“We only ever danced at weddings …” That’s a line from a poem I wrote nearly 25 years ago about my father. I was a 33-year-old creative writing student at Oberlin College then, still working through the 20-year-old grief of losing my father soon after I turned 13. In the 1960s, my father and I had several opportunities to dance together—three of my cousins were married in elaborate celebrations of love, with opulent receptions in Cleveland hotel ballrooms. The remnants of these memories reveal snapshot scenes: a fountain flowing with champagne, my glamorous cousins in gowns, relatives and strangers linked in the dabke, a traditional Lebanese folk dance accompanied by drums. But like so much of what passed for happiness in the 1960s, these moments were evanescent. Even the hotels are gone.
That’s why I’m so grateful to have this picture of my dad. There aren’t many of them; he was always the one taking the pictures. One of my cousins found an undeveloped roll of film in her late mother’s apartment, took it to a photography store in Cleveland, and surprised me with this print.
As Father’s Day approaches, my dad feels closer to me than ever. I’m sorting through old photos of him (courtesy of my cousin), reading his war letters home, and working on a memoir in which he has the starring role. I’m also sorting through some of my old photo albums, and came across this picture, which symbolizes so much for me.
The author performing the dabke at an international festival.
After my father died, my Sicilian-American mother wanted to keep his heritage alive for me. She joined the local Lebanese social club, and I was enlisted to dance with other young people at the Lorain International Festival. This would have been around 1972. In this photo, I’m performing the dabke, the dance I learned as a child, watching my relatives at those glamorous weddings.
Two years later, I would represent my culture as the Lebanese-Syrian Princess at this same festival. But that’s another story.
All my life, I thought I was participating in these activities to please my mother and honor my father’s memory. It’s only now that I realize the dancing was as much for me as it was for him, keeping the rhythm of love and family alive in my heart.
They date from June 1942 to June 1945—three years of a life interrupted by the Second World War. They’ve held up surprisingly well, given they are more than 70 years old. They’ve survived scorching summers and frigid winters in various attics, as well as several moves, but they did not survive their author, my father. His letters home to his parents, who owned a small grocery store in Elyria, Ohio, begin and end in June, which would also be the month that he died, in 1969, when I was 13. I’m 58 now, and it has taken me 14 years—ever since I found them in my mother’s attic after her death—to get around to reading them. Filled with bravado and fear, boredom and enthusiasm, pride in his country but a keen longing for home, they are, other than photographs, the only tangible artifacts that I have of my father’s voice and personality; very few people who remember him are still alive. I’m finally getting around to reading these letters because I’m writing a memoir inspired by my father’s absence, and by his interrupted influence on my life.
You might say that I’m finally getting to know him.
Private First Class George G. Abookire was stationed in the Middle East with the U.S. Army’s Persian Gulf Command—a stroke of more than good luck. His posting was a deliberate tack by his commanding officers, since my father could speak Arabic fluently. A first-generation American born in Elyria, where his parents eventually settled, his father was born in Beit El Dine, Mount Lebanon, an area of Syria that would, after the First World War, become what is now known as Lebanon. His mother was born in the neighboring village of Deir El Amar. Both villages were located near the cities of Zahle and Beirut, and when I was growing up my grandparents defined themselves as coming from Zahle. (Rather like people from Elyria saying that they’re from Cleveland.) That I have this information at all is the result of much diligent work and research by several of my father’s first cousins, and—surprisingly enough—his Polish nephew-in-law, who has an abiding interest in genealogy.
The letters begin as my father, 21, is en route to his first training camp at Camp Barkeley, Texas, following his induction in Ohio. He graduated from Elyria High School in 1939, but didn’t enroll in college. It’s clear from this letter that he hasn’t traveled all that much:
In the beautiful hills of East Tennessee…
….It’s really beautiful here, Ma. The people and everything is [sic] so simple but yet they seem that they’re not doing enough for you. Ray’s mother-in-law is swell and his sisters are simply be a u t i f u l to look at in fact all the Southern girls are. …
Try and not work too hard Ma as I don’t want you to. I’d like to see you & Pa on a vacation this year & if its up to me you’re going to have it. Life here is simply grand & wonderful to be in. I can’t find words for it Ma. You’ll have to see it yourself. It’s a different world all together here and I just about wished I were born here….
