Rants & Essays
All Our Lives Long
By Jeanne Marie Laskas
My mother and father were about to celebrate their 50th
anniversary. Mother called, all excited. "He got me a white rose!" She sounded
like a teen-ager who'd been asked to the prom.
This anniversary brought out a side of my parents that I
never knew. For instance, that their wedding rings are each inscribed with a
line of poetry: "I send you a cream-white rosebud." My father told me this in
the kitchen one day. My mother said, "Oh, John," as if to stop him. My father
said, "Oh, Claire."
That's the way my parents have always been about their
relationship: private. There was never any mushy stuff going on that we kids
could see. What we did see was buddies, a team.
"Do you remember the poem?" I asked my dad that day in the
kitchen. He looked at me, took a breath and started reciting "A White Rose" by
the Irish-American poet John Boyle O-Reily.
"The red rose whispers of passion, and the white rose
breathes of love," he began.
My mother said, "Oh, John!"
"O, the red rose is a falcon, and the white rose is a
"Oh, John!" my mother said. Then she left the
"But I send you a cream-white rosebud with a flush on its
petal lips," he went on, standing there by the sink. "For the love that is
purest and sweetest has a kiss of desire on the lips."
My father stopped. "Isn't that beautiful?" he said smiling.
We went to find my mother, who was in the den, her head in her hands. "It's
beautiful!" I said to her.
"It's embarrassing," she said.
This is a woman who in her youth had never seen a happy
marriage and wondered why anyone would bother. Instead, she imagined a future
as a Chaucer scholar. In college she found dating only mildly amusing. Then she
met my father.
He was the must fundamentally decent man she had ever met.
It was the man, not the institution of marriage, that drew her. She went to the
altar, she would tell us, feeling as if she were jumping off a cliff.
In their first year, my father went off to war. My mother
was five months pregnant, and terrified. She had the baby and waited. She ate
chocolate sundaes to soothe her heart.
My father returned, said hello to his seven-month-old son
and, with my mother, soon bought a house. Then they had a daughter, then
another daughter and then me.
Even as a kid, I could tell my parents were different. Dad
preferred being with Mom to going off bowling with the guys. And when he wasn't
around, she didn't roll her eyes and make jokes at her husband's expense as
other wives did. Instead, she'd say, "You know, he's never disappointed
To celebrate their 50th anniversary, my parent renewed their
wedding vows in church. Some 75 friends were watching. When my father repeated
his vows, he choked up and had to pause. My mother said hers with more passion
than I'd ever heard her use. Staring into his eyes, she proclaimed, "
the days of my life."
After the ceremony we had a big party, where my father
kissed my mother and said, "Welcome to eternity."
She was speechless much of the time, except when she
declared, "This is the happiest day of my life." She said that a lot. Then
she'd add, "This is better than my wedding day! Because now I know it all works