Yesterday Beaven and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary by spending most of the day apart. Not that this is our secret but, in a way, it is. Anyone who has lasted 36 years together considers themselves war veterans of a sort. And there’s a certain amount of comfort and security in knowing you’ve past the test, many tests, in fact, and can weather whatever else comes your way. By this time you don’t really have stars in your eyes anymore. You probably couldn’t see them without your bifocals anyway.
Our marriage started off in a kind of weird way. Somehow at the wedding reception the keys to the trunk of his car got separated from the ignition key. He had the ignition key, could start the car and drive off for our honeymoon. But he gave the key to the trunk to someone to load our suitcases and couldn’t find that person. Everyone was waving us off for our grand exit, throw the damned bouquet, catch our plane in time, yada, yada. I was a little suspicious that they really just wanted to get back to their champagne. I didn’t care, though; I was married and it was a magical evening. It didn’t take 30 seconds for the magic to wear off. As we found ourselves alone for the first time in our 2-hour old marriage, Beaven was in a panic. He could get us to the airport but he couldn’t get into the trunk to get our bags. He was thinking about a week in Mexico City without luggage. Before we got even a block away from the reception he was using words I had never heard him use before. I began wondering who this horrid man was that I had just married.
It all worked out and we had a great honeymoon, came home, went back to night classes for a couple of years and had two children. For the next 20 years or so we put our marriage into a kind of suspended animation that comes with raising kids. So when the youngest went off to college we looked at each other and wondered who was this person we were married to. We went into counseling. The next thing I knew we had separated. This startled everyone, including us. But it all worked out eventually. And here we are married for 36 years and having the life we envisioned back when we first started.
Along the way we’ve had a lot of examples of the ways we are different from each other. We took a cruise once that offered gambling. I won forty dollars on the slot machine and told him to go get me one of those buckets.
“A bucket? What for?”
“So we can take it up to our room and take it home.”
“Take it home? You’re supposed to put it back in the machine and see how much more you can win.”
We stood there for the longest time and looked at each other with new eyes and wondered who this person was and how did we get married to somebody like that.
But I watched him take care of his Daddy during the last years of his life. I’ve seen him with his grandchildren and wondered anew where this man came from. I’ve watched him move furniture and marveled at his strength at age 65.
Now I’m going to tell you our secret. Building things. I remember distinctly when we both realized we wanted to be married to each other. We were in the swimming pool at the Riveria apartments on Live Oak in East Dallas. The rest of our friends were in the pool drinking Salty Dogs and talking while Beaven and I were in our own little world discussing swimming pools. I think it was me who said, “Let’s build a pool together.” Once we agreed on this idea we realized we’d have to have a house and a marriage. The rest fell into place. But the die had been cast: marriage was thus defined in our partnership as a building project. Something we would work on together.
Since that day at the Riveria apartments we have indeed built a swimming pool together as well as a couple of houses and more re-modeling projects than I can count. Sometimes “building” was no more than hiring a contractor and agreeing on the design but more often than not it was picking up a hammer and shovel and doing it ourselves. At our house right now we’ve just finished a playhouse for the grandkids and are about to install our fourth toilet in what has now become a “compound” of a variety of buildings out here in the country.
Every couple I talk to has their own criteria for what builds a good partnership. For some the test is wallpapering. For some, it’s canoeing together. But I think the greatest exercise a couple can do to keep their marriage sound is pull electrical cables. We have pulled miles and miles of cables in our 36 years. He gets at one end in the attic and I’m usually in the house at the other end of where the cable is supposed to end up, watching for it through a hole about 2 inches wide as he tries to feed it through ten feet of twists and turns with me yelling to him to “Push. No, pull it up a bit. No, push, push, push!” Yesterday’s project was our greatest feat and, to be frank, it would have stopped most couples cold.
We had to feed 70 feet of heavy, thick underground electrical cable through a 50 foot pipe then through a hole under a concrete pad for about 18 inches. This was mostly underwater, too, since it rained just enough to fill the hole with water. Then we had to turn the cable up and back into a hole 4 inches up through another concrete pad and into our barn. At times Beaven was in a kind of foxhole in the ground with his arm extended into a hole under the concrete, through the water and upwards to where the water line stopped and he met the air. We stopped at one point to measure his arm and it lacked about a half an inch to match the distance we needed to cover. It was so tantalizingly close that we knew if we just kept at it we would succeed. We worked on this for about 2 days, taking periodic breaks and wondering if it would all be worth it. The second day our muscles were so sore we could barely move. The foxhole had become a mudhole by then and Beaven’s hands were covered with scratches. I found one of my ears had mud caked on it. In the end, when it finally did work, we secured the wire then went inside to rest. This time when we looked at each other we knew exactly who we were looking at. I looked over at my partner and said, “That was really fun, wasn’t it?” And he agreed with me. It really was.