Your loving boy, George
By the time he reaches Texas, the bloom has come off the rose, but his training as a medic clearly has engaged him:
I didn’t intend to write today as I just don’t know what to do with myself lately. The Captain had my explanation on the history of my chest pains, as the other day one of the Corporals here said I was just a slacker & no good to the army. After telling the Capt. I passed navy & air corps he sort of pricked his ears up. Outside of that I’m a 100% buddy around here to all the boys.…
The studying is terrific. You really have to study to keep up with the awful large amounts of work they give you. Anatomy, Physiology, Pharmacy & bacterial media. It’s fun though….
Tuesday night…just got off kitchen duty. I had 11-1/2 hours of it & we just scrubbed every thing after each meal.
I’m in the tent now writing by flashlite [sic] smoking a R.G.Dun that you sent me.
Truthfully Dad the army was tough over where we were at but somehow I managed to overcome it but this out here on the edge of the camp is something else to swallow. We have no toilets. Just a wooden shed & room for 10 or 12 & you can smell it way over on this side of the road as our tent is the last one on the end from Headquarters.
As I told Ma we had a miniature hurricane here Sat. while we moved. Our raincoats saved us but our feet & hands froze & we had to set up new living quarters (tents) kitchens & dig ditches & all in all that rain. One fellow in our Co. caught pneumonia & died yesterday. This life here is so tragic & unbearable I don’t see how I’ll take it. 2 of the boys here went A.W.O.L. Sunday. I went to the show & walked around about 6 miles in camp.…We have no lights … we’re not even to go to the toilet at night. We shower in cold water & then we only have 3 faucets for over 300 men.
I could go on telling you about this but what’s the use of it. My studies are terribly hard Pa but I’ll get it.…Drill study – Drill – classes & then sleep & all over again. I wouldn’t know what to do if I could be home with all of you now. It’s like looking for an actuality but you know your [sic] living on borrowed time. Well I’ll just have to swallow it.…
The experiences at Camp Barkeley, where my father is a member of Company A, 62nd M.R.T.C., underscore not only how challenging all of this soldiering will be, but also how the Army is still building from scratch. His reference to “living on borrowed time” suggests a familiarity with the real horror of the unknown. Reading these letters with the benefit of history and hindsight—we know how the war will end, and I know that my father will survive it—emphasizes their in-the-moment nature. He doesn’t know his fate, nor do his “buddies” in the camp.
I never thought of that before. On past Memorial Days, when I’ve thought of my father as an army veteran—a member of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”—I thought of him in his uniform, thrilled by the adventure of it all, proud to do his part for what he calls, in a subsequent letter, “the good ol’ U.S. of A,” and visiting family in Lebanon while stationed in Iran. It never occurred to me to consider what had to come before the neatness and the pride and the adventure: hard, back-breaking work in the constant rain, and the fear of an unsettled life.
My father in uniform during the Second World War. The photo in the rear, to the left, shows him as a young boy holding his baby sister. Included in the photo of his letters (above) is a picture of him in football gear with two of his buddies from the medics. He’s in the center.
Award-winning actress Linda Lavin in A Short History of Decay
There’s a remarkable scene in A Short History of Decay, the début film by writer/director Michael Maren, that will be familiar to anyone whose life has ever been touched by illness—which is to say all of us. Sandy Fisher, played with exquisite nuance by award-winning actress Linda Lavin, is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and aware that she’s losing her lucidity. Sandy has just had a brave, candid conversation about the reality of her illness with her son, Nathan, a writer played by Bryan Greenberg. She reveals how scared her husband (Harris Yulin)—is by the prospect of losing her—he’s in poor health himself, having suffering a stroke. The ostensible subject of the conversation is Sandy’s need to move into an assisted-living center, but the subtext is mortality, and Lavin’s performance is a master class in acting. It is during their embrace, when her son cannot see her eyes, that she reveals the fear and terror she’s kept at bay.
