Longevity…

The word longevity popped into my head recently and hasn’t left the premises yet, but I’m ok with it. I was thinking about how long ago Hubs and I got hitched. It wasn’t a whirlwind romance of 3 months consisting of 90% lust and 10% love. We dated (and broke up more than once) for a long spell, but it wasn’t getting any easier mostly due to my overbearing parents. So we opted to tell no one and simply eloped in a neighboring state where our marriage license would not get published in the Sioux City Journal. The reason? Most of our home town read the Journal daily. Mom and Dad would discover our diabolical plan early enough to intervene (again) or would get a phone call after the first newspaper hit the front porch of almost anyone in town.

Prom, 1966…

I don’t think we spent 50 bucks on blood tests, gas, marriage license, fee to the Elk Point, South Dakota judge who met us at the courthouse at 6:54 pm on a Monday night, September 22, 1969. We were walking back out of the joint by 7:03, legally bound by the institution of holy matrimony. (My lavender dress was one in my closet and had been worn several times, nothing special so it didn’t set us back anything. Hubs had to dress decent for work at Channel 4, so he wore something already in his closet with a sports jacket). You can chalk up another $50 for the fancy supper after our elaborate ceremony with our 2 witnesses (mum’s the word) before heading to Sioux Falls for a 2 day honeymoon, which was spent trying to garner enough courage to make that dreaded phone call to mom and dad. One night we went to the Macamba Club, listening to Stan Kenton (yes we sprung for a terrific band. Really, no one besides our witness and friend Dale knew where we were, and we had every intention of heading to the Black Hills, but lacked money and time. I don’t remember why they let me in the door of the Macamba Club, I was just shy of 19. This was a regular bar and you had to be 21).

Free picture a couple months after eloping, 1969…

Using your keen math skills tells you in a few days Hubs and I will notch anniversary number 51. (I know, I can’t believe it either. I’m way too young right)? Most of the years have flown by in a blur-but that’s looking at them in the rear view mirror. At the time some of those years slogged along painfully slow, held down by insufficient funds, too many bills and dead end jobs. But we persevered. Always.

My favorite with 6 years under our belts, 1976…

But when ‘longevity’ niggled in my brain it really wasn’t OUR marriage I was reminiscing about. I was thinking about our little one-stoplight-town in northwest Iowa, where we both grew up. While I was one of the firsts my age to get married, soon after we celebrated our 50th, the line behind us was crowded with classmates, acquaintances, friends, relatives, waiting in the wings to hold their own milestone anniversary party.

Davenport, 12 years and a complete family of 5, 1982…

I know we’ve made huge strides in the last half century to lengthen our life expectancy but when I was a kid it was highly unusual for couples to celebrate 50 years of marriage. (My parents made it to 62 years, John’s parents celebrated 58 years together). Those who made it had a real cause for celebration. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I think we ought to give credit where credit is due, don’t you? I’m just gonna state the obvious. It was the water in Rock Valley. Duh.

25 years and going in the hot tub, Jackson, 1993…

I haven’t checked any state by state comparison statistics on marriage and divorce but I gotta believe northwest Iowa is (or was) below average in the divorce column, at least when a marriage was initiated in the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s. Marriage longevity could also be pinned by our fondness of Taverns, but I’m gonna stick with our drinking water. We all consumed the water and they’re might have been a few folks who didn’t eat taverns growing up. What? (We might want to check the divorce rate among those couples). I know of no one who didn’t love Taverns as a kid. I think I’m on to something here.

Could the lowly Tavern help your marriage last longer?

I’m not trying to prove any kind of bizarre points on the sanctity of marriage. I firmly believe not every marriage is made in heaven and have nothing against seeking a divorce if it’s not working and is never gonna work. My biggest beef/bitch/gripe about marriage oddly enough, is the actual wedding (not the exchange of vows). The engaged couple spend months searching for the perfect venue, purchasing a big enough diamond to bump the bride’s weight up a size (to her dismay), fine tuning a delectable menu, trying on dress after dress for the most exquisite gown, flowers, 3 story high cake, tuxedos, reception, honeymoon. And then many go their separate ways after a couple/few years or even months. If couples put in as much effort in the first 5 years of real marriage as they do on the one outrageously expensive day to ‘get’ married, the divorce rate would plummet. But I digress.

