Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll concludes her six-part travelogue with Visiting My People – the Grand Finale: Seventy Years and Counting. As always with her weekly column, previous installments of this series can be accessed by inputting “Grrrll” in our search engine. She writes:

Several weeks ago in this column, I set out on a journey to celebrate my parents’ seventieth wedding anniversary back in my hometown in rural Minnesota. You have made the trip with me. As the sign says around construction zones: Thanks for your patience. The riots, scandals and terrorist attacks seemed to manage nicely without my take on them, but next week it’s back to pithy political commentary. Can’t have too much pith in troubled times.

What to make of such an amazing milestone? How do you log 70 years of marriage?

Steve Martin had a great old bit: How to make a million dollars and pay no taxes: “First, get a million dollars. Then, pay no taxes.” (There was as yet no MSNBC to make that formula a reality.) Shhh…here’s the secret: To attain such an impressive number of anniversaries, you have to get married pretty young and then try to live a very long time.

My father is a few weeks shy of 90; my mother, the cradle-robber, is 94. They have lived in Assisted Living for two years now. At the time of this writing, they were the only intact married couple there. So, in addition to your being quite old, your spouse has to be alive as well. Usually the men fail to hold up their end of that bargain. Soon after my 50th class reunion, the great guy who keeps us in touch emailed the sad news that four more classmates had passed, all of them men. In any nursing home, the ladies outnumber the men by about 8-1. C’mon, fellas, figure out how to live as long as we do. We love you and need you.

So, we’re agreed that to reach 70 years of marriage, you must first live long and prosper. And then, of course – this is the tricky part — you have to stay together! This didn’t used to be so hard because people just did it. Growing up, I never knew a single divorced person or young person with divorced parents until college. Back in the day, if there was a little window of happiness in a fairly miserable marriage, you stayed. Today it seems that if there is a little window of imperfection in a generally-happy marriage, you split up.

A friend of mine who has been through a boatload of therapy in his four marriages, introduced me to the concept of “co-dependence.” I asked him, in all sincerity what the hell was wrong with that? It sounds like a good thing, but evidently, it’s unhealthy in Therapy World. Who knew? Well, it worked for my parents.

They love each other very much. They have fun together. Mother is a very funny person who can always make Daddy laugh. Before her eyes degenerated, they did the crossword puzzle together every day. They enjoy Judge Judy, Wheel of Fortune, and FOX News. She loves clothes and always looks cute. A teeny person, her weight is exactly the same as her age! He is proud of his “arm candy.” (My weight will only be the same as my age if I live to 125, which seems unlikely but is something to shoot for.)

My parents have always had a pretty rigid division of labor along traditional gender lines. He can’t make instant oatmeal, though for decades he has insisted that he knows how to make Fudge. This Elusive Mystery Fudge has yet to appear but hope springs eternal. She was a spectacular cook; Her Greatest Hits include Rhubarb or Butterscotch Pie with flaky piecrust. Apple Turnovers from the apples Daddy lovingly raised in his fruit orchard. Fried Chicken to die for. Fresh Caramel Rolls floating off the plate for breakfast. My siblings and I are all pretty good cooks, mostly from having her food as a standard to live up to.

Daddy minds the investments and pays the bills; she cooked. She cleaned (and oh boy, did she clean); he fixed things. Everything worked perfectly in a spotless home. She raised us three kids, cleaned the store, and volunteered; he earned a nice living until he sold his drugstore and retired at an early age. She’s never been a good “detail” person; he is meticulous with details. Co-dependence. Complementarity. A good thing. What did Rocky Balboa say about himself and Adrienne? “We fill gaps.”

On the anniversary day, there was a festive reception at their Assisted Living facility. All the residents were invited whether or not they knew my parents’ names, or even their own. Faye the Cook made a gorgeous cake and a handful of friends from around town came in. There were not nearly as many as attended Mother’s big 70th birthday bash, already almost a quarter century ago. The downside of living that long is that you outlive most of your friends and many relatives. There were flowers, corsages, and ice cream to go with the cake. They got dozens of congratulatory cards, gifts and phone calls. Everybody with a cellphone snapped photos like paparazzi.

They were big-deal celebrities for nigh unto a week, including a human interest piece in the local paper. The dear little reporter – who has a great future in journalism – managed to get almost every detail in a brief article wrong, but still wrote a nice, if fanciful, little story.

Mr. Ammo Grrrll and I also married young. We have a nominal 22 years to go to celebrate our 70th. Heck, that’s only about 8,000 shopping days left. May I suggest a nice Ed Brown 1911? Hope I can still rack the slide. Maybe you should just give it to me for our 48th in June. Yeah, that would be best I think. Why take chances?