I’ve kept my eye on this beautiful film throughout its development. My mother had Alzheimer’s. Unlike Lavin’s character, however, my mother was not aware of what was happening to her—her version of the disease announced itself suddenly, with episodes of paranoid delusions. Having lived through her nightmare, I can’t say I would have preferred a gradual declension of the sort embodied by Sandy Fisher—the “short history of decay” that would have allowed for time to accept and adjust and plan. Knowing my mother as I did, I think that living with an awareness of what was happening to her mind would have horrified her.
My focus on this scene, and my interest in the Alzheimer’s arc of the film, should in no way mislead you into thinking that A Short History of Decay is depressing. Far, far from it. The film’s triumph is the hope that plays like a horizon note throughout its patient, careful storytelling. That, and its moments of pure grace and humor. Maren, whose mother has Alzheimer’s, drew from his own life in writing the film, which he has called “a darkish comedy.” Critics such as Marshall Fine of the Huffington Post are praising Maren for managing “the nifty tonal trick of telling a tragic tale and somehow making you feel hopeful about its characters.”
I had the chance to interview Linda Lavin by phone during the run-up to the film’s release; it opens in New York City at the Village East Cinemas on May 16. I asked what she looks for in a script or screenplay, and what, in particular, drew her to Maren’s film.
“I look for a script that makes me laugh and cry while I’m reading it,” she says. “Michael’s screenplay felt comic, tragic, real, funny, and sad.”
How did Lavin prepare for the role of a woman afflicted with Alzheimer’s?
“I didn’t prepare,” she says. “I just showed up. I used my imagination, and what was in the script—what Michael had written. This is a personal story for him, so we would ask him questions. He was a very gentle guide as a director.”
But enough telling. Let me show you the trailer for the film:
Alice Doesn’t Work Here Anymore Lavin’s portrayal of Sandy Fisher might surprise audiences who know her only as the iconic and beloved waitress Alice Hyatt from the hit CBS series Alice, a role which earned her two back-to-back Golden Globe awards. So, for those who haven’t kept up with her career, here’s a quick primer: Two years after Alice ended its nine-year run in 1985, Lavin won a Tony Award for her performance as Neil Simon’s mother in BroadwayBound, a role for which she also won Drama Desk, Outer Critics’ Circle, and Helen Hayes awards.
All in all, Lavin has earned six Tony nominations—for The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, The Diary of Anne Frank (where, as Mrs. Van Daan, she was first paired as Harris Yulin’s wife), The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Collected Stories, and The Lyons.
At 77, Lavin is as busy as ever. In addition to the release of A Short History of Decay, she stars in a new play at the Vineyard Theatre in Manhattan. Nicky Silver, who wrote The Lyons, created the part of Audrey Langham in Too Much Sun for Lavin.
“I’m excited to be playing this character—a successful American actress having one spiritual awakening after another,” she says.
When I asked her what life experience had the most significant effect on her art and on her career, her answer was that of a woman intimately familiar with spiritual awakenings:
“Life is about evolving. I can’t say I would point to one experience. I believe everybody and everything that’s ever happened to me has gotten me this far. I have more to learn, more to do. Each experience leads me to a place of knowledge and surrender and truth, and the ability to accept things as they are and the courage to change the things I can.”
Even if you haven’t seen Philomena, the acclaimed 2013 film directed by Stephen Frears, and starring Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, the media attention surrounding it has possibly made you aware of the fraught issue of closed adoption—especially those adoptions arranged and sanctioned by the Catholic Church in Ireland. The heart-wrenching tale of an unwed girl’s loss of her child in 1950’s Ireland, when the nuns at the abbey that took her in adopted him out to an American couple, received many critical accolades and awards—four Academy Award nominations among them, including a Best Picture nod and a seventh Best Actress nomination for Dench. Based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, by Martin Sixsmith, the British journalist who helped Philomena in her search for her son—50 years after his birth—the film is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, VOD, and Pay-Per-View. If you missed it during its theatrical release, I urge you to see it now—especially if you are an adoptive parent, as I am.
My son is now nearly 33 years old. Because his story overlaps with mine (as each of our narratives intersect with those of others), I asked M if he would be comfortable with my telling my part of our shared story. He assured me he would. (He hasn’t yet seen the film, although he’ll be coming over soon to watch it with me.)
