“Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.”
Later this week my wife and I will celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Twenty-five years is a long time. It is time for a lot to happen. It is time for things to evolve. It is time for things to go wrong. It is time for things to go right. It is time for laughter. It is time for tears. It is time for babies to be born and, indeed, for babies to grow up. It is time for misunderstandings. It is time for perfect agreement. It is time for amazing victories. It is time for spectacular failures. It is time for two people to get to know each other pretty well.
In the last twenty-five years I have made some dumb mistakes. My choices, taken on the whole, have been pretty questionable. Hell, I owned four Fords in that time. I did get one thing right, though, despite myself. The decision I don’t regret, have never once regretted in twenty-five years, was asking Melissa Mueller to marry me. And my hero Samuel Clemons, as always, is on the Mark. Love gets better over time. Perfect love needs incubation. It needs refinement. It needs twenty-five years together. Romeo and Juliet aside, kids don’t know anything about Love.
I was a nerd in High School. Who am I fooling? I am a nerd, now. But it was a nerd sport which led me to Missy. Scholastic Bowl is a trivia contest where teams compete to answer questions in various knowledge fields. I had joined the team as a freshman and by my sophomore year I thought I was pretty good.
I liked going to the tournaments and I liked the practices. But what I really liked, after the first meeting of my sophomore year, was to see a certain cute little black-haired freshman girl come through the door of Mrs. Smith’s classroom. She made me feel all funny inside. She made me stammer. She made me loose track of time. Egad! She made me miss tossup questions. And on those days when she didn’t show up (she also played clarinet in the marching band) I was distraught.
Missy caught my eye because she was pretty. I can’t deny that. She had short, black hair and a cute little button nose. She had rosy cheeks and an omnipresent smile. Her eyes sparkled. When she entered a room she brought a kind of warmth and energy with her. She still does.
I probably would have wanted to ask out Melissa Mueller (once I built up the courage) even if she had never spoken to me. But she did speak. She came up to me and said “Hi.” I have never tired of hearing that voice.
Missy was not just another pretty girl. She had a brain. She had a wonderful, complex, fascinating, engaging brain. She challenged me in every way. Ultimately she challenged me for Captain of the Scholastic Bowl team and she won. She has won many times since.
I finally did ask her out. In my usual fashion I almost waited too long. On the eve of the homecoming dance I discovered to my horror that another boy, a band nerd no less, had asked Missy to the dance. Cravenly, I went to the dance alone, green with envy and with cruel intentions for the other boy. I got lucky. She didn’t hold my knavery against me and surprisingly neither did the other boy. She danced with me most of the evening. In twenty-five years Missy has tolerated a lot of plodding, slow, indecisiveness from me. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I only know that I have always depended on her kindness and tolerance and, up to now, she has always bestowed it on me. As to the other boy. Well, he… became a doctor or something …no need to mention him any further.
Why do Mark Twain and me both agree on the quarter-century. It’s because men are dumb. It’s because we are blockheads and slow learners. The truth is that when you are lucky you don’t always know how lucky you are. I know it now and I shall never forget it.
Missy and I have had our struggles as I imagine all married couples do. We have argued about money, sometimes. We have argued about politics, sometimes. We finish each other’s sentences, occasionally, for better or worse. But our love for each other and our respect for one another (at least mine for her) has constantly augmented.
Here’s one thing I know is true about my wife. Missy is the smartest person I have ever known in every sense of that word. She is sharp and intelligent and possesses a rapier wit. She loves a good pun and a clever turn of phrase. Her vocabulary is impressive (English major, you know) which I love. She is superlative (see, she’ll get that).
Missy’s memory is prodigious. No, that isn’t quite right. To say her memory is prodigious is to say Michael Jordan was a pretty good basketball player. On questions requiring memory I concede the point immediately. She is correct. I am mistaken. Case in point: On a recent vacation to the north shore of Lake Superior we visited a park we had passed through on our Honeymoon twenty-five years ago. Trying to evoke a romantic response and impress her with my less than prodigious memory I asked her (rhetorically, of course) if she recalled standing by the waterfall as we watched children playing in the mist. Yes, she said, “you were wearing a yellow shirt.” I think that’s what she said. I can’t really quite recall. That was two weeks ago.
Cynics say that familiarity breeds contempt. I guess I’m not as cynical as I think. My love for Missy has only grown stronger as we toddle along together toward old age. I travel a great deal for my job and my profession has a tendency, in some cases, to be hard on a marriage. I have flown with a number of younger married First Officers who seem rather ambivalent about the trip ending. At least a couple dread the thought of going home to their spouse or, worse yet, ex-spouse. Not me. I am a lucky bastard.
I am not a composer so I can’t write a fitting symphony to honor our twenty- five years together. I’m not a sculptor so there will be no soaring block of granite with hearts and cherubs to proclaim it. I am a pilot but the company really (I mean really!) discourages skywriting with passengers aboard. Tributes can come in different forms. Here is mine:
Missy, I always want to come home. When we touch down in Chicago and I set that parking brake there is, like the Roadrunner, a puff of smoke in the shape of me and I am gone. I am gone home to your loving arms. Your arms are my favorite place to be on this planet, wherever those arms are.
Happy Twenty-fifth my Love! May I be lucky enough to get fifty more with you.