Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll is at 55 AND COUNTING. She writes:

Today is the 55th anniversary of the day Max Cossack — the famous novelist, whose real name is Joe — and I wed. Crazy. (When our son turned 20 and we thought of him as “husband material” it was quite sobering. And believe me, we were no more prepared or mature.)

Our Sages tell us that God finds it harder to match people up than to part the Red Sea. He must have been working overtime for us even to meet, let alone marry. Let’s examine it, because you won’t really even believe it or be able to calculate the odds. First of all, we both had to SURVIVE – no mean feat.

Joe’s parents were Jews from Latvia and Hungary. They met and married in college in Germany. As that situation deteriorated, they fled back to Hungary and barely made it out ahead of the deluge that swept away eleven other family members. They came to America with one 9-year-old son who had been born in pre-Holocaust Germany. Joe’s oldest brother, George, was a sportswriter and novelist who was also a towering intellect who served as a “Call A Friend” on the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” quiz show. He always retained a little German accent that made him sound like Henry Kissinger. George was just two years younger than my father.

Three more brothers were born here in America. His parents could easily have stopped at four sons. But God had other plans. Six years after the last one, here came little Joe.

As for me, as we have discussed before, I should not have been born at all. I was a tiny preemie, taken in the beginning of the seventh month because my mother had toxemia that turned to full-blown eclampsia. Her doctor strongly recommended terminating the pregnancy and “trying again.” It was a rare classic case of the “for the life and health of the mother” argument for late-term abortion. She just said, “No!” We both almost died. But, if you believe that everything is God’s Plan, there was a little boy about to be born in Springfield, IL who was going to need a wife, and so we lived.

As kids growing up in that awesome window that was ’50’s America, we were both free-range kids, avid readers who read EVERYTHING from magazines to books to cereal boxes, and devotees of Mad Magazine. Neither was what you might call a roaring social success, but that was okay because it left more time for reading.

But as they say on late-night infomercials: But wait, there’s MORE!!

I had a bestie who was headed for a Medical Degree. She had been my soulmate since 2nd grade. In 5th grade, her family had moved to St. Paul from Alexandria, breaking my heart. She was more urban and knowledgeable than I and so, when we decided to go to college together, I just let her choose. She chose Northwestern University (in part because it had a favorable boy/girl ratio! Also a good pre-Med program) and I basically went along for the ride. We both got accepted on Early Admission in October of 1963.

Meanwhile, in suburban Chicago, Joe – who was a year behind me because of his January birthday – had sprinted through high school in three, not four, years. We both were about to be in the NU Freshman Class of 1964.

He had wanted desperately to go away for college, but his parents wanted him to go to Northwestern. Because he was local, at first he was required to live at home and commute an hour each way on the El, saving the dorm space for out-of-staters. But, the Northwestern bureaucrats were entirely unprepared for Mama V calling them multiple times every day to nag them into giving her son a spot in the dorm. Remember, there was no Caller ID back then! They looked up “relentless” in the Dictionary and there was her picture. They gave up.

Okay, now we have both parties on campus in the same college in the same year. But they are still unaware of the other’s existence. Worse yet, I had found a bad boyfriend at the first Freshman Mixer dance. But Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, that crashed and burned for good a year later.

Okay, hang with me, now. We are very close to liftoff. It’s sophomore year. In a post-breakup depression, I had wandered into the Student Union in a funk. (But at least, because the blues can depress appetite, I was thin…) The Union had many booths that each held six people at that time, probably only four today, soon two. I knew ONE person in the whole place and there was ONE empty spot left in his booth. I sat down and immediately noticed a good-looking guy in a John Lennon cap, smoking a cigarette, who introduced himself as “Joe.” Others all got up and went to classes. We didn’t, not for the last time. We stayed behind and fell in love.

And that was IT. God said, “Okay, I’ve worked very hard on this – it’s up to you guys now.” Thank you, God. Seriously.

What is the secret to a long marriage? Besides blind dumb luck and good health? First of all, we really adore each other, respect each other, and have each other’s backs. Like Rocky Balboa and his Adrian, “we fill gaps.” I cook; he does taxes. I do dishes; he knows how to work the eight remotes. I iron pillowcases and change beds; he comes running when he hears me swearing at the computer. Gaps. Many other things we can’t or don’t want to do, we pay for someone else to do. But maybe even more important, we have a lot of FUN with each other. We laugh dozens of times a day. Sometimes we just look at each other and burst out laughing. Which maybe isn’t as flattering as that sounds…

Long-married people develop a secret language, probably like identical twins. It’s very economical and counts on the couple being able to fill in many blanks. It’s also handy as you age to have two half-brains to remember stuff. Typical dialogue:

(Watching TV movie): Who is that guy with the hat?

I think he was the bar owner in Deadwood.

Oh yeah. Al Swearingen. He died. Not Al, the real guy. I never remember his name.

Remember how much John Wick 3 sucked? He was in that, too. Keanu killed hundreds of people and nobody even noticed. Kind of like Chicago every weekend.

Glenn the Gun Guy did some bodyguarding for Keanu, and said he really is an amazing shot and he does most of his own stunts.

Remember when your band played Deadwood?

Yeah…the violinist almost got kicked off the plane for being drunk.

Ian McShane! That was Al Swearingen. Whew. Not senile yet! My brain is just on Dial-Up instead of High-Speed.

See? That covers a lot of territory and makes little sense to anyone else, but we have a whole world of shared information contained in that brief exchange.

But what about the problem of boredom of being with the SAME PERSON for more than half a hundred years? (Boredom? Have you ever met Joe? Unless he’s talking about his stupid Fantasy Baseball team, he’s a really interesting guy.)

Now it’s true that the long-married do not have the variety of romantic physical experiences that the footloose and fancy-free have. But in order to keep the marriage vital and interesting, in an attempt to introduce variety, I have sacrificed to be several different weights during the last 55 years.

I have been quite thin, normal, a little zaftig, and pretty goshdarn fat, which is almost as good as giving my husband four different women to be with, only without his having to learn four different names. Joe is a very smart guy, but “names” are not his long suit. I also have wardrobes in all four sizes by now, which is quite thrifty.

I WAS slowly drifting from “normal” back to “quite thin” pre-pandemic. But now I am trending up 15 lbs. again. I used to blame China, but now I blame Putin. It seems I keep Putin food into my pie-hole. Including, but not limited to, pie.

And so here we are, spending Carter-era speed-limit number of years together. Despite having some normal aches and pains and slight disabilities that come with being 75, if we could freeze ourselves right at this stage and live together forever, I would be a happy woman. But, since that is not a possibility, we are more determined than ever just to live every day as fully and as joyfully as we can. Thanks to all of you for being a big part of that joy.

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