Before I get too far ahead of myself, take a look at the trailer, and note the unexpected moments of humor in this beautifully crafted film:
I’m glad that I was alone when I watched Philomena. Although I was aware of the story and how it develops (I’ll not provide spoilers here, so continue reading without concern)* I viewed it privately not to shield my son from my reactions to the film, but rather to give myself space to have those reactions, and to reflect on what this courageous woman’s story meant to me.
That’s Philomena’s Story. Here’s Mine. If you’ve read the serialized medical memoir on my blog, you already know the circumstances that led my first husband and me to adopt a child. We don’t get much from Philomena’s story about the way adoption changed and fulfilled the lives of her son’s adoptive parents. (The adoption of three-year-old Anthony Lee, later known as Michael Hess, was almost an afterthought; he was paired at the last-minute with a younger girl whom the St. Louis couple had traveled to adopt.)
So let me tell you, from my experience and perspective, what it felt like the first time M was placed in my arms:
I was overwhelmed by love. I was ridiculously happy to have him in my arms.
M was four-and-a-half months old and crying when we first met him in the agency office. (We discovered, once we got him home, that he had a terrible case of diaper rash.) The first thing I noticed was his full head of beautiful, dark blond hair. When your ability to bear a child is taken from you as emphatically as was mine, you are unquestioningly grateful when you are fortunate to adopt. As thrilled as we were to have an infant, I would not realize until later how much it would have meant—to M and to me—to be able to hold him in the moments after his birth. Did he have an uncanny infant-awareness that a difference existed in the warmth and scent of the body holding him now, compared to that of the foster parent who cared for him in the months since his birth? This was not a thought I articulated then. Then, all I could think to say to him, instinctively and repeatedly, was this: It’s Mommy. You’re home now. It’s mommy. I love you and you’re home now.
Among the charming items we decorated M’s yellow nursery with was a framed poem that I would sometimes read aloud to him:
Not flesh of my flesh,
Nor bone of my bone,
but still miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute;
You didn’t grow under my heart
but in it.
It would be a while before my delicious feelings of motherhood could allow room for the fact that there had been someone before me. But as my son grew older, it became clear that if ever in his life he felt he wanted to know his origins, I would move mountains to help him in his search. I did not know—I still do not know—anything about the woman who gave birth to my son other than the fact that she had hay fever and (if memory serves), was of Italian and Irish ancestry. We might have been told that she attended college, but I’m not even sure of that. I know I took notes when we got the call, but those are stored in a box in my first husband’s home. I’m relying on pure, faulty memory here. But I can tell you this with certainty: Whatever powerful reason compelled her to make her decision, I thanked her every day. And each year, on M’s birthday, I say a silent prayer for her.
The heartbreaking difference in Philomena’s situation is that she was not given a choice; Anthony was abruptly taken from her after she had three years—such as they were—with him. (The young girls worked long hours in the laundry at the abbey, permitted only one hour each day with their children). I would like to think that the adoptive parents of Michael Hess, who was born Anthony Lee, said a similar prayer for Philomena.
Open Versus Closed Adoption Because my first husband and I were Catholic, and because we had heard that the wait time was not as long as with the non-religious affiliated agency in town, the Catholic Charities organization in our local diocese arranged our adoption, which was legalized through our county’s probate court. As far as I know, closed adoption was the only process through which a couple in Ohio could adopt a child in 1981. That’s since changed, of course; today, open adoption is becoming the norm, with birth and adoptive parents often meeting one another and exchanging helpful information.
Lori Holden is a blogger and writer from Colorado whom I met at a blogging conference a couple of years ago. She is also an adoptive parent. With her daughter’s birth mother, Holden co-authored a book called The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption. I interviewed her via e-mail, and she confirmed that much has changed since our closed adoption in 1981. Holden shared with me statistics from the Donaldson Adoption Institute:
“Prior to 1990,” she wrote, “fewer than 5% of domestic infant adoptions were open. In 2012, 90% or more of adoption agencies are recommending open adoption.”
According to Holden, “there is no set definition” to what open adoption means; she writes that it is not necessarily the case that birth parents meet the adoptive parents, for example. Open adoption might simply mean an exchange of information; for others, it could entail some agreement about contact or integration between the families. To others it could mean access to original birth records, or some combination of all these factors.
