Living Columns & Blogs

Our Lives: Recipe for a good marriage starts with a dog

My son’s fiancée, Grace, and I rise at dark, driving the five hours from Raleigh to Baltimore and her first bridal shower. It’s a kitchen shower with a recipe theme, and we’ve all been asked to share a favorite.

They’ve been engaged for months, but somehow when I see the small banner draped above the kitchen table, I’m not expecting it.

“Soon to be Mrs. Rountree,” it reads in pretty block letters. Seeing it brings a familiar catch in my throat, dampens my eyes. Though the circumstances are always different, how many times have I been at this emotional place?

This time: The wedding, and sooner than I realized. And Mrs. Rountree? That was my mother-in-law, and me, too, in certain circumstances, but I hadn’t yet thought of my daughter-in-law-to-be as joining the team.

I’ll file this son moment with others I’ve committed to memory: a random rainy afternoon playing with his sister in the attic; driving with him from the DMV parking lot with me riding shotgun; the day he says he wants to make his own decisions – which means choosing his bedtime; that college day when the dog dies; and the day he leaves the house, heading to the first job.

And suddenly, he sits at the supper table where he once asked to make those first decisions about his life and says he wants to continue the family tradition, with the ring.

My husband’s grandmother gave her diamond to his mother, and when we announced our engagement to his parents, she handed the ring to me. We’d been married about 10 years when I lost the stone. I was grating cheese when I noticed it missing. That morning, I’d been coveting my new neighbor’s jewels, looking back at my pretty but small one, thinking the size of the diamond meant something about the size of the love. It only took losing it to understand my error.

I’ll lose the replacement diamond, too, this time to Grace, and I’m thrilled. When I met Graham the day he picked up the newly reset ring, he apologized for not bringing a handkerchief for my tears. This day – for both of us – like the others, would not repeat.

It’s what you wish for, to raise your son up to be thoughtful and creative and loved by someone as much as you. Right? To leave you, well not leave, leave, but to be grown enough to slip into another family’s life and make them a part of his. Right?

And here, in a tiny row house in a city I’d never visited, it’s all suddenly real. He’ll be married soon, using the new Panini press, the blender and the monogrammed towels forming the recipe for his new life with his wife. We love Grace and knew she was the one the moment she walked into my kitchen. She is that right for him.

Still, I keep thinking of that boy, playing in the attic with his sister.

I come to, really, when Grace’s mom asks me to write some advice in the memory book she’d chosen as a keepsake for her daughter. I find an empty line and write my first thought: “Always have a dog.” It solves a lot in my mind.

But then Grace’s mom points to the section for mother-in-law comments – I have more lines to fill.

What can I say that will possibly matter?

“Always have a dog. Keep him talking (the son, not the dog, who always talks if you’re paying attention). “Imagine growing old together, take a lot of pictures. On his worst day, be your best. Dance in the kitchen.”

I should’ve added: Pray every day. Cheer for your team. Pull some weeds. Plant a peony – reasons for each, metaphors in all.

My daughter, married almost seven years, and my niece, almost eight, are there for the shower, too. They look at my list and say: Yes, right.

What’s the recipe for a good marriage? Thirty-four years in I’m still trying to figure it out. But I know ours begins with a dog. And the best days often end with dancing in the kitchen. Add the middle ingredients, blend well.

Susan Byrum Rountree is a Raleigh writer. She’ll soon walk down the aisle with her son, but she won’t be wearing beige. She can be reached at, and writes at