They tore down the beautiful courthouse in Elk Point, but we wanted to acknowledge where we eloped, 40 years before, 2009…

It’s been heartwarming to see some of kids we grew up with as they start celebrating milestones of their own, some with golden anniversaries and many with 40 or more years. Celebrating with the same spouse they started out with all those decades ago. Did any have misgivings/cold feet/doubts before the wedding? Can’t say I did. I just assumed everything was gonna work out ok. However I’d be the first to say, I wouldn’t give you a plug nickel for the first 5 years. They were tough. And we knew each other well. Probably should have waited a couple years to get better established and a couple more to have our first kid. But we can’t do that. No way, because in that one moment and only that moment Shannon became a person. Then Joshua, then Adam. No, there’s no way I’d ever consider changing those events in my life. Who would want to?

50 years in and still plugging along…

I think congratulations/well wishes are in order for all of us mired (maybe not the best word choice, but hey it fits) in the institution of wedded bliss for decade upon decade. Much like getting older, marriage is not for sissies. Keep reminding ourselves, it’s a journey not a sprint. You don’t want stop before the finish line. Keep moving forward. Most of it good, some of it not, but in it for the long haul. With God’s help…

Water Boy…

We’ve been in our house 5 years after spending 21 in North Muskegon, 160 miles northwest. We encountered many changes once the dust settled. We moved in October, compelling us to ‘take care of the imminent business at hand’ on our new crib’s insides before fretting about the outside. New paint, flooring, appliances, window coverings, storm doors, enlarged a bedroom and took the bathroom down to the studs. That’s how we spent our first winter.

I love this clump river birch. My hummingbirds perch in it…

During the frigid days when the ground wasn’t covered with Michigan’s disgusting, white stuff, John stared at the front and backyard with equal parts of horror and dismay. (He hates weeds and is very particular about his grass-which was seriously lacking) The backyard had an evergreen privacy fence on the east side, a long row of burning bushes reaching heights of 15 feet lined the north side. There was no grass to speak of. It resembled a downtrodden cow pasture-sans cows.

Nothing helped curb appeal as much as removing the old blacktop…

The front yard was worse. The original attached one stall garage had been converted to a family room years ago, but the 50 year old faded, cracked, pot holed, wide black top driveway remained, which accounted for about a third of our front yard. Unruly scraggly bushes, as tall as the roof line ran along the east side of the house. Nothing in the front yard besides a tired 50 year old maple which was hollow and threatening to fall over if someone sneezed. The storm door had blown open months before we bought the place and was hanging on by one screw in one hinge. It had hit the house so hard there was broken glass everywhere. But having the storm door open gave a much better view of the front door-which was painted purple. Adding to the curb appeal were dull blue shutters accenting dingy windows. Exactly why this house appealed to us remains a mystery.

I snipped until there was nothing but roots left for John to pull out…

The front porch was a slab of cement with 2 weird sized steps, one of which wobbled. (At least 200 of our pre-school trick or treaters tripped while trying to manage the second step because it was a couple inches higher than the going rate). The yard was full of ruts, pot holes, bare spots and weeds. We just turned a blind eye to the mess and concentrated on turning the house into a home for the first 6 months.

Hopeless step wobbled when you went up and down…

We had our yard ‘to do list’ ready as soon as the filthy, stinking snow started melting. First Hubs got quotes for the black top removal, replacing it with a new concrete drive, adding fill dirt so he could start growing grass. He got quotes for the sidewalk, steps and railings. We wanted to start fresh with a new porch but it’s literally attached to the house so it had to stay. We just replaced everything connected to it. Then hired a friend of ours to take down the old maple in front and trim the one in back.

My ‘weeping larch’ though he seems quite happy and well adjusted…

By mid March the tree was down, the stump was ground out, new topsoil smoothed out awaiting grass seed. In late March we had our new driveway, sidewalk and steps. Hubs then started getting quotes for an in-ground sprinkler system.