“For years, adoption agencies have been telling adopting parents why to do open adoption,” says Holden. There was, however, often no support or guidance in exactly how to go about doing so. The book she wrote with her daughter’s birth mother is, she says, “the girlfriend’s guide I wished had been available at the start of my journey into adoptive parenting. For all the shame and pain caused by secretive adoptions for women like Philomena and her son, Anthony, openness could have been the antidote. Readers say our book helps heal the split that is created at the moment of placement between a child’s biology—the story he’s born with down to his DNA, and his biography—the life that’s written thereafter.”
The Times They are A-Changin’ In Ohio, where I live and where my son’s adoption took place, Governor John Kasich signed into law a bill that will eventually allow adoptees, upon attaining legal age, access to their birth records. According to reporting by Robert Higgs of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, “the law applies to an estimated 400,000 Ohioans adopted between Jan. 1, 1964, and Sept. 18, 1996.” This would include my son; he was born in June 1981.
According to Holden, many states are beginning “to unseal what was once sealed.” In fact, the day she responded to my e-mail, her own state of Colorado put two bills through the legislature. She shared with me a link to a map, created by the White Oak Foundation, illustrating U.S. adoption statutes.
I’m grateful for this new law in Ohio. If and when my son decides to take the next step and conduct a search, his path will be cleared of many obstructions.
What I realized, watching Philomena, was how excruciatingly painful that separation from Anthony was for her. Even as an adoptive parent, I wanted to reach through the screen and prevent that hopeful St. Louis couple from realizing their dream—I wanted to intervene on Philomena’s behalf, so strongly did I identify with her. In experiencing the joy of raising my son and watching him grow into an accomplished young man, I understand the power of a mother’s love.
I look forward to watching Philomena with him.
Postscript Philomena Lee has become an advocate for adoption rights in Ireland, founding The Philomena Project in conjunction with that country’s Adoption Rights Alliance. The organization calls upon the Irish government to implement adoption information and tracing legislation. Philomena Lee is taking her fight all the way to the Irish Supreme Court.
The shame and pain that Holden referred to earlier was such that in Ireland, at the abbey where Philomena was sent, the nuns insisted that the girls’ identity be kept hidden—a fact not included in the film. Anne Midgette, writing in the Washington Post, reported that “the girls in the convent were forced to use other names—Philomena went by “Marcella”—and never knew each others’ true identities.”
When I read this, I had to stop and read it again, and then a third time, to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. Philomena went by ‘Marcella.’
My name is Mari-Marcelle.
* The following articles do contain spoilers, but I provide them for those who would like to explore the story further:
Marci, aka The Midlife Second Wife, with John on their wedding day. Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni
The single most important thing to making a marriage work is the ability of each party to tolerate the neuroses of the other. If you’re going to make it for the long haul, you’re going to have to learn to live with those neuroses. In fact, you’re going to have to learn to embrace them.
—Wendy Swallow The Triumph of Love Over Experience
Marci Rich: What’s the secret to … a long, happy marriage?
Don’t think the worst of your spouse.… I think we go to war not for what is true, but for what we think is true.…Don’t go to war for what you think your spouse is going to do.
I can’t and won’t speak for my wife, but I can tell you my secret to a happy marriage: I just try to out-love her.
—John, by way of a wise elder
From TMSW readers:
Our favorite is “the bed fairy.” Confession. We don’t make our bed in the morning, since we’re often getting out of it at different times. So at night as bedtime nears, one of us sneaks in and straightens the bedclothes. Some nights it’s me, other nights it’s him. And then we joke about the “anonymous” bed fairy who came to do the deed.
—Karen P. Schaefer
My hubby and I never say anything to intentionally hurt each other. Even when we’re angry and it would be so easy to say something like “you’re such a moron”, “you’re a slob”, etc., we both button our lips. Once something is out there, you can never take it back.
— Barb Disterhof
Laugh, talk and listen. There will always be hard times but with someone you love and trust by your side, there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel.
My husband has just given me his thought: Marriage is a game of give and take; if you both give more than you take, you’re in for a happy partnership.
