Friday, July 9, 2010

Summer 1985: Setting the Date

In the summer of 1985, I was newly engaged to Peter, whom I’d only met in April. It felt right; we loved each other and we kept discovering ways in which we complemented and completed one another.

We were both elated with our newfound happiness, although my elation also incorporated a large element of surprise and disbelief. We told our friends and family members, one after another. Each telling made it more real, to me at least.

I was telling the story to people at work, and saying I didn’t know how we would possibly plan a wedding for the fall with everything else we had to do. A colleague mentioned that he and his wife had been married privately, and they simply threw a big party a month later for friends and relatives. A light went on.

In late July we went to dinner with my best friends, Carol and Michael, so they could meet Peter. We were having a great conversation when Carol asked, “When are you getting married?” We answered, “Early October, in your living room.” Their looks of surprise were priceless, but the recovery was even better. Carol said, “Then we’d better put a rush on the new carpeting.” The first weekend in October was Michael’s birthday and they had reservations out of town, so we agreed instead on the week before: Friday evening, September 27.

Now we had a date, and lots to do: shop for a ring, find someone to officiate, look at reception sites, start a guest list, plan for my move into the townhouse. Someone had told us that the true test for any couple is whether you can survive wallpapering. We decided to wallpaper both bathrooms. We had fun making the choices and we were both meticulous in our work. Once we figured out how to work together instead of each taking charge, things went fine. Another excellent sign!

I’ve never told him this, but for a number of years I’d been hearing a voice in my head. When I would look into the mirror in the morning, fixing my hair or makeup, the voice would say, Do you love me? It had probably started some time after my mother died in 1980. I tried answering yes, as in yes, I love my self, but the voice continued to ask…until the summer of ’85, when I noticed one day that it wasn’t asking any more.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wednesday's Word: Introspective

Bonus word: Pisces.

Augie often chews his lip when deep in concentration, and if you ask a question he may choose not to answer. He's probably processing everything that has happened recently, which would account for his astonishing recall. Long silences are a habit we share, a fact I attribute (with a straight face) to our both being Pisces. To one born under the sign of the fish, getting lost in thought can feel like swimming to the bottom of the sea. Often we just sit together holding hands, thinking our separate thoughts until we swim back to the surface.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4, 1985: Fireworks

During my single years, I gravitated to Fourth of July festivals and to art fairs, parades, outdoor concerts, etc. If friends were available, I’d go with them; other times I went alone. Sometimes I thought it might be more fun if I had a special guy to share the experience.

So in 1985, with just such a man in my life, I suggested we go to Taste of Minnesota, a festival on the state capitol grounds featuring food, music, and fireworks. We went early and spread our blanket in a good spot. The food wasn’t wonderful, but people-watching was. As it grew dark, the Minnesota Orchestra played classics…1812 Overture, Stars and Stripes Forever, something by Aaron Copeland…all stirring and beautiful and perfectly suited to the occasion. If memory serves, they ended with the 1812 and started the fireworks just then. Huge chrysanthemums and fountains filled the sky overhead, and we oohed and aahed with the rest of the crowd. The finale might have been romantic, except that the skies opened up. Suddenly thousands of people were bumping and jostling, hoping to get out of the rain, hurrying in different directions toward their cars. We rushed, too, until we recognized the futility: first, we were already soaked, and second, once we got into the car and pointed toward the bottled-up freeway it would be stop-and-go traffic for an hour.

That’s when I understood why Peter didn’t like big, crowded festivals. We became a family in search of accessible fireworks. (And yes, I'm breaking with the tradition of my "25 years" stories by acknowledging the obvious: we are together, and celebrating the 25th anniversary of our courtship and marriage.)

We found a more distant vantage point for the Taste show—a church parking lot at the top of a ridge overlooking downtown. But a year later, the shrubs on the ridge had grown tall, blocking much of our view, and the mosquitoes were so thick we left early. In 1988, on the return leg of a family trip to Boston, we watched fireworks with my college friend Kathy and her family in Grafton, Wisconsin. And for a few years we headed over to the east bank of the University of Minnesota, sat on a hillside, doused ourselves with Avon Skin-So-Soft (original formula, an excellent mosquito repellent), ate fresh cherries, and watched the fireworks set off at the state fairgrounds. We had that down pat, until they cancelled the show.

In 1993, we bought season tickets to the new St. Paul Saints. And guess what? They have fireworks three times every season: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and the final game of the year. And fireworks at the Saints means huge shells, lots of them, and a couple of false finales so good than when the real finale comes, you find yourself laughing because it’s so fabulous and because you’d been silly enough to think the show was over 10 or 15 minutes earlier.

Yes, we’ll be together tonight, watching from our first-row seats, wiping ash off our faces if the breeze blows in from right field. We’ll be wishing the grandkids could stay up late enough to join us. We’ll be saluting the flag and humming the patriotic tunes because we learned during the 1960s that it’s not a good thing for liberals to abandon the symbols of patriotism to the right. And we’ll be reveling in the fact that this comfortable life we’ve built together includes fabulous fireworks two miles from home.


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