Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Golden Day

It's a very special day today, and the sun came up and was warm and sweet where I live. The trees are changing color, and the hickory trees and tulip poplars are a particularly rich and beautiful shade of gold right now. My morning commute involves a drive through the country just north of our city to the inland Navy base where the Norwegian and I both earn our daily bread. In the mornings and afternoons, the sun is at the precise angle to light the treetops. The entire woods look burnished and bright. It's breathtaking. We've been watching the deer, fearless in that area, step out into the open fields on the edges of the base. There's one small group, a few does and their young fawns, led by a regal buck with a nice eight to ten point rack, that we've seen a couple of days in a row now. I think they must know there's no hunting allowed on the base, and that even in the afternoon during the exodus past the south gate, they can feed in safety and peace.

On this day, fifty years ago, in a small town in north Alabama, my dad married my mom. They met at her workplace. He was a switchboard equipment installer for Western Electric, and the cotton company she worked for needed a telephone upgrade. My mom noticed him pretty early on in the job, and made excuses to frequent the ladies' room so she would have to walk repeatedly past the place he was working. One thing led to another, and they finally married at a little Episcopal church with red doors on Gordon Street. Everyone laughed about that last part, since that was my dad's first name.

Life and Western Electric took them all over the south. The first five years they were married they moved more than 30 times, in a tiny Airstream trailer--the littlest one they made. Dad had a penchant for big old Buicks, so at least they had a sturdy vehicle to pull their little home behind them. Year one brought Gordon, Jr., who left them almost as soon as he arrived. The near three years brought them my two sisters. I arrived six weeks before the assassination of President Kennedy. Our brothers arrived in odd-numbered years as well.

We stayed in the same city after 1963 and all of us grew up there. We had a backyard garden. Dad stayed with Western. We went to grade school and beyond, the Army, the Navy, and so forth.

It wasn't always easy between them. It wasn't always peaceful. The 1970s were rough on a lot of people and while we weren't devastated, neither were we entirely spared. The 1980s brought greater change--retirements and graduations; the 1990s brought grandchildren and war. And still they soldiered on.

I don't know what it takes to be married for fifty years. I look at the Norwegian and wonder what we'll be like at that milestone--he'll be 101 and I'll be 94 and 7/8s. I hope we'll be the complete embarrassment of the retirement home--still sneaking kisses and holding hands.

Dad died two years ago, suddenly, awfully. Mom was done with her treatment for lung cancer, but unfortunately, lung cancer wasn't done with her. Her third brain tumor left her in September with an esophagus so constricted she can neither eat nor drink. She has a feeding tube in her stomach now that she pours a concoction of nutrition that smells awfully like Carnation evaporated milk into six times a day. Her adrenal glands are both covered in tumors that have metastasized from her lungs. Today though, we took her flowers and a card covered in gold. It was so small a gesture to offer for 50 years of hope and love and tears and joy. This wasn't the golden anniversary we expected, but life isn't always what we ask for. The best we can do is to live and love.

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