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 dove."

"Oh, John!" my mother said. Then she left the room.

"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 me."

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, "…all 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 out."