the counter of the soda shop the first day they met. It wasn’t long before they married in a small civil ceremony at the county courthouse; an event that marked the beginning of a tumultuous and passionate life-long relationship that would affects us all in different life-changing ways.
My father was a tortured soul; that’s the only explanation I can give for the way he lived his life. He was indeed charming and handsome, and loved to banter flirtatiously with waitresses in the restaurants where we stopped for coffee on our frequent moves. He did so shamelessly and in front of my mother, who sat silently. He could be engaging and humorous, or silent and brooding, of course we always hoped for the former. He was a powerful, controlling presence in our home. My mother worshipped my father. She served him, even filled his plate for him at meals and kept his iced tea glass filled. She cleaned the house and made sure meals were served on time. She was encouraging and complimentary. She wore make-up almost daily during my childhood, or at least that is what I remember most-her penciled-in eyebrows, mascara and powder. She often wore her hair in a modified beehive that was so fashionable during the 1960’s and early 1970’s and her daily wear was those popular polyester leisure suits that looked attractive on almost no one but sought after by everyone. She prepared carefully, and then waited patiently for my father to arrive home from work. I know she hoped for his admiration, and my father could be affectionate on the rare occasion, but mostly I remember his verbal abuse, the names he called her, the taunting about her size. My mother cried a lot, suspected his unfaithfulness and sometimes she threw things in a fit of rage. One of my earliest memories is of my mother throwing a square, tortoise shell hair brush at her dresser mirror causing all of the glass to come down like rain. I remember she cried, had somehow cut herself on the broken glass and my father then rushed to her side to comfort her in his gruff way.
Their relationship was a roller-coaster ride, to say the least. I would like to be able to say that Mama finally received the love she longed for from my father, but she did not. I do believe he loved Mama as much as he could love anyone, but it wasn’t until after her death that he became a broken man, overcome with the realization that he never showed her the love she deserved. Mama died loving my father unconditionally, and he died just over two and a half years later longing for her, grieving for what he had lost.
I grew up knowing what love should look like, and should not look like. I learned from my own observations of my parents’ relationships and others that love does not have to be perfect, but it should be right. I learned valuable lessons about the importance of showing mutual respect, love, and value for the relationship and the other person, even when you don’t feel like it. Of course as I grew older I learned about perfect love, and found the formula for understanding it:
“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” I Cor. 13 4-7
Our marriage is far from perfect, in fact sometimes we probably both wonder: what in the world was I thinking? We sometimes have such completely different views on important issues, so much so I can’t believe we have made it this far. I really don’t know for certain why our marriage has made it this far and some have not, nor do I judge anyone who is not in a long-term relationship. I can say that our faith and love unites us, and sometimes is the only commonality we have. There is a lot of hard work and commitment required in strong, long-standing relationships. In the end, I guess I just feel very fortunate to be given such a blessing in spite of all of my mistakes and imperfections. I have been given an earthly love that lasts.