Great question. I’ve written about this, so … to choose just one, I would say “keep an open heart at all times.” This seems to facilitate all the things we should do: have compassion, forgive, be kind, remove judgement, etc.
Nice to meet your blog!
Try new things together! My husband and I are taking a Latin Dance class, it allows us once a week to focus on each other, learning a new skill, and having fun! We plan on taking an Italian class next!
1. you must never intentionally do or say anything designed to make your partner feel bad.
2. you must recognize that being the one who is “right” is not as important as both of you being happy.
3. you can be “right” without stressing that your partner is “wrong.”
4. if you truly “love” your partner, you will never call him/her “stupid” or other similar words, nor will you use phrases like “shut up.”
5. you will recognize the difference between a negative intent and a negative outcome. for example, if i attempt to help you carry something but end up breaking it, the fact that i was trying to help carry is more important than the result of it being broken.
6. you will never assume that your partner knows what you are thinking.
When my husband and I were falling in love and committing ourselves to coupledom, I said to him, in all seriousness, “I want decades with you.” That was more than four years ago, when he was 55, and I was 53. It felt like a tall order; his mother died at 62, my father at 47. Then there was the fact that I’d had “a mild case of cancer,” undergoing surgery and radioactive iodine treatment for thyroid cancer. At the time of our courtship, however, I was in fine health, and so was John. (As of this writing we still are, knock wood.) This being the case, I am as hopeful for our future now as I was when we were betrothed. (Great word, isn’t it?) I’m reminded of Emily Dickinson’s great poetic line: “Hope is the thing with feathers.” My husband and I have been flying together for half a decade. I want to soar many more miles with him.
John turns 60 on Thursday, February 13. There’s something about crossing the threshold into a new decade that gives one pause; mid-lifers especially, I think, tend toward reflection here, especially if they’re in a second relationship. We have fewer mile markers in front of us, and we know that one of them will be fateful. All John or I can do is live each day with love—as if every day is Valentine’s Day, as, indeed, it will be the morning after his birthday.
Besides hosting Valentine’s Day, the 14th is a significant date for us because we met on the 14th of June. For that reason, when we decided to marry, we chose August 14 as our wedding day. The middle of February is, you might say, a peak time on our calendar, what with his birthday, V-Day, and, this year, our 56-month anniversary. But this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s black-tie-and-gown party time. Last year, for example, movers in Richmond were loading a truck with our belongings. This year, as I write this, I’m still in a leg cast.
As Connie Schultz says, life happens. John and I might not be able to go out and paint the town Cupid red, but by spreading out the significance of our love over 365 days—that is, by not taking one another for granted—each day feels more valuable, more treasured. Being mindful of our love each day helps us stack the deck. We might have only half a decade on our scorecard, but if we care for each other, are kind to each other, and express our love in ways minuscule as well as magnificent—every single day—it will seem as though we really are getting more decades than the calendar suggests. Some might call this magical thinking. I call it hoping, with feathers.
Happy 60th birthday, my love. And Happy Valentine’s Day, too. I wish you (and me, for you) good health. Decades of it.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)
By Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Having an only child is the maternal equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Additional children give you the chance for a do-over or two; with only one, that’s exactly how many chances you get to get the whole parenting thing right. I look back on the trail I embarked upon 32 years ago, and I see it littered with the weeds and stones of my mistakes and missteps. Occasionally I’ll spot a bit of something shiny. I hope it’s a marker for a good decision made, or the right thing said at the right time. Yet, in spite of my occasional impatience and bursts of short-temper, the young man standing at the edge of this path—my son—is the brightest thing shining there. He’s a terrific person with a great good heart, and he’s at a crossroads. He’s getting married soon to a beautiful young woman with a great good heart of her own. I have just one chance to get this whole mother-of-the-groom thing right. Over the years, through trial-and-error, I’ve learned a thing or 11 about what it takes to make a relationship work. I’d like to share these bits of wisdom with him now—12 things he should know before his wedding day.
Never take her—or anything—for granted. Be grateful every day for the life you have and the love you’ve found.
Do something nice for her every day, and thank her for something at least once a day.
Remember that marriage is not a competition except for this one thing: try to out-love one another.
