Fourteen years ago, Mr. Handsome and I got married in my parents’ driveway under a black tarp, buckets of Queen Anne’s Lace at our feet, with fifty-some guests all comfy on metal folding chairs watching on.
I hadn’t wanted to marry him that morning. He had arrived the day before in his little red Toyota Celica (we promptly dashed to the courthouse to sign the marriage papers, last minute for everything as was—and is—our custom) and then busied himself stringing lights around the garage/barn (that he had helped pour the floor for on his first visit to my house the last summer). But come Saturday morning of August 24, 1996, I decided I didn’t even really like the guy.
I don’t remember what my last minute funk stemmed from. Perhaps he was acting overly goofy or arguing with me just for the heck of it. Whatever it was, I was suddenly excruciatingly aware that I’d be stuck with him (and his behavior) for the rest of my blessed life and I just wasn’t in the mood for it. But I knew I had made the decision to marry him in less stressful times, so I soldiered on, ever the martyr. And really, it wasn’t serious doubts I was having. I just didn’t, at that time, really, you know, like him.
By the time the wedding started, I liked him again.
We ate supper first, guests spilling over onto both porches and the yard, and then there were pictures and last-minute vow memorization. The service itself was simple—some scripture, some readings, a meditation, the vows, a few tears, and then a fierce hug as the sun went down.
Homemade ice cream and cookies followed.
It sounds like a small enough affair, simple and sweet, but my parents will tell you otherwise. For the seven-and-a-half weeks between engagement and wedding (we don’t mess around), they worked their tails off. To cope, they wrote up schedules and task lists for each month, and then, as the time drew near, for the week, and then, heaven help us!, for the hour. Here, let me read off some of what’s on the lists (thanks, scrapbook):
Beginning of August…
*kittens (yes, a basket of kittens were part of the decor, and for the little cousins to play with)
*plan garage decor
*buy flowers to plant
*clean oven racks
*take down treehouse
Hey, look at that. I’m only up to the 14th of August—we weren’t to be married for another ten whole days…
*try corn? (we served fresh homegrown corn, off the cob)
*make granola and hide
*call about peaches (there was still regular canning to do)
*bleach shower curtain
*wash kitchen chairs and cupboards
*put calves into goat pasture
*take down fence for parking
*trestle table on back porch
And then for the 23rd…
*clean (didn’t we do this already?)
*tie dog and wash porch floors
*bring home lasagnas
My mother was so organized that come the day of the wedding, we all sat around bored.
She had arranged for friends of theirs, two couples, to come work the kitchen while the wedding was going on. She wrote out a two-page guide for them. I get an enormous kick out of her very neat penciled instructions. It goes like this:
*put out butters
*arrange relish (carrots, celery, peppers, blk and green olives, cukes) and fruit (watermelon, grapes?) trays
*put out breads and cover tightly (braided bread, round dark, sesame, oatmeal wheat)
*put out soak pails
*thaw cookies on back porch
semi last minute
*set out drinks: tea, lemonade, water
*light kitchen candles and outdoor citronella candles
*toss salad (lettuce, chopped eggs, bacon)
*bring in lasagnas (girls will be baking these at Fountain Fire Hall and delivering them)
*set out ice
Very last minute: sing. Stay in tune and don’t bawl. (The four of them and my parents sang the dinner blessing, What is this place)
*wash spoons and whatever else there’s time for *prepare ice cream—3 freezers (see directions in containers in fridge)
She drew a little sign on the edge of the page with these words written inside:
Light garage candles and plug in rafter lights
immediately prior to ceremony if rainy;
otherwise when ice cream making begins
*put sauces into dishes
*powder cookies (tea cakes)
*arrange all cookies on trays (chocolate raspberry bars, molasses cookies, tea cakes, lemon bars)
*set out cookies and sauces (strawberry, raspberry) on picnic tables along with small plates, napkins, spoons, pitcher of water with ice, stacked glasses
That was just page one. Page two was a map of the kitchen with lines and arrows indicating traffic flow, as well as a diagram of the kitchen table showing how the food was to be arranged.
*Pails for used silver on kitchen stove and picnic table at carport
*trash bucket beside stove
*trash bucket beside picnic table
*extra corn on stove
*extra lasagnas in oven and on back porch, also the breads
*extra drinks on counter beside fridge
*ice for drinks in fridge
*ice for ice cream in freezer
And scrawled diagonally across the page:
Keep door to back porch shut as much as possible or guests will think they’re in West Virginia.
And so we were married.
Mr. Handsome and I, we are so totally different. Sometimes it blows me away how different we are. I always thought I’d marry a studious man, a guy who liked to sit around in the evening and discuss esoteric theology, whatever that is.
Instead, I got a tool belt-wielding, calloused-handed, down-to-earth, sharp-tongued manly-man. With emphasis on manly, as in manly-man.
I have no problem with how things turned out.
Still, being so different and all, it can be pretty hard to find stuff to do together on special occasions like, say, our anniversary.
Me: “Any ideas for what you want to do on Tuesday?”
Him: “I don’t know. What do you wanna do?”
Me: “I don’t know.”
Long pause, in which I think about childcare possibilities, movies, special food to prepare, whether or not we might enjoy going out to dinner, if we should spend the evening cleaning the attic or running the errands…. and Mr. Handsome thinks about the axle on his truck. It’s been giving him problems.
The silence is deafening.
Me: “Soooo, since there’s nothing we want to do together, how about I find free childcare and we hang out at home and then put a hundred dollars in my camera fund since we didn’t spend any money?”
Him: “Sounds good.”
At least we agree about not having anything to do together. So maybe we’re more alike than we let on?
Fourteen years is a long time to live with someone completely different from yourself. Fourteen years means we’ve shared a bed for…let’s see…WHOA! 5110 nights! Taking into account a handful of weekends apart, perhaps it’s only 5000 nights, but still, five thousand nights is a lot of nights. That means there have also been 5000 days and 5000 suppers. How about dirty supper dishes? With a super-low estimate of 35 dirty dishes, that would be 175,000 dirty supper dishes.
Suddenly I feel very tired.
Fourteen years ago, I married this man.
Despite our differences and the sometimes disheartening lack of shared interests, we have done an awful lot of together-living.
Together we have, in no particular order:
*bathed naked at a well in the middle of nowhere (Quick! Hand me a towel! I see someone up on that hill!)
*shared a single bed in a mouse-infested, HOT tin storage shed next to an evangelical church with a souped-up sound system
*made four more human beings (though I want to be clear that only I birthed them, thank you very much)
*sat through many counseling session, only a few of which were useful
*parented other people’s children for a couple years (i.e. foster care)
*fell on the floor laughing
*read out loud to each other (The Brothers K, A Severe Mercy, City of Joy, etc)
*cleaned up the kitchen
*experienced depression, ADHD, cancer, hemorrhaging, dengue, and an emergency c-section
*decided we’re horrid parents
*decided we’re superb parents
*decided we’re just plain old parents
*lived through a (small) earthquake and a hurricane
*built a house out of mud
*enraged each other
*renovated a house from top to bottom and inside out (the “together part” is used quite loosely here)
*hosted donut parties
*made hundreds and hundreds of quarts of applesauce
*dumped 40-plus quarts of home-canned peaches down the drain
*lived in two apartments and owned two houses
*had massive tickle fights, towel-snapping wars, and impromptu water battles
*shared countless late-night bowls of cereal
Speaking of cereal, Mr. Handsome brought me home a box of Captain Crunch today. We have a thing for it.
And each other.