Standing in the card aisle at Target I can feel my heart softening as I search for an anniversary card for my husband. Monday will be 35 years for us, and though I favor the sarcastic, this time I can’t help reaching for the sap. It seems right to make him go “hummm” when he reads it. The first one I open brings tears to my eyes and into the cart it goes. The Skipper will surely think I’ve lost my last mind.
Thirty-five years. My parents had been married that long before I even noticed their years. They simply were, as sure as my father’s morning whistle and my mother’s caramel cake. Married myself by then, I likely was only then realizing how much work it would take for my husband and me to reach 35. (My parents made almost 61 years together look easy.)
I’m the youngest of three, and a few months before our wedding my father, a bonafide Eeyore in those years, told me the odds were that one of the three of us would end up divorced. I know he only wanted me to be realistic, yet it seems he could have given me some tips on how to make a happy marriage. Maybe it was blind luck or sheer tenacity at proving him wrong, but my siblings and I have all managed to escape the odds. (So far.)
Nineteen-eighty-one. The year Princess Diana folded herself into a dress with a 25-foot train and married a man who didn’t love her. Rick and I were two newshounds in the middle of an inner-office romance who married a year almost to the day after we’d met. Risky, that, I think now, but what did we know?
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We’ve kept an anniversary album all these years, taking photographs of ourselves on Oct. 10 from 1982 until now. A gift from my mother’s cousin, the dimestore album helped us establish a ritual that has proven important to both of us as we weather the mercurial winds of marriage. Even when we weren’t getting along, we (almost) always put our grievances aside long enough to snap the picture.
It’s the backstory of the images that I love. The first year, wearing our rehearsal dinner clothes, we set up the tripod in the front yard of our new house. My husband’s father the day before had surgery to remove a brain tumor, and it shows on our faces, but the Georgia gnats swarming around our mouths do not. I’m too thin (when was I ever that?) and my young husband holds me as if I might run away at any minute. (Living far from family, I thought about it a time or two that first year.)
“A two-day stomach bug to celebrate,” reads the narration in my handwriting.
Looking at that first picture I want to step into it and meet that young couple again, the ones who on a rainy winter night, sat on the sofa devouring a frozen chocolate pie the young husband found in the back of a convenience store freezer because his pregnant wife had a craving. Are we still those people? Some days, perhaps.
The photographs reveal a narrative as changing as my hair styles and themed sweaters: moves, loss, laughter, kids – as we drafted neighbors, bellhops, moving van drivers and eventually our children to capture each year in living color. Snapshots of mountain sunsets and early mornings in our kitchen in our pajamas – our smiles for the camera mostly happy. As the years pass, I begin to favor my mother and Rick his dad, and a wee bit of wisdom shows in our faces, as do the gray hair and extra pounds.
Happy. It seemed so easy to define as we stood in our trousseau clothes swatting the gnats away. It was called The Future, and it was shimmering, its proof yet to be captured in the images of this album.
The life we saw ahead of us in 1982 has been – if not always happy – enriching, challenging, changing, and on its best days, just a bit sappy. And I’m grateful this year, in particular, for the many pictures we’ve yet to take. May the smiles be happy, the future shimmering still.
Susan Byrum Rountree is a Raleigh writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.