Embrace her neuroses. That is, should she have any.
Respect her. Respect her. Respect her.
Communicate with one another clearly, calmly, and constantly.
Listen to what she has to say, and put yourself in her shoes while she’s saying it.
Make time for each other.
Be in the moment when you’re together. Concentrate on one another, not on your work or your smart phone.
Hold hands every chance you get.
Make love with one another as often as you can.
Put the toilet seat down and pick up your clothes from the floor.
My mother’s copy of the book that led to an indelible memory.
My mother, to quote Yul Brynner in The King and I, was a puzzlement. She was a first-generation Sicilian-American—strict and extremely Catholic—yet the legendary burlesque artist Gypsy Rose Lee so fascinated her that she purchased a copy of Lee’s autobiography. By the time I was six or seven and a book magpie, reading anything I found lying around the house, I picked up the memoir and dove in. The Random House Unabridged Dictionary had not yet been published, so if an unfamiliar word ground my reading to a halt, I went to my most trusted source: My mother.
“Mom, what does ‘lesbian’ mean?”
“What?” She pretended not to hear me.
“Lesbian. What does it mean? It says here that someone in the book couldn’t go back to Chicago, because they knew her there as a lesbian. What’s a lesbian?”
Having sufficiently recovered, my mother replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “It’s a kind of religion.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.”
It could be said that my mother taught me the art of dissembling—something that could come in handy later if I ever became a fiction writer. Or entered politics.
But that’s selling her short. Although it is true that she presented me with a lifetime of exasperating puzzles and mixed messages, she also taught me many wonderful things. Here’s a short list:
A love of Broadway musicals. (Hence the King and I reference.)
A love of classical music. (When I think of Saturday afternoons as a child, I always think of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts while cleaning the house. “Si mi chiamano,” choreographed with a dust rag, enhanced by the smell of Pledge.)
A love of dogs, as evidenced by this photograph.
The lesbian red herring notwithstanding, a respect for honesty and integrity, and an expectation of both from me.
An abiding faith in God. She might have skipped Mass with regularity, but she taught me how to pray. And she always believed that her own prayers would be answered.
A love of cooking and baking. I think the recipe section of my blog attests to this.
A sense of style and a love of fashion. We didn’t have much money when I was growing up, but my mother would rather go shopping than pay the electric bill. In this way and in others (again, I think of her disingenuous definition), I formed healthy and prudent life habits, sometimes as antidotes to her examples.
My mother was a complicated woman, which is to say that she was human. By trial and error, although often with her example to guide me, I figured out a way to be in the world.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. She would have been 99 this June.
But she wouldn’t want you to know that. She also lied about her age.
This is not “Steve.” To find out who this is, please read the entire post.
Let’s call him Steve. After all, that’s what he called himself on Match.com. And who’s to say if that was his real name?
Steve and I have never met, but he’s the reason I decided to step off the Match.com bus, and for that I owe him my gratitude. Why? Because in the world of online-dating algorithms, where any click, keyword, or action is fraught with significance, stumbling across his profile, which he had the cheek to title “Thank You For Shopping at the Man Store,” ricocheted me onto a fateful course.
It was time for me to renew my six-month subscription on Match.com. Or was it? Steve’s headline was a wake-up call of sorts: If what I was doing was “shopping at the man store,” well, in the words of the immortal Bard: “Yuck.”
Four years of on-again, off-again attempts to meet someone in cyber-land had taken their toll. This was clearly a stupid way to meet people, and I was done. Finished.
That weekend I sent Match my notification that I’d not be renewing, and went about my business.
I had taken a few vacation days from work, and the next day, a Monday, was beautiful and bright outside. I was about to go out for a walk. But the siren call of the inbox lured me from my intended rounds.
I still had a couple of days before my Match profile vanished from public view. Now, with the pressure off, it might be fun to log onto my email and see what new horrors awaited me.
Oh. This one sounds promising. “ArtsandSportsLvr” finds me, “1literary_lady,” interesting. At least that’s what the subject header of the Match email indicates: “You Sparked Someone’s Interest!”
Well what do you know? With just a couple of days left to go on Match, I get a nibble.
I click the link that takes me to the Match website, and click again to see what Match has to say about him.
“He’s a 55-year-old man living in Cleveland, OH.”
Okay, age is fine. Geography, manageable.
“You both fancy felines. Like you, he’s not a smoker. He has a graduate degree.”
An intelligent cat-lover who doesn’t have nicotine stains on his teeth. This just keeps getting better and better.
I click on the link to his profile.
Ah. He’s included a picture. That’s always a good sign. There’s nothing creepier than seeing a faded blue head in silhouette accompanied by a wink (or, sometimes, a leer).
Wait. This is a nice picture. Look at those bright, clear blue eyes! And gosh darn it all, he’s got a dog, too! That is, if he didn’t rent the pup for the picture. (Had I grown cynical? Yes, just a little, around the edges.)
I was aware of the cyber-clock ticking. In a couple of days, I’d be lost to ArtsandSportsLvr forever. I had a decision to make. I could let boy-and-his-dog into my life, or let them trot off into the sunset. And live out the rest of my days with my cats.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and send a reply:
SUBJECT: The artful, sporting life…
Date: Mon, June 8, 2009 10:06 am
Hello, and thank you for your interest.
I must say that from what I read in your profile, we seem to have much in common. You also have a great smile; it suggests a good, kind soul.
My subscription to Match ends this week, and I’m not renewing it. If you would like to get to know me off-line, as it were, and wish to send me a note, here’s my e-mail address in the real world:
Have a wonderful day!
I go out for my walk, and when I return, there’s a message waiting for me:
Marci, thanks for sharing your e-mail address. I would like to continue chatting until you get comfortable enough to plan a get-to-know-you meeting. I was introduced to the Oberlin concerts at the gazebo last year and enjoyed two of them. The theater there is a wonderful bargain as well. I have been told that the art museum is worth the trip and is on my list of to-do’s this summer.
Now you have my e-mail address and feel free to use it.
“Go out and make a difference in the world and it will make a world of difference in you.” – JR
I’m intrigued. A guy who includes a quote from himself in his email signature. That could seem pretentious, but this doesn’t strike me that way. I like the philosophy here. Could this be a man who’s not full of himself? An actual nice guy?
After a few more emails, we agree to speak on the phone.
I like his voice.
We set up a meeting at the museum in the town where I live.
That date, our first, lasts seven hours.
Reader, I married him.
I know I had become cynical about online dating toward the end of my tenure, but with success and the passage of time, it’s clear to me that I really had to give the algorithms time to do their work. John and I would never have met without the nudge from our cyber Dolly Gallagher Levi.
I wrote about this experience, and the online dating phenomenon, for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in an article published September 4, 2011. My research included interviews with Amy Canaday of Match.com’s public relations office, and two experts— Mark Brooks, an online dating consultant, and Dr. Robert Epstein, a contributor to Scientific American Mind.
When I interviewed Canaday by email in 2011, she told me that in the previous five years, the fastest-growing demographic for Match.com was the 50-and-older age group.
Unattached boomers? Are you listening?
Readers, this post is part of a GenFab Blog Hop. To begin reading all of the posts on the subject of “How I Met My Significant Other,” please click here.
English: Saying grace before carving the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner in the home of Earle Landis in Neffsville, Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Quite a lot has happened on the home front of late—so much, in fact, that I haven’t had a chance to fully process it all, let alone write about it. But on this Thanksgiving Eve, the most important thing I can share with you right now is to tell you that I’m keenly aware of all that I have to be thankful for this year—my husband’s love and the health of my family foremost. I’m writing this from the home I carry with me in my heart, rather than from our physical home. We’ve traveled again this year—to Ohio again this year—and I’ll have more to share with you about that at a later time. For now, I just want to add one more item to the list of things I’m grateful for: Your readership and support. Knowing that you are there, at the other end of the line, as it were, fills me with joy. Because of you, this little blog has grown beyond my wildest imaginings. A Thanksgiving post that I shared with you last year on this site appears today on Better After 50, a weekly online magazine, curated by Felice Shapiro, that was featured in the Boston Globelast month. So thank you, dear readers. Your support, your visits to this site, make a difference. I wish you and your loved ones a very happy, healthy Thanksgiving.