New driveway and sidewalk made a huge difference in curb appeal…

Luckily one of the neighbors wandered over and asked about all the lawn services showing up at the house. John said, “I need a sprinkling system installed if I want grass this summer.” “Umm, you can’t have in-ground sprinklers in this neighborhood,” Pat said. After Hubs picked his jaw off our grass-less, weed infested yard, he asked how that was possible? Or legal? “Oh the township promised they would charge everyone the same flat rate for water/sewer. But the stipulation is that no one has an in-ground sprinkling system.” Odd right?

Ugh, the backyard when we moved in…

Good to know before we signed the dotted line spending a couple grand on an illegal watering system. No matter how bad it was gonna look, first up was getting rid of the weeds, (leaving the yard looking depressingly barren), tossing on some crabgrass preventer and grub killer. (He really hates moles, and they love grubs).

Added to the deck, plus railings, new steps and fire pit…

Next we yanked out every ugly shrub from the side yard, ordered tons (6?) of river rock and edged from the driveway east to the back fence. The never ending wheel barrel of rocks were moved into place with 2 shovels and four arms. Took a week of back-breaking work but boy did it look nice. Bought some unusual dwarf shrubs, a paper bark river birch, a weeping larch, an Alaskan pine and we were in business. As soon as the Hubs figured out how to keep the lawn and all the new additions alive-by watering everything by hand. Something he’s not done in 25 years. But he was retired and had the time.

A lot of stones to move by hand. The only part that doesn’t require watering…

I would venture he’s on sprinkler number 20 in five years and finally thinks he has a winner. He’s fussy. This sprinkler is made by the company he used with our in-ground sprinkling system when he had to buy new heads constantly. He uses a soaker sprinkler in my pachysandra bed and a different kind of sprinkler in the backyard. I can remember our first decade of marriage when he’d stop at K-Mart every spring and buy a new hose for 99 cents. By the end of the first month it would have sprung a leak from a crack. I swear it was made from ceramic. But here’s the thing. The hose was guaranteed for a year. He’d bring it back and get a replacement. This was like a garden hose courtship ritual every year. He’d buy the crummy hose, get it replaced 3 or 4 times before fall. All for 99 cents and 4 trips to K-Mart.

Best ground cover ever. Pachysandra stays green all winter and flowers in the spring

I’ve gotten quite familiar with the neighborhood sprinklers (people who water faithfully) not the actual gadgets. There seems to be 3 different types of sprinklers. One guy thoughtfully looks over his front yard. Meanders slowly to pick up the sprinkler which is off but already attached to a hose. Lugs it over to the perfect spot, walks ever so slowly back to the faucet (he’s a lot younger than me), turns it on and peers over his masterpiece for a couple minutes, nodding. Job well done and heads back in the house.

The back entrance was pitiful. We extended the deck with better steps…

The second type is ‘the anal sprinkler’ (her yard is pristine. Hubs hates her though they’ve never met, and is insanely jealous) who wakes up and has her sprinkler going by 6 am. She does the bendy thingy with the hose. Refuses to walk over and shut off the water while she moves her sprinkler for the umpteenth time. She just muscles that sucker like she’s wrestling the devil himself and sets it exactly where it needs to be to give every blade a good drink.

Jovi and grandpa fill the bird feeders and give the squirrels ears of corn…

Then there’s the Hubs. He sneaks up on the sprinkler from behind, plucks it from where it’s been nestled for a couple hours while it’s spraying every which way, covers a few feet of landscape in a certain direction, sets it down to judge his location choice. In four years of sprinkling (in his defense last summer was almost perfect. Almost every time the grass needed a drink, God provided) he’s never walked in the house after moving a sprinkler-where he’s not drenched. (Reminds me of our boys when they were toddlers decades ago. Summer was so alluring they had the hardest time coming into the house in time before they peed their pants. The proof of waiting too long was always visible). Hubs is wet from his ankles to his chest. I don’t know if he doesn’t notice it’s spraying him instead of the grass. Maybe it feels good (it has been really hot) or he’s totally immune to cold water. But in our yard everything gets a periodic soaking from